Criteria of the Cotton made in Africa Standards: Indicators for the Cotton made in Africa Sustainability Goals

The criteria of the CmiA standards include ecological, social, and economic aspects of cotton production and processing. A two-stage list of criteria ensures that the participating cotton farmers successively adapt their farming methods and the cotton companies their processing of the raw material to increase ecological, economic, and social sustainability. As part of the CmiA-Organic standard, additional requirements must be proven to fulfill internationally recognized guidelines for organic farming (Criteria of the EC No. 834/2007 standard and GOTS) in addition to the regular verification. The social, ecological and economic criteria of the CmiA standards are made available to the public down below. They can additionally be downloaded here.

Exclusion Criteria: Minimum Requirements for Participation in Cotton made in Africa

Whether a cotton company may even participate in the Cotton made in Africa initiative is first determined against a set of exclusion criteria:

  • Only smallholder farmers who manage a small parcel of land (average 1-3ha) for securing their income may participate in the Cotton made in Africa initiative.
  • The smallholder farmers practice rainfed agriculture exclusively. This means they do not use any artificial irrigation.  
  • The deforestation of primary forests is prohibited as well as encroaching upon nature reserves.
  • Child labour (according to the ILO Conventions 138 and 182), human trafficking (according to the UN Palermo Protocol) and forced labor (according to ILO Conventions 29 and 105) are strictly prohibited.
  • Freedom of association and the membership in institutional structures that represent smallholder farmers respectively employees in the cotton gins is ensured. The right to and the outcomes of collective bargaining is secured (as defined by ILO Conventions 87 and 98).
  • Employees in the cotton gins are granted the freedom of association. (see ILO Conventions on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining 87 and 98)
  • Pesticides regulated by the Rotterdam and Stockholm Convention or which the WHO has ranked as extremely or highly hazardous (class Ia and Ib) may not be used. For their own safety, pregnant women, nursing mothers, sick people, children, and untrained and/or inexperienced persons are prohibited from working with pesticides. A list of prohibited pesticides can be found here.
  • The use of pesticides that have national approval for the use in cotton cultivation yet do not fulfill international standards and are identified in at least one local language is prohibited.
  • The use of genetically modified seeds is excluded.
  • Business relationships must comply with national laws and practices and international convenants according to the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises.
  • The principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value is secured (as defined in ILO Convention 100, Art. 1).
  • Discrimination in the workplace is strictly forbidden (as defined in ILO Convention 111).


Sustainability Criteria: Guidelines for Continous Improvement

To produce cotton according to Cotton made in Africa standards, smallholder farmers and cotton companies also need to take into account several so-called sustainability criteria and meet them progressivley. These are verified at the cotton farmer and ginning levels.

At the cotton farmer level:

  • Maintain soil fertility and protect waters: Environmentally friendly agricultural methods, such as cultivating the fields using crop rotation or the producing of natural fertilizer, protect the soil and groundwater, prevent soil from becoming depleted, and reduce pest infestation.
  • Controlled and reduced use of pesticides: Through the threshold principle, the cotton farmers learn how to use pesticides in a limited and responsible manner.
  • Regular training in the responsible use of pesticides teaches the cotton farmers about the risks and effects of pesticides. This includes proper training in wearing protective clothing during application, using appropriate equipment, and keeping containers with pesticides out of the reach of children.
  • The cotton company secures pre-financing for smallholder farmers for investments that are necessary for cotton cultivation such as seed or fertilizer. Cotton farmers are informed about the cost of these expenses before signing the contract.
  • The cotton farmers receive fair pay on time. Efforts are made to ensure that the farmers can be represented at levels at which national cotton prices are negotiated. They can thus have an influence on pricing.
  • There is transparency in the classification of cotton quality and the price paid for the raw material.

At the ginning level:

  • Regular employees and seasonal workers in the cotton gins have written employment contracts.
  • Regular working hours are adhered to. Overtime is paid in full and in accordance with national law. (see ILO Convention 1)
  • The monthly salary paid on time exceeds or corresponds to at least the national set minimum wage (see ILO Conventions 26 and 131).
  • All employees have guaranteed access to health and safety measures, such as wearing dust masks. (see ILO Convention 155) 
  • There is a plan in place for reducing undesirable environmental impacts.

Water - a Precious Resource

Cotton made in Africa solely practices rainfed cotton cultivation. This is a major difference compared to global cotton production. About three-quarters of the world's harvested cotton is irrigated. The scarce resource is protected by CmiA - a measure that saves lives. Learn more..

CmiA Against Child Labour

For many children in the world instead of having the opportunity to play and go to school, they are forced to perform hard physical labour on a daily basis. Cotton made in Africa supports the fight against child labour by improving the living conditions through higher incomes and through community projects. CmiA upholds the Conventions 138 and 182 of the International Labour Organization (ILO): Any form of exploitative child labour, labour that harms the health and development of children, and any type of child labour that is performed outside of the family, is strictly forbidden according to the Cotton made in Africa criteria. This also applies to child trafficking and forced labour. The children may assist with work on the family farm, provided they have enough time for school and free time. Learn more..


Compliance with the criteria of CmiA standards by cotton farmers, cotton companies, and the gins  is regularly verified. CmiA commissions independent and qualified organizations to conduct the verification. This ensures that the initiative's value proposition of helping smallholder farmers and their families in Africa to achieve better living conditions is observed. Regularly scheduled verification of the Cotton made in Africa standards ensure that the exclusion criteria are adhered to, and reviews the continuous improvement in compliance with CmiA sustainability requirements. This ensures that cotton companies and cotton farmers change their processes in terms of sustainable production for people and the environment fundamentally and sustainably. You can find more information about e.g. the verification process or governance down below or here.

The Verification System: Ensuring Transparency

The CmiA standards, their criteria, and the generic verification system  to monitor the standards were designed by experts involving all key stakeholders in the Cotton made in Africa initiative. These include the African cotton companies as well as social, environmental and development cooperation institutions, such as the NABU, Welthungerhilfe, or World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF)Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The verification system is subject to regular review and further development by a Technical Advisory Board composed of experts from NGOs, the industry, and cotton producers.

The Verification Process: Periodic Review of Regulations by Independant Bodies

CmiA standards are checked as part of the verification process beginning with the cotton companies who wish to offer cotton in compliance with the CmiA criteria. At the beginning of the cooperation, these companies must submit a self-assessment of compliance with the CmiA criteria. This self-assessment is rounded out with inspections by independent verifiers, EcoCert and AfriCert. They check whether the cotton companies and smallholder farmers who produce cotton in Cotton made in Africa quality comply with the criteria. This also includes random interviews conducted with farmers and inspections in the fields. Verification consists of two separate steps. The cotton company's field activities and the smallholder farmers under contract with them as well as the cotton company's gin are inspected. First, the independent experts must verify that all exclusion criteria have been met. In addition, at least 50 percent of the sustainability criteria need to be rated yellow or green according to the traffic light system for verification. Only then has a cotton company successfully completed the entire verification cycle and is allowed to use the Cotton made in Africa label.

Ongoing Verification: Support for Continuous Improvement

Verification ProcessIf the verification has been successfully completed, the cotton company is required to submit an annual self-assessment, in which they provide information about the extent to which they continue to meet the criteria of CmiA standards. The self-assessment is in turn verified every two years by the independent verification company, Ecocert or Africert. It checks whether the exclusion criteria have been complied with and whether compliance with the sustainability criteria has continued to improve over time (e.g. from the traffic light color yellow to green).

In order to better implement the set sustainability goals, the cotton company develops a management plan with the verifiers. This plan determines which progress is to be achieved in what way till the next verification cycle and the type of support Cotton made in Africa provides, such as in the form of training. The management plan serves as the basis for the aggregated verification report that is made publicly available and is prepared once a year by the Aid by Trade Foundation. It provides information on the results of previous verifications and serves as a reference for monitoring future verifications. 


Non-compliance with the CmiA standards: exclusion from the CmiA system

If the CmiA exclusion criteria are not met, less than 50% of the sustainability criteria in the traffic light system are rated green or yellow, and/or no improvements in implementing at least one sustainability criterion between two successive verifications can be repeatedly shown, the cotton company and the cotton farmers are excluded from the program. They are not allowed to trade cotton under the CmiA license.

The aim of Cotton made in Africa is to give as many smallholder farmers as possible the opportunity to grow cotton sustainably, and feed their families with the income from cotton cultivation. For this reason, Cotton made in Africa takes a problem-solving approach and tries to find solutions for the reasons of exclusion together with smallholder farmers, the verifiers, and cotton companies. In cases of discrepancy, a committee composed of the AbTF Management Board and the Technical Advisory Board convenes to solve the problem and discuss any issues. If the cotton company can provide proof that the problems that have led to their exclusion have been solved, the cotton company can again qualify for the CmiA system after one year through a so-called follow-up verification. Cotton made in Africa supports smallholder farmers through training in which they successively learn to adapt and continuously improve their farming methods to a sustainable social, ecological, and economic basis in accordance with the Cotton made in Africa standards.

Monitoring the Verification System: Two-way Consulting and Review 

Steuerungsinstanzen-des-Verifizierungssystems-DAccording to the CmiA verification system, verification and compliance with standards are based on reviews by the independent, qualified companies AfricertEcoCert and Controlunion. In addition, the following verification governance ensures the reliability of the standards:

The highest decision-making body in the verification system of the CmiA standards is the Board of Trustees of the Aid by Trade Foundation, carrier of the Cotton made in Africa initiative. The AbTF Board of Trustees, comprised of elected representatives from non-governmental organizations, the industry, and the public sector, serves as the final arbiter in disputes and oversees the verification system of the CmiA standards.

The Technical Advisory Board, made up of experts from NGOs, cotton companies, producers, companies, and the public sector, advises the AbTF Management Board and Verification Management. An important part of its tasks is to amend and comment on the CmiA standards and its criteria.

Cotton companies together with smallholder farmers as well as gin workers they work with form the so-called "CmiA Unit". A "Managing Entity", usually a cotton company, is responsible for ensuring that the CmiA Unit complies with the CmiA standard criteria. At the "Managing Entity" level, data are collectively recorded and reviewed, making the verification more efficient. This includes data relating to the delivery of pesticides or payment of farmers.


Goals of the Cotton made in Africa Standards 

d-Standards Ziel Unser-Hande

The CmiA standards are composed of the Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) and the Cotton made in Africa-Organic (CmiA-Organic) Standard. They were designed to improve the living conditions of African smallholders and promote environmentally friendly cotton production. In order to maintain this value proposition, standards with social, environmental, and economic criteria were developed. The criteria of CmiA standards reflect the actual sustainability requirements for growing and processing cotton in the participating African partner countries from the field to the gin.

The two-tier requirements issued by the CmiA standards contain exclusion criteria that determine whether the smallholder farmers and cotton companies may generally participate in the Cotton made in Africa program. In addition, they must adhere to a range of sustainability criteria. They do not need to meet them all immediately, but they are required to develop improvement plans and to demonstrate the progress in development towards sustainable production. Using a traffic light system, the implementation status is awarded a "red", "yellow", or "green" rating, with green representing sustainable management. 

Verification and impact monitoring create transparency

Regular verification conducted by independent third parties ensure compliance with the standard criteria. Aggregated results from the verification reports provide information on verification in the African project areas. They document whether the exclusion criteria have been observed and the degree to which sustainability criteria are met, and provide transparency. To check whether the CmiA standards and its objectives have been achieved, a specially designed impact monitoring system determines to what extent the living and working conditions of cotton farmers have improved through their participation in Cotton made in Africa. Get to know about the impact measurement here.





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Aid by Trade Foundation

Cotton made in Africa
Gurlittstraße 14
20099 Hamburg

Tel.: +49 (0)40 - 2576 - 755 - 0

Fax: +49 (0)40 - 2576 - 755 - 11


Coordinator CmiA Quality Assurance for West and Central Africa 

Younoussa Imorou Ali
Mobil: +229 97 29 34 96 / 94 15 67 67
Skype : yimorouali


Bangladesh: CmiA Registration of Spinning and Fabric Mills

Mahbub Khan
Mobile: +88 (0)171 - 312 - 2417