2007 July 27

Terms such as ‘Fair Trade’ and ‘Organic materials’ have been interchanged so much that many think they denote the same thing.

In this article the important differences between the two terms will be explained, dispelling the myths and confusions surrounding both Organic materials and Fair Trade principles.

Organic Cotton:

  • So what’s the problem with non-organic Tees?

Nowadays stringent laws are in place to prevent harmful pesticides from being utilised on crops intended for consumption, however no such laws apply to the crops that will be used within the clothing industry. Non-organic materials that are used to create shirts have an extremely negative environmental and social impact. Cotton, the predominant material used for shirts, is sprayed liberally with a concoction of pesticides that damage the surrounding area and can seep into nearby water networks and poison the wildlife that depend on it. It is a fact that more pesticides are used on cotton than any other major crop. These pesticides are often administered by poorly paid, ill-equipped, untrained local farmers who suffer to provide the cotton needed for clothing companies. Recent studies have shown that an exposure to pesticides can lead to Parkinsons – read more on the BBC website Here.

  • So how does Organic Cotton help the environment?

Cotton can be grown following strict ethical principles, which forbid the use of synthetic chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and genetically modified organisms. In their place organic fertilisers (such as manure) are used, this has no effect on the cotton produced compared to most conventional cotton fibres, other than the fact that it is pesticide and guilt-free.

  • How can I tell if my Tee-shirt was made using Organic Cotton?

There are certain labels to look out for including Skal’s “EKO” certification, widely regarded as one of the most respected organic certification. A full list of organic clothing standards and their labels can be found Here.

  • So the organic label ensures that workers have been paid a fair price as well, right?

No it doesn’t. And this is a problem which the ‘Fair Trade Mark’ seeks to address.

Fair Trade Cotton:

Fairtrade is a worldwide movement which endeavours to provide producers in developing countries with a fair price for their work, acceptable living conditions and generally improve their state of living. There are no public regulations for fair trade and the movement is not formally unified, meaning that anybody can claim to be trading its products fairly.

  • So how can I recognise if the product has genuinely been produced under Fair Trade guidelines?

The Fairtrade mark for seed cotton was first launched in the UK in November 2005.


This mark ensures that cotton farmers and producers have received fair pay for their cotton. Fairtrade also ensures that farmers are safe from market price fluctuations, if there were a sudden drop in the world market price of cotton, farmers would still be entitled to the agreed amount. Fairtrade works hard to make sure that the community in these developing areas is also nurtured and looked after, setting aside a premium for community development projects, such as health centres.

  • Does this ‘Fairtrade mark’ cover manufacturing as well as farming?

Although the Fairtrade mark ensures that a shirt has been made with 100% fairly traded cotton this does not cover the processing and manufacture stages, only the farming. However processors and manufacturers are required to provide tangible evidence that certain minimum international legislation pertaining to labour rights are conformed to. This requirement is in place to guarantee that your Fairtrade shirt, in addition to using cotton produced by non-exploited farmers, has not been processed or manufactured in exploitative sweatshops or using child labour.

  • Why am I having difficulty in finding a shirt that is both Organic and uses Fairtrade cotton?

The fairtrade organisation endeavours to protect those in only the poorest and most needy of developing countries, such as Africa. The vast majority of organic cotton is grown in Turkey, which is not considered a developing country where farmers are under risk of exploitation. The only country where the fairtrade organisation works that currently produces organic cotton is India, therefore it is rare to find a certified organic shirt produced under the supervision of the Fairtrade organisation. However we here at polo-shirts.co.uk have endeavoured to provide you with an array of organic tees, one of which is certified as both Fairtrade and made using Eko-certified organic cotton.

  • So if I buy a shirt made using organic cotton the workers won’t have been paid a fair wage?

Not at all. The Fairtrade organisation endeavours to ensure that workers in developing countries are not exploited by following certain minimum international guidelines, many of which are kept to by countries growing organic cotton. However to be absolutely sure that your tee-shirt is made using organic cotton and is produced under fairtrade guidelines you will need to ensure that both marks are present, as in the Terreo Lotus Tee.

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