About Better Cotton
Cotton is a globally important and widely grown crop. It is an industry that employs around 250 million people in the production stages alone. For millions of people, often in some of the world’s poorest countries, cotton is a vital link to the global economy.
Cotton is used by nearly every single person on the planet on a daily basis. But cotton is often produced in a way that puts unnecessary levels of stress on the environment, the local economies and the communities producing it. From improper use of pesticides, to low incomes and even child labour, there are many ways in which improvements need to be made. Better Cotton came to life out of the belief we can transform this vital sector.
BCI brings together farmers, ginners, traders, spinners, mills, cut & sew, manufacturers, retailers, brands and grassroots organisations in a unique global community committed to developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.
By helping farmers to grow cotton in a way that reduces stress on the local environment and improves the livelihoods and welfare of farming communities, BCI aims to create long-term change. It is a global approach that provides a solution for the mainstream cotton industry, including both smallholders and large scale farmers. All farmers can benefit from implementing Better Cotton and the development of a new and more sustainable mainstream commodity, Better Cotton.
Better Cotton is a product,
Better Cotton is a philosophy, achieving sustainability through continuous improvement,
And Better Cotton is a movement of like-minded organisations.
What is the Better Cotton Initiative?
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world. Last year, we and our partners provided training on more sustainable agricultural practices to 1.6 million farmers from 23 countries, and we mobilised €8.9 million in field-level investment. We are truly a joint effort, encompassing organisations all the way from farms to fashion and textile brands, driving the cotton sector towards sustainability.
Why does the Better Cotton Initiative exist?
Supporting farmers is at the heart of our work and is the reason for BCI’s existence. Cotton is a renewable resource, but its production is vulnerable to poor environmental management and working conditions. As stewards of the Better Cotton Standard System, our focus is on providing training and learning opportunities for farmers to adopt more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production practices.
What is the Better Cotton Standard?
BCI manages the farm-level implementation of the Better Cotton Standard, a holistic approach to more sustainable cotton production. BCI licensed farmers produce cotton in a way that cares for the environment, minimising the negative effects of fertilisers and pesticides, and caring for water, soil health and natural habitats. This is what we refer to as ‘Better Cotton’. BCI Farmers also commit to decent work principles—conditions that support workers’ safety and wellbeing. The Better Cotton Standard is not applicable to the cotton supply chain.
How much Better Cotton do BCI Farmers produce each year?
BCI Farmers produced 2.5 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton lint in the 2015/16 cotton season, on 3.5 million hectares (which is more than the land mass of Belgium). This is enough cotton to make 2.5 billion pairs of jeans. Currently, Better Cotton accounts for 12% of global cotton production.
Who are the Better Cotton Initiative’s members?
At the end of 2016, BCI had 986 members spanning the cotton supply chain–66 retailers and brands, 846 suppliers and manufacturers, 31 producer organisations, 33 civil society members, and 10 associate members. You can find the updated list here.
Is the Better Cotton Initiative competing with other cotton standards around the globe?
In 2016, less than 20% of global cotton production was independently verified as grown using more sustainable practices. BCI, organic, Fairtrade, myBMP (Australia), ABR (Brazil), Aid by Trade Foundation, and others work towards ensuring that all cotton is produced in a more sustainable manner. We have recognised three other standards as equivalent to ours, eliminating duplication and inefficiencies in the market. BCI supports farmers having the ability to choose which farming system is best for them.
What is the Better Cotton Initiative’s view on forced and child labour?
Unfortunately, child labour remains a challenge in developing (and sometimes in developed) countries, particularly when families are struggling to make ends meet. The welfare of children and workers is always of paramount importance–forced and child labour on cotton farms is unacceptable to BCI. If either is discovered where Better Cotton is produced, it is considered an incidence of non-compliance with BCI’s standard and is dealt with immediately. We support farmers by helping them to understand and respect national legal requirements, as well as the fundamental, interrelated International Labour Organisation conventions on respecting the minimum age for young workers (C138) and avoiding the ‘worst forms of child labour’ (C182). BCI does not operate in countries where forced labour is orchestrated by the government.
Does the Better Cotton Initiative promote genetically modified (GM) cotton?
BCI has adopted a position of being ‘technology neutral’ with respect to GM cotton, and will neither encourage farmers to grow it, nor seek to restrict their access to it. We aim to be a mainstream initiative and target improvements across a range of important issues associated with cotton farming on a large scale. Today, nearly three quarters of the world’s cotton is grown with GM seeds. Therefore, if it is legally available in the country of use and there is an overall support package in place for farmers–which includes training and access to a range of farming options–BCI allows the use of GM cotton. It would be difficult to achieve our objective of making Better Cotton a mainstream sustainable commodity if millions of farmers were automatically excluded from our training and support.
How do I know if the Better Cotton Initiative is credible?
BCI is a member of ISEAL Alliance, the global membership association for sustainability standards. Only independently assessed, credible, and robust standards are granted membership. BCI and its fellow ISEAL members embrace the ISEAL Credibility Principles and comply with ISEAL’s internationally recognised Codes of Good Practice.
How is the Better Cotton Initiative funded?
BCI receives funding from three sources: earned income for services delivered; grants and donations from private and public funders; and volume-based fees and funding from brands. BCI Retailer and Brand Members pay a fee based on the amount of Better Cotton they source. These fees are channelled to the BCI Growth and Innovation Fund (BCI’s farm support programme) and matched by public and private donations. These funds directly support training and skill development for farmers around the world.
Over 1.5 million farmers across 23 countries are working hard to produce a growing supply of Better Cotton. Our partners deliver field-level capacity building programs that help farmers understand and apply the Better Cotton Production Principles, improve the sustainability of their farms and gain a Better Cotton license. These licenses enable farmers to sell their cotton as Better Cotton, increasing the supply of more sustainable cotton in the global market, and linking farmers with a growing demand for more sustainable raw materials. We also work with certain existing national sustainability standards to allow farmers already adhering to those standards to sell their cotton as Better Cotton.
We’re on track to achieving our 2020 goal to reach 5 million farmers and produce 30% of global cotton supply as Better Cotton through the support of over 50 partners. These partners take on significant leadership for delivering Better Cotton programmes, implementing continuous improvement plans, identifying opportunities for innovation and collecting the field level data we use to monitor and evaluate our work.
The BCI team, with Head Offices in Switzerland and the UK, and regional offices in China, India, Mozambique, and Pakistan, as well as staff based in the USA and Turkey, are well placed to support our partners as they engage and train Better Cotton farmers.
To learn more about key environmental, economic and social indicators achieved by BCI Farmers, refer to our annual Harvest Reports.
The Better Cotton Standard System is a holistic approach to sustainable cotton production which covers all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. Each of the elements – from the Production Principles and Criteria to the monitoring mechanisms which show Results and Impact – work together to support the Better Cotton Standard System, and the credibility of Better Cotton and BCI. The system is designed to ensure the exchange of good practices, and to encourage the scaling up of collective action to establish Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.
Below is an explanation of each of the component parts which make up the Better Cotton Standard System. Click on the links for more detailed information about each element:
- ‘Production Principles and Criteria’: providing a global definition of Better Cotton through 6 key principles.
- ‘Capacity Building’: supporting and training farmers in growing Better Cotton, through working with experienced partners at field level.
- ‘Assurance Program’: regular farm assessment and measurement of results through 8 consistent results indicators, encouraging farmers to continuously improve.
- ‘Chain of Custody’: connecting supply and demand in the Better Cotton supply chain.
- ‘Claims framework’: spreading the word about Better Cotton by communicating powerful data, information and stories from the field.
- ‘Results and Impact’: monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to measure progress/change, to ensure that Better Cotton delivers the intended impact.
Better Cotton is produced by farmers all over the world who:
- Minimise the harmful impact of crop protection practices
- Use water efficiently and care for the availability of water
- Care for the health of the soil
- Conserve natural habitats
- Care for and preserve the quality of the fibre
- Promote decent work
Producing Better Cotton has real economic, social and environmental benefits. The communities of Better Cotton producers are starting to genuinely feel those changes. But it is the stories from the farmers and workers themselves that really convince. Below is a compilation of some of their personal stories that we’re proud to share:
BCI are working with pairs of ginners and spinners to highlight the efforts of those who are making Better Cotton a reality. They are proof of a system that works, and which is gaining momentum.
Here they tell us in their own words why others should join the movement and continue to procure more and more Better Cotton.