The International Organic Accreditation Service has lifted the suspension of CU Inspections and Certifications India Pvt. Limited issued in March. This means the body can resume approvals based on Textile Exchange standards and go back to business as usual roughly three years after a high-profile fraud scandal rocked the Indian organic cotton industry.
Effective immediately, CU India can issue TCs, or transaction certificates, attesting to the cotton’s organic quality which it was unable to do while suspension of activities was in effect. This also covers cotton shipped while the accreditation process was on hiatus. It further means existing CU India TCs remain valid unless CU India or Textile Exchange dictate otherwise.
This is a significant move for CU India, on which businesses rely heavily to guarantee compliance with Textile Exchange standards created to ensure transparency and accountability of cotton crops. It had a deadline of June 7, 2023 for rectifying the problem, which it is reported to have done.
The fracas dates back to late 2020 when an investigation by GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standard, found substantial documentary evidence of systemic fraudulent abuse of India’s governmental certification system overseeing organic cotton production.
The offenders were said to have issued fake Raw Cotton Transaction Certificates (TCs) that were created by the alleged perpetrators using APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority of the Indian Government) templates with phony QR or quick response codes. These TCs were then falsely authenticated by a fake APEDA website.
GOTS certifies raw organic cotton if the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements) Family of Standards gives approval. In India, the locus for organizations certifying organic raw cotton for export is APEDA, whose system is similar to that of GOTS. In both cases, TCs are issued by Certification Bodies (CBs) and carry critical information about produce such as volume, buyer and seller information and transport details. This particular episode of fraud is said by GOTS to involve some 20,000 metric tons of fake fiber. India produces around 51 percent of the world’s organic cotton, according to a Textile Exchange report issued around the time the fraud came to light.
In the wake of the investigation, GOTS urged APEDA to investigate, prosecute the offenders if necessary, and ensure improvement according to guidelines provided to the companies. GOTS subsequently introduced its own measures going forward, which include checking all incoming TCs for organic raw material for authenticity.
GOTS is the rigorous voluntary global standard for post-harvest production, including spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing and manufacturing of apparel and home textiles made from certified organic cotton and organic wool. It includes social criteria as well, including a ban on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hazardous chemicals like azo dyes and formaldehyde, and child labor. It further requires strong social compliance management systems, and strict wastewater treatment systems.
GOTS, which is non-profit and self-financed, is an initiative of the Organic Trade Association in the U.S., the Japan Organic Cotton Association, Germany’s International Association Natural Textile Industry, and the U.K.’s Soil Association, designed to define globally recognized requirements that ensure the organic status of textiles, from field to finished product.