An investigation into organic cotton fraud in India has revealed 20,000 metric tonnes of cotton were incorrectly certified as organic through a scam abusing the Indian government certification system.
Following up rumours about systematic fraud, surveillance audits were carried out by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) accreditation body IOAS, which detected fake Raw Cotton Transaction Certificates (TCs).
These transaction certificates had been created by fraudsters using templates with fake QR codes, which led to a cloned website of the APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority of the Indian Government) to pretend the TCs were authentic.
GOTS accepts raw organic cotton if it is certified to any of the IFOAM Family of Standards. In India, the nodal agency to certify organic raw cotton for export is APEDA. Its system is similar to GOTS, where TCs are issued by certification bodies and carry information about certified produce (volume, transport details, buyer, seller, etc).
GOTS has now instructed its approved certification bodies to cancel all wrongly issued upstream transaction certificates in order to prevent affected goods being sold with GOTS labels.
A certification ban has been imposed on 11 companies, and the contract with one approved certification bodies was terminated. GOTS has submitted all facts to APEDA urging investigation, criminal prosecution and improvement. All GOTS certified organisations have been informed on the matter and are being provided guidance accordingly.
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Being a processing standard, GOTS has relied on national law-based and governmentally supervised organic cotton production – but has now introduced its own measures to secure against such fraud.
All incoming transaction certificates (for organic raw material) into the GOTS supply chain will be checked by GOTS itself for authenticity and credibility. A system for permanent data collection for the raw material and checks and reviews of certification bodies is being developed.
“GOTS strongly believes that while these steps are strict, they are inevitable and will in the long run, strengthen the credibility of organic fibre production and GOTS.”
Textile Exchange, which has been working in collaboration with GOTS for many years in both policy alignment as well as being recognised as an acceptable input into its Organic Content Standard (OCS), says it has also banned the fraudulent companies. A certification body has also had its licensing contract with Textile Exchange terminated.
India has the largest number of GOTS-certified facilities, reaching 2,411 in 2019.
Three years ago, German organic fashion brand Cotonea called on GOTS to investigate claims its certified cotton from India contained Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).
And in 2015, the challenge of transparency and traceability across global supply chains came to the fore when US department store retailer Target Corporation found Indian textile company Welspun Global Brands had been using non-Egyptian cotton in what were supposed to be 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets and pillowcases.