03 Oct

How Ethical Is Cotton On?

Australian brand Cotton On is known and loved around the world for its fun and affordable clothing and accessories. But just how is it doing when it comes to its environmental impact, the treatment of its workers, and animal welfare? How ethical is Cotton On?

The Cotton On Group, which includes brands such as Rubi Shoes, Factorie, and Supré, was named the top performing retailer of 2017 in Australia. According to the Cotton On Manifesto, the company is “focused on building an ethical, sustainable, and profitable business and ensuring we have a positive impact on our people, the community, the planet and all those we connect with.” But does this translate into real-world action? Let’s take a look!

Environmental Impact

Cotton On doesn’t publish sufficient relevant information about its environmental policies to achieve a higher rating. And we have a sneaking suspicion why! We found no evidence it reduces its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain, that it has taken meaningful action to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals, OR that it minimises textile waste.

As a fast fashion brand, Cotton On produces huge quantities of cheaply made garments, most of which are made from unsustainable materials including conventional cotton, viscose, and polyester. Manufacturing these materials consumes vast amounts of energy and water, not to mention the use of hazardous chemicals. Not only do these chemicals have a detrimental effect on workers and the surrounding air, soil waterways, and communities, but they have also been found to affect those who end up wearing the clothes.

As a shopper, you have the right to know how a brand’s production practices impact the environment. We strongly recommend Cotton On gets its act together and publicly provides information about its environmental policies. For all these reasons we rated Cotton On’s impact on the environment ‘Not Good Enough’.

Labour Conditions

Cotton On also rates ‘Not Good Enough’ for labour. The brand has a Code of Conduct that covers all of the ILO Four Fundamental Freedoms principles and audits some of its supply chain, including all of the final stage of production.

However, we found no evidence Cotton On ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain or that it has initiatives to prevent human trafficking. In addition to this, the brand does not disclose any policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19.

Animal Welfare

We found no evidence Cotton On has a policy to minimise the suffering of animals or that it traces any animal product to the first stage of production. And while the brand does not use fur, angora, down, exotic animal skin and hair, it still uses leather and wool. This is problematic as the welfare of leather workers and animals are unknown and therefore cannot be guaranteed. Which is why we rated Cotton On ‘Not Good Enough’ for its impact on animals.

Overall Rating: Not Good Enough

So, how ethical is Cotton On? Cotton On is rated ‘Not Good Enough’ based on information from our own research. Despite its declarations of sustainability and ethical practice, Cotton On still has a long way to go before it can truly back up its claims. Though those cheap price tags can be very tempting, it’s important to remember that there’s a reason why they’re so cheap in the first place! Investing in a few, well-made pieces that will last a lifetime—or better yet, buying second hand—are much better alternatives for the environment and your bank account.

Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s of issues, and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information, see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

Here are a few of our favourite eco-friendly alternatives to Cotton On, that are implementing ethical and sustainable practices when it comes making beautiful, timeless pieces.

Good Swaps

Sustainable alternatives to Cotton On


Rated: Great

Based in Cambodia, Dorsu creates everyday basics and key signature favourites that form the core of any conscious wardrobe. You can find the full range in XS to XL.

See the rating.

Shop Dorsu.

MATE the Label

Rated: Great

MATE the Label creates clean essentials made with GOTS certified organic fabrics and low-impact dyes. Its goal is to offer women everywhere a clean product that is just as beautiful as it is sustainable. It is proudly female-founded and is predominately operated by women. This US brand also manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint. Find the range in inclusive sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop MATE the Label.


Rated: Good

Made from organically grown bamboo, Boody is an Australian clothing brand that supports the trend for all things green and ethical. Find the range in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Boody.

Know The Origin

Rated: Great
A woman in a black turtle neck dresss swings her hair

Style with nothing to hide. Fairtrade and organic ethical fashion for men and women. KTO is committed to a 100% transparent production process. Find the range in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Know The Origin.

MUD Jeans

Rated: Great
A man wears navy jeans and a blue top

Dutch denim brand MUD Jeans is all about sustainability. Not only does it offer a repair service, but it also provides a rental service where you can lease a pair of jeans for up to a year! MUD Jeans uses a combination of GOTS certified organic cotton and post-consumer recycled cotton. MUD Jeans are available in a range of sizes, usually from W25 L30-W33 L32 for women and W28 L34-W36 L34 for men.

See the rating.

Shop MUD Jeans.

Shop MUD Jeans @ Labell-D.


Rated: Great

CHNGE is a US-based sustainable fashion brand using 100% organic material, built to last a lifetime while making a statement. Find CHNGE's inclusive clothes in sizes 2XS-4XL.

See the rating.


Editor's note

Feature image via Cotton On, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 3,000 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links. To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offers code or affiliate links.

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