Does the Better Cotton Standard comply with the UN Guiding Principles for Business on Human Rights?

The UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights (Ruggie framework) were adopted unanimously by the United Nation member countries in 2011. There are two constraints which must be considered in our context. Firstly, the framework is not yet actionable in many of the countries where cotton is grown due to the absence of local enabling legislation, i.e., they are still ‘Guiding Principles’ rather than specific practices. Secondly, the primary focus of the Better Cotton Initiative is on farmer practices at field level. While systemic application of human rights practices will certainly apply to the operations of large businesses engaged in farming, many of the Principles are somewhat less relevant to the millions of smallholder, independent farmers.

To address these issues, BCI proactively engaged with the ILO and adopted and integrated into the Better Cotton Standard their relevant Conventions on ‘Decent Work’ such as child labour, forced labour, non-discrimination, freedom of association, etc.

The details are published in our Standard. This is the appropriate, ‘real-world’ level of engagement for the type of work that the Better Cotton Standard promotes.

An associated human rights issue is whether or not BCI members apply these ILO conventions and other human rights practices in their supply chains (beyond farmer level). BCI does not monitor or report on supply chain practice beyond the farmer, e.g., at spinning or cut and sew facilities, etc. However, the Code of Practice which all members sign includes a commitment from members to act with integrity at all times, and ensure that their external partners in their supply chains do so as well. Systemic abuses of human rights in the supply chain would not be consistent with the BCI Code of Practice.