Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Better Cotton Initiative?
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world. We are truly a joint effort – encompassing organisations all the way from farms to fashion and textile brands, and civil society organisations – driving the cotton sector towards sustainability. In the 2017-18 cotton season, we and our on-the-ground partners provided training on more sustainable agricultural practices to 2.2 million farmers in 21 countries – of those farmers, two million gained a license to sell their cotton as Better Cotton.
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. Licensed BCI 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 5.1 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton lint in the 2017-18 cotton season*, on 5.3 million hectares (which is more than the land mass of Belgium). This is enough cotton to make more than 2.5 billion pairs of jeans. Currently, Better Cotton accounts for 19% of global cotton production. *This volume includes the three BCI recognised equivalent standards: CmiA (multiple African countries), MyBMP (Australia) and ABR (Brazil). Farmers growing cotton in line with these three standards can also sell their cotton as Better Cotton.
Who are the Better Cotton Initiative’s members?
At the end of 2019, BCI had more than 1,800 members spanning the cotton supply chain – 168 retailers and brands, 1,585 suppliers and manufacturers, 30 producer organisations, 42 civil society members, and 17 associate members. You can find the updated list here.
Is the Better Cotton Initiative competing with other cotton standards around the globe?
Less than 20% of global cotton production is independently verified as grown using more sustainable practices. BCI, organic, Fairtrade, myBMP (Australia), ABR (Brazil), CmiA (multiple African countries), and others work towards ensuring that all cotton is produced in a more sustainable manner. We have recognised three other standards as equivalent to the Better Cotton Standard, 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 some 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.
Considering reports of forced labour abuses in the cotton value chain in Xinjiang, China, what action is BCI taking to address the situation and its presence in the region?
BCI is suspending its assurance activities in the Xinjiang region of China for the upcoming cotton season (2020-21) based on the recognition that the operating environment prevents credible assurance and licensing from being executed. BCI assurance activities for the last season finished in September 2019. There will be no licensed Better Cotton from Xinjiang next season (2020-21). BCI has contracted a recognised global expert to conduct an external review to document the situation in Western China, evaluate the risk level and propose mitigation and remediation steps. BCI is also establishing an expert, multi-stakeholder Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work to develop recommendations for the BCI Programme and to ensure we operate with integrity – and in accordance with clearly defined environmental and social criteria – everywhere we work. Visit the BCI China page for more details.
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.
Is Better Cotton produced in Uzbekistan?
During the 2018-19 cotton season, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched an independent sustainable cotton project in Uzbekistan based on the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria, which are publicly available to whomever wishes to consult or apply them. BCI is encouraged by the progress that has been made through this project and has started participating in IFC’s Sustainable Cotton Project Consultative Council as an observer member, in order to encourage multi-stakeholder dialogue. The Consultative Council is a multi-stakeholder forum in Uzbekistan including the Uzbekistan Government, relevant line ministries and local authorities. Over the coming months BCI will increase its involvement in the IFC Cotton Project, participate in a Decent Work Working Group, and engage with the Uzbekistan Government. Once these activities are completed, BCI will determine if the appropriate conditions are in place to start the launch of the BCI new country start-up process.
BCI has also set up an expert Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work to review selected elements of the Better Cotton Standard System. Based on this review, the Task Force will produce recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the system in identifying, preventing, mitigating and remediating forced labour risks.
Is the Better Cotton Standard System publicly available for use by third-parties?
Yes. BCI welcomes the use, adoption or adaptation of its standard system in cases where it can be used to drive the adoption of more sustainable cotton farming practices. BCI conducts a Public Standard Review Process at least every five years, which also enables third-parties to contribute towards its further development.
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 Better Cotton 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.