Today Better Cotton is grown in 24 countries around the world and accounts for 20% of global cotton production. In the 2020-21 cotton season, 2.2 million licensed farmers grew 4.7 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton.
Today Better Cotton has more than 2,400 members, reflecting the breadth and diversity of the industry. Members of a global community that understands the mutual benefits of sustainable cotton farming. The moment you join, you become part of this too.
Better Cotton’s mission is to help cotton farming communities survive and thrive, while protecting and restoring the environment. Since 2009, Better Cotton has developed, tested and applied our Standard, whilst growing our reach to include 2.4 million licensed farmers around the world. Now is the time to deploy this scale to generate deeper impact.
Today, Better Cotton launches our 2030 Strategy, including a climate change mitigation target to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of Better Cotton produced by 50% by 2030. This is the first of five ambitious targets to be set, with the remaining four expected to be released by the end of 2022.
These progressive new metrics will allow better measurement across five key areas to ensure greater lasting economic, environmental and social benefits at farm level for cotton growing communities.
One of the clear lessons from the UN Climate Change Conference or COP26 in Glasgow is that we won’t get anywhere without working together. On the other hand, if we do manage to engage in genuine collaboration, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as imperfect as they may be, are a very powerful framework to enable better and deeper collaboration—between public, private and civil society actors—as they all steer us in the same direction. Through our climate change approach and five ambitious impact target areas, Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy to be released in December supports 11 out of the 17 SDGs. As Glasgow showed us just how urgent and imperfect the collaboration to unite against climate change is and how we need to go further, we look at how the SDG framework and the Glasgow Climate Pact is supported by the Better Cotton Strategy.
Three Overarching Themes from the Glasgow Climate Pact and How Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy and Climate Change Approach Supports Their Objectives
Prioritising Action Now
How Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy Supports This: With the recent publication of our first-ever global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) study conducted by Anthesis Group, we already have hard data that is enabling us to develop targeted emissions reduction pathways for Better Cotton’s many diverse local contexts. Now that we have established a baseline for Better Cotton GHG emissions, we are working to embed mitigation practices more deeply into our programmes and Principles and Criteria and further refine our monitoring and reporting methods. Details on our climate change approach and mitigation target will be shared as part of our 2030 Strategy.
The Ongoing Importance of Collaboration
How Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy Supports This: Youth climate activists like Greta Thunberg have inspired millions of young people around the world to join their call for greater action on climate change. We have heard these calls at Better Cotton.
As we finalise our climate approach and 2030 strategy, we are leveraging our network and partnerships, but even more importantly, we are ensuring that farmers’ and farm workers’ needs are centred — particularly for women, young people, and other more vulnerable populations — through continued and enhanced dialogue. New approaches are being developed to hear directly from workers, for example, as we pilot worker voice technology in Pakistan. We’re focused on driving field-level innovations that can directly benefit these individuals, which is why we are drawing on our close to 70 field-level partners across 23 countries to design country-level action plans for both mitigation and adaptation. We are also engaging with new audiences, particularly global and national policymakers to advocate for change.
A Just Transition That Actively Involves Marginalised Groups
How Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy Supports This: In a video address at the close of COP26, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres acknowledged young people, Indigenous communities, female leaders and all those leading the ‘climate action army.’ At Better Cotton, we understand that cotton farmers and their communities are at the forefront of this ‘climate action army’ and will continue to serve them first and foremost. That’s why a ‘Just Transition’ is one of the three pillars of our climate approach.
We know that the impact of climate change will disproportionately affect those who are already disadvantaged — whether due to poverty, social exclusion, discrimination or a combination of factors. Throughout 2021, we have been talking directly to farmers and farm workers in India and Pakistan to better understand the challenges that they face and develop new strategies that prioritise the concerns and voices of smallholder cotton farmers, as well as farm workers and marginalised groups in farming communities.
Learn more about Better Cotton’s climate approach, including five impact target areas, when we launch our 2030 Strategy later this year.
The world has been watching as global leaders, experts and activists alike have been making their voices heard at the much-anticipated UN Climate Change Conference – COP26.
In a series of blogs throughout the event, we’ve been looking at how Better Cotton’s climate approach will guide greater action under three pathways — mitigation, adaptation and ensuring a just transition —and what that willmean in real terms for Better Cotton Farmers and partners. As COP26 draws to a close, we are zeroing in on the mitigation pathway, taking a closer look at the impact of cotton on the climate emergency.
Keeping 1.5 Degrees Within Reach
By Kendra Park Pasztor, Better Cotton, Senior Manager of Monitoring & Evaluation
The first COP26 goal — secure global net zero by mid-century and limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels — is without a doubt the most ambitious. It’s also our only option if we want to prevent the most catastrophic climate disasters from occurring. To achieve this goal, COP26 has called on countries to commit to ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets.
What are Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
Greenhouse gases or GHGs include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides. Sometimes ‘carbon’ is used as shorthand for ‘GHG emissions.’ Generally, emissions are expressed in ‘carbon equivalent’ – CO2e.
At the same time, agriculture also has a central role to play in emissions reductions as forests and soil store large quantities of atmospheric carbon, and fertiliser application and power for irrigation systems are responsible for significant emissions. Recognising this, 26 nations at COP26 have already set out new commitments to create more sustainable and less polluting agricultural policies.
Understanding Better Cotton’s Contribution to Climate Change Mitigation
At Better Cotton, we are taking the cotton sector’s role in climate change mitigation seriously. In October of this year, we released our first report quantifying global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) of Better Cotton and comparable production. This is an important first step that is helping us set our emissions reduction target in our 2030 Strategy.
The Better Cotton GHG study, conducted by Anthesis Group and commissioned by Better Cotton in 2021, found significantly lower emissions from Better Cotton-licensed farmers’ cotton production.
Another piece of analysis in the study assessed emissions from Better Cotton (or recognised equivalent) production constituting over 80% of licensed Better Cotton’s global production across Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and the US. This data is enabling us to develop targeted emissions reduction strategies for Better Cotton’s many local contexts.
Translating Data into Action: Setting Better Cotton’s 2030 Target
Anthesis’ study provided us with valuable insights that we are using — along with the latest climate science — to set a 2030 target for Better Cotton GHG emissions reduction, aligned with the UNFCCC Fashion Charter of which Better Cotton is a member. Now that we have established a baseline for Better Cotton GHG emissions, we can further refine our monitoring and reporting methods moving forward.
Register to hear Kendra speak at the session “Achieving Ambitious Corporate Targets: How Can Sustainability Standards Contribute To Landscape Sourcing Area Climate And Sustainability Programmes?” taking place on 17 November at the Making Net-zero Value Chains Possible event.
After a sustained build-up and a launch that began with much fanfare and hope, the UN Climate Change Conference – COP26 – has drawn to the end of its first week.In a series of blogs, we’re looking at how Better Cotton’s climate approach will guide greater action under three pathways — mitigation, adaptation and ensuring a just transition—and what that will mean in real terms for Better Cotton Farmers and partners.
Read Alan McClay’s blog on the importance of collaboration here.
Enabling a just transition
By Chelsea Reinhardt, Better Cotton, Director of Standards and Assurance
The second COP26 goal – ‘Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats’ – underscores the stark reality that communities all around the world are already facing the effects of climate change, and those effects will only become more severe over time. As the world pushes to curb emissions, finding ways to adapt and cope with those realities will be a key focus of climate efforts moving forward.
Adaptation is already an integral part of our work at Better Cotton as well as a pillar of our new climate approach, but an equally important part of adaption will be ensuring that strategies are socially inclusive. That’s why pathway three of our approach is about enabling a just transition.
What is a ‘just transition’?
A just transition puts those most affected by climate change, and least prepared to adapt, front and centre.
What does this mean for Better Cotton?
Supporting a just transition is by design the most blue-sky area under our climate change approach. We know that further effort will go into defining this pillar, as we learn more and collaborate with partners. So far, for Better Cotton and our partners, a just transition will:
ensure that the shift towards climate-smart farming prioritises workers’ rights and protection;
enable greater access to finance and resources for farmers, farming communities and workers; and
understand and work to mitigate the impacts of climate migration as well as the impacts on women, youth, and other more vulnerable populations.
The impact of climate change will disproportionately affect those who are already disadvantaged – whether due to poverty, social exclusion, discrimination, or a combination of factors. These groups are often less represented in social dialogues and risk having decisions made for them rather than participating directly in shaping the transformation to a more sustainable world. For Better Cotton, a primary focus will be on supporting our smallholder cotton farmers, as well as farm workers and marginalised groups in farming communities.
For example, we know that cotton workers are already at high risk of labour violations and poor working conditions due to the seasonal and temporary nature of their work. In many regions, average temperatures will increase further during peak cotton weeding and picking seasons, and farmers suffering from reduced yields will be less able to pay living wages and provide benefits for workers.
Through the Better Cotton climate approach, we are building on our decent work production principle and diving deeper into our understanding of labour risks to develop local solutions. This will take the form of new worker feedback tools and partnerships with organisations operating within farming communities to provide workers with grievance mechanisms.
We are also putting women at the forefront of the just transition. In many Better Cotton regions, women farmers lack formal rights, such as land ownership; however, they often have significant influence over farming decisions. Women also represent the majority of cotton farm workers in countries such as India and Pakistan. And, we know that women are even more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, since they often have less access to information, resources or capital than male counterparts. Therefore, it is essential that women are involved in designing approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation and that they are active participants in key decisions around resource allocation and prioritisation.
Earlier this year, Cotton 2040, with partners Acclimatise and support from Laudes Foundation, authored the first-ever global analysis of physical climate risks across global cotton growing regions for the 2040s, as well as a Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment of cotton growing regions in India. Cotton 2040 are now inviting you to join us for three roundtable events where we will dive into this data in deeper detail, sharing a geography-specific analysis of the expected impacts and implications across different cotton growing regions, seeking to understand the critical impacts for actors across the supply chain and to collectively prioritise both urgent and long-term action across the cotton sector.
Apply to participate in this series of roundtable events through November and December 2021, where Cotton 2040 and its partners will come together to future-proof the cotton sector through climate and social adaptation. The three two-hour roundtable sessions are designed to build on each other over the course of five weeks and participants are encouraged to attend all three sessions. Each session will run online twice on each date, to suit time zones across the Americas, Europe, Africa, India and South East Asia.
Find more details on the roundtable events and register here.
Roundtable 1: Thursday 11 November: Understanding the climate risks facing the cotton sector and exploring the implications for future production
Roundtable 2: Tuesday 30 November: Developing a deeper understanding of the adaptation response required to build a more climate resilient cotton sector
Roundtable 3: Tuesday, 14 December: Shaping a pathway towards collaborative action for a climate resilient cotton sector
Dhaval Negandhi, Associate Director of Climate Change, Forum for the Future
Erin Owain, Lead Associate – Climate and Resilience Hub, and Alastair Baglee, Director, Corporates – Climate & Resilience Hub, Willis Towers Watson
Charlene Collison, Associate Director, Sustainable Value Chains and Livelihoods, Forum for the Future
How is Better Cotton contributing?
As part of Cotton 2040’s ‘Planning for Climate Adaptation’ working group, Better Cotton worked with partners to develop the resources released earlier this year, particularly in setting up regional working groups to discuss how to optimise data in India and other regions. We will continue to use this research to feed into our climate strategy and prioritise areas with high climate risk.
The Better Cotton Initiative is a proud member of Cotton 2040 – a cross-industry partnership that brings retailers and brands, cotton standards and industry initiatives together to align efforts in priority areas for action. Read more about Better Cotton’s collaboration with Cotton 2040:
Delta Framework – during 2019 and 2020, we have been working collaboratively with fellow sustainable cotton standards, programmes and codes via the Cotton 2040 Impacts Alignment Working Group to align sustainability impact indicators and metrics for cotton farming systems.
CottonUP – an interactive guide to help brands and retailers fast track sustainable sourcing across multiple standards, the CottonUP Guide answers three big questions about sourcing sustainable cotton: why it’s important, what you need to know and do, and how to get started.
Learn more about Cotton 2040’s ‘Planning for Climate Adaptation’ workstream by visiting their microsite.
The UN Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP26, is finally here. The world is watching as global leaders, scientists, climate change experts, companies and civil society convene to tackle the most pressing issue of our time. Climate change is a cross-cutting theme in the Better Cotton programme, addressed through sustainable farming practices across the Better Cotton Principles & Criteria. Promoting these field practices across our 25 programme countries has helped us lay a foundation for mitigating climate change and supporting adaption at the farm-level. But in 2021, we are going further, developing an ambitious climate change approach as a part of our 2030 Strategy.
Our aim is to reduce the impact of cotton on the climate emergency. This impact has been estimated by the Carbon Trust at 220 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. With our scale and network, Better Cotton can help accelerate the transition to reduce emissions and include Better Cotton Farmers in the solution, supporting cotton farming communities to prepare, adapt and build resilience for climate change and its related impacts. Our climate approach will guide greater action under three pathways — mitigation, adaptation and ensuring a just transition — and our focus areas align with the four main goals of COP26. As COP26 kicks off, we are taking a closer look at a few of these goals and what they mean in real terms for Better Cotton Farmers and partners.
COP26 Goal 4: Work together to deliver
COP26 goal number four, ‘work together to deliver’, is perhaps the most critical, because finalising the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational) and accelerating action to tackle the climate crisis can only be achieved through effective collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society. Likewise, transforming the cotton sector is not the work of one organisation alone. Hand-in-hand with the Better Cotton community, we aim to work with every link in the supply chain, from farmer to consumer, as well as governments, civil society organisations and funders.
New approaches for collaboration
In our new climate approach, we are leveraging our network with almost 100 Strategic and Implementing Partners. We are working in the field to engage new audiences, particularly global and national policy makers and funders who are interested in investing in climate change emergency solutions. We are exploring opportunities offered by carbon markets and Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes, especially in the context of smallholders. We are also working to strengthen the voices of stakeholders at farm-level, helping to empower farming communities with the right incentives and governance systems. The way farmers structure themselves into associations, working groups or organisations, for example, will be crucial to increase the adoption rates of effective mitigation practices, and to build convincing cases for enabling GHG mitigation. Ultimately, we aim to inspire, influence, and learn from actors at every level of the supply chain, because Better Cotton is not just a commodity but a movement to be shared by everyone concerned by cotton and its sustainable future.
Local solutions for global change
As COP26 is highlighting, no country is insulated from the effects of climate change, but each country’s exact climate risks and hazards are highly localised. From extreme drought in India and Pakistan to soil-borne fungus attacks in central Israel, climate change already affects farmers in Better Cotton growing regions and its effects will increase rapidly. Importantly, solutions will require global and local partnerships. Here again, collaboration will be essential.
With our new climate approach, we are developing country-level roadmaps for mitigation and adaptation informed by Cotton 2040’s analysis of climate risks across cotton growing regions. This evaluation has allowed us to understand better the projected impacts of climate change in cotton production regions, including extreme weather events, soil degradation, increased pest pressure, droughts and flooding, which will result in social impacts such as labour migration, less access to education, reduced yields and rural food insecurity. The analysis has allowed us to prioritise areas where the Better Cotton footprint is prominent and the climate change impacts are most extreme, for example: India, Pakistan and Mozambique, among others. As leaders at COP26 share their country’s unique challenges and ‘work together to deliver’, we will be listening and will work to set ambitious targets in line with COP26 outcomes.
Better Cotton Members taking action for COP26
Check out the commitments and actions from Better Cotton Members:
A new report published on 15 October 2021 has revealed the first-ever quantification of global greenhouse gas emissions of Better Cotton and comparable production. The report, conducted by Anthesis Group and commissioned by Better Cotton in 2021, found significantly lower emissions from Better Cotton licensed farmers’ cotton production.
Anthesis analysed more than 200,000 farm assessments from three seasons (2015-16 to 2017-18) and used the Cool Farm Tool as the GHG emissions calculation engine. The primary data provided by Better Cotton covered input use and types, farm sizes, production and approximate geographical locations, while some information was filled via desk research where primary data was not available.
The aims of this study were two-fold. Firstly, we wanted to understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers. Secondly, we wanted to quantify emissions for producers contributing 80% of Better Cotton global production and use this baseline to set a global emissions reductions target for 2030.
Results from our comparative analysis
To understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers, comparison data was provided by Better Cotton. Each season its partners collect and report data from farmers cultivating cotton in the same geographic areas using same or similar technologies, but who are not yet participating in the Better Cotton programme. The study found that on average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.
Over half of the difference in emissions performance between Better Cotton and comparison production was due to difference in emissions from fertiliser production. A further 28% of the difference was because of emissions from irrigation.
Analysis that informs Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy
We aim to make, and demonstrate, positive real-world change for the climate. This means having a baseline and measuring change over time. To help inform our forthcoming 2030 strategy and associated global target on emissions reduction, we requested a separate piece of analysis to assess emissions from Better Cotton (or recognised equivalent) production constituting over 80% of licensed Better Cotton’s global production across Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and the US. The analysis breaks down emissions drivers for each state or province per country. This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.
The study found production had average annual GHG emissions of 8.74 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents to produce 2.98 million tonnes lint – equating to 2.93 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents per tonne lint produced. Unsurprisingly, the largest emissions hotspot was found to be fertiliser production, which accounted for 47% of total emissions from Better Cotton production. Irrigation and fertiliser application were also found to be significant drivers of emissions.
Better Cotton’s next steps on GHG Emissions
Set a 2030 Target
Better Cotton will set a 2030 target on GHG emissions reduction. This will be informed by climate science and the collective ambition of the apparel and textile sector, including notably the UNFCCC Fashion Charter of which Better Cotton is a member.
Better Cotton’s emissions target will sit within our comprehensive climate change strategy currently under development.
Take Action Towards the Target
Given their sizable contribution to total emissions, reductions in the use of synthetic fertilisers and irrigation can unlock significant reductions in emissions. Efficiency improvements through better yields will also contribute to reducing emissions intensity, i.e. GHGs emitted per tonne of cotton grown.
The adoption of management practices such as cover cropping, mulching, no/reduced tillage and application of organic manures offer significant opportunities to reduce emissions through carbon sequestration. These practices can simultaneously have a positive impact on conserving soil moisture and enhancing soil health.
Galvanising collective action where it matters most will also support emissions reductions – this includes identifying hotspots, leveraging new resources and advocating for change outside Better Cotton’s direct scope (e.g. approximately 10% of Better Cotton emissions to produce cotton lint comes from ginning. If half the ginning operations were supported to transition away from fossil fuel-powered energy to renewables, Better Cotton emissions would reduce by 5%).
Monitor & Report Against the Target
Better Cotton is partnering on a project led by the Gold Standard, which will provide guidance and credibility to Better Cotton’s emissions quantification method. We are testing the Cool Farm Tool as a scientific, credible and scalable approach to help us monitor change in emissions over time.
The collection of additional data from Better Cotton farmers and projects will enable refinement of the emissions quantification process in subsequent years.
Today, on World Cotton Day, we are happy to be celebrating the farming communities around the world that provide us with this essential natural fibre.
The social and environmental challenges we came together to address in 2005, when Better Cotton was founded, are even more urgent today, and two of those challenges — climate change and gender equality — stand to be the key issues of our time. But there are also clear actions we can take to solve them.
When we look at climate change, we see the scale of the task ahead. At Better Cotton, we are drawing up our own climate change strategy to help farmers deal with these painful effects. Importantly, the strategy will also address the cotton sector’s contribution to climate change, which The Carbon Trust estimates at 220 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. The good news is that the technologies and practices to address these issues are already there — we only need to put them in place.
Cotton and climate change – an illustration from India
At Better Cotton, we’ve witnessed the disruption that climate change brings first-hand. In Gujarat, India, Better Cotton Farmer Vinodbhai Patel struggled for years with low, irregular rainfall, poor soil quality and pest infestations on his cotton farm in the village of Haripar. But without access to knowledge, resources or capital, he, along with many other smallholder farmers in his region, relied partially on government subsidies for conventional fertilisers, as well as credit from local shopkeepers to buy traditional agro-chemical products. Over time, these products only degraded the soil further, making it harder to grow healthy plants.
Vinodbhai now uses exclusively biological fertilisers and pesticides to produce cotton on his six-hectare farm — and he is encouraging his peers to do the same. By managing insect-pests using ingredients sourced from nature — at no cost to him — and planting his cotton plants more densely, by 2018, he had reduced his pesticide costs by 80% compared to the 2015-2016 growing season, while increasing his overall production by over 100% and his profit by 200%.
The potential for change becomes even greater when we factor women into the equation. There’s mounting evidence that shows the relationship between gender equality and climate change adaptation. In other words, we are seeing that when women’s voices are elevated, they make decisions that benefit everyone, including driving the adoption of more sustainable practices.
Gender Equality – an illustration from Pakistan
Almas Parveen, a cotton farmer in the Vehari district of Punjab, Pakistan is familiar with these struggles. In her corner of rural Pakistan, entrenched gender roles mean women often have little opportunity to influence farming practices or business decisions, and female cotton workers are often restricted to low paid, manual tasks, with less job security than men.
Almas, however, was always determined to overcome these norms. Since 2009, she’s been running her family’s nine-hectare cotton farm herself. While that alone was remarkable, her motivation didn’t stop there. With support from our Implementing Partner in Pakistan, Almas became a Better Cotton Field Facilitator to enable other farmers — both men and women — to learn and benefit from sustainable farming techniques. At first, Almas’ faced opposition from members of her community, but in time, the farmers’ perceptions changed as her technical knowledge and sound advice resulted in tangible benefits on their farms. In 2018, Almas increased her yields by 18% and her profits by 23% compared to the previous year. She also achieved a 35% reduction in pesticide use. In the 2017-18 season, the average Better Cotton Farmer in Pakistan increased their yields by 15%, and reduced their pesticide use by 17%, in comparison to non-Better Cotton Farmers.
The issues of climate change and gender equality serve as powerful lenses with which to view the current state of the cotton sector. They show us that our vision of a sustainable world, where cotton farmers and workers know how to cope — with threats to the environment, low productivity and even limiting societal norms — is within reach. They also show us that a new generation of cotton farming communities will be able to make a decent living, have a strong voice in the supply chain and meet growing consumer demand for more sustainable cotton.
The bottom line is that transforming the cotton sector is not the work of one organisation alone. So, on this World Cotton Day, as we all take this time to listen and learn from each other, reflecting on the importance and role of cotton around the world, I’d like to encourage us to band together and leverage our resources and networks.
Together, we can deepen our impact and catalyse systemic change. Together, we can make the transformation to a sustainable cotton sector — and world — a reality.
On 4 October 2021, Ecotextile News published “Can cotton cool climate change?”, exploring the role cotton growing plays in climate change. The article looks closely at Better Cotton’s climate strategy and draws from an interview with Lena Staafgard, COO, and Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance, to understand how we plan to impact climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Accelerating the pace of change
With Better Cotton’s recent study on GHG emissions commissioned with Anthesis and our work with Cotton 2040, we now have better information to identify the areas contributing most to emissions and which regions will be most affected by climate change. Our existing Standard and programmes implemented on-the-ground by partners and farmers across the Better Cotton network currently address these issue areas. But we need to act fast to build on what already exists to deepen our impact.
What we are looking to do really is to refine our focus and accelerate the pace of change, to have a deeper impact in those particular areas that are the big drivers of emissions.
– Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance
Collaborating across the cotton sector
The recent Cotton 2040 study shows that half of all cotton growing areas are at high risk of extreme weather conditions in the coming decades, and we have the opportunity to take action in these regions with our potential to convene relevant stakeholders. There are challenges in providing solutions that are relevant to localised conditions, so we are using our nuanced understanding of these issues and are in a position to address them with appropriate strategies through the network we have. Ensuring we bring smallholder and large farm contexts into our approach is important.
We should be able to get there, but it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to require a lot of collaboration, pulling in the technology and the knowledge we have at the large farms and finding ways of making it available at smallholder level where so much of the world’s agriculture takes place.
In April 2020, BCI formed the Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work to review the current global Better Cotton Standard System. The aim of the Task Force was to highlight gaps and develop recommendations to improve the effectiveness of this system in identifying, preventing, mitigating and remediating forced labour risks. The group was comprised of experts from civil society, retailers and brands, and responsible sourcing consultancies.
The Task Force worked to review current BCI systems, discuss key issues and gaps, and develop proposed recommendations. The process included extensive consultations with a wider group of stakeholders, and culminated in a comprehensive report, published in October 2020 and available in full on the BCI website.
The BCI Leadership Team and Council have now completed a full review of the report’s findings, producing a formal response that also summarises the work that BCI has already carried out as of January 2021. The response outlines BCI’s expected short, mid, and long-term priorities to strengthen our systems on forced labour and decent work.
Alan McClay, CEO of BCI said, ”Decent work and forced labour are crucial sustainability issues within cotton production. At BCI we are committed to strengthening further our capabilities on these issues. As we launch our 2030 strategy, the Task Force recommendations help us do that. The work to implement these recommendations is already underway.”
The response welcomes the comprehensive findings of the Task Force and its identification of multiple areas where BCI will continue to focus more resources and effort. The Task Force has recognised the potential that BCI has – as a truly global network of partners – to enact change across millions of cotton farmers and workers.
The response also recognises the importance of embedding BCI’s forced labour and decent work efforts within the broader BCI strategy. This is reflected in BCI’s 2030 strategy, which includes a strong focus on decent work. We expect that work in some of these recommendation areas will span most of the next decade and even beyond.
BCI will use a phased approach to implement the activities outlined in the plan, tackling quick wins and high-priority areas promptly, whilst maintaining a long-term vision on some of the more challenging work areas that will require dedicated funding and resources. This approach will be informed by risk assessment; focusing first on areas where forced labour risks are high and BCI has a significant footprint.
BCI will look to actively collaborate with others on some of these key challenges, such as effective tools for farm workers to raise grievances. These challenges are faced across the agricultural sector, and BCI expects to work not only with local experts and grassroots organisations, but also with other initiatives to share learnings and pioneer new tools.
BCI has lost no time getting started on some of the key recommendations of the task force and will bring these into effect in time for the next season, beginning in March in the Northern Hemisphere. The BCI Leadership team is extremely grateful to the Task Force members for dedicating their time and expertise to help BCI examine our current approach and forge a path forward to transform our forced labour and decent work capabilities.
A summary of BCI’s plan to onboard the Task Force’s recommendations is available on the BCI website and can be found here.
Cotton is grown in areas of the world with formidable challenges, both environmental and social. Better Cotton’s mission dictates that we operate in many of these regions, and therefore, we must manage complex, socio-political and economic conditions in order to deliver support and interventions where they will have the most impact. In order to adapt and respond to decent work and forced labour challenges, in particular, Better Cotton is actively engaged in dialogue on these issues with subject matter experts and key stakeholders, including civil society organisations, retailers and brands, and ethical supply chains consultants.
To that end and in the spirit of our commitment to continuous improvement, Better Cotton formed the Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work in April 2020 to review the current Better Cotton Standard System globally. The aim of the Task Force was to highlight gaps and develop recommendations to improve the effectiveness of this system in identifying, preventing, mitigating and remediating forced labour risks. The group was comprised of 12 experts representing civil society, retailers and brands, and ethical supply chain consultancies. The Task Force worked virtually for six months to review current Better Cotton systems, discuss key issues and gaps, and develop proposed recommendations. The process included extensive consultations with a wider group of retailers and brands, field-level Implementing Partners and worker-focused organisations, among others. Their work culminated in a comprehensive report that outlines key findings and recommendations.
”It has been a privilege for Better Cotton to be able to work with a world-class group of independent experts,” commented Alan McClay, BCI CEO. ”Their knowledge and experience have enabled us to build a robust foundation on which we shall rebalance our activities with a stronger focus on decent work and forced labour.”
The Better Cotton Council and Management Team are reviewing the report and will carefully consider the Task Force’s findings and recommendations through the lens of Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy. They will prepare a detailed response to the recommendations, which will be shared in January. Better Cotton recognises that strengthening our decent work programme will be a multi-year process and will require additional resources and funding. In the short-term, we will focus on strengthening our forced labour capabilities through capacity building for staff, Implementing Partners and third-party verifiers, enhancing our due diligence for selecting and retaining Implementing Partners, and revising our assurance processes to better identify and mitigate forced labour risks.
In 2021, Better Cotton is also exploring opportunities to pilot a more comprehensive set of decent work activities, including a detailed forced labour risk assessment and civil society engagement tactics, in one or two high priority regions.
Better Cotton would like to express our sincerest gratitude to the Task Force members all of whom volunteered their time and expertise, engaging wholeheartedly in the process. Their efforts have resulted in a thorough and complex analysis of an important area of social sustainability, and of the Better Cotton Standard System, and will serve Better Cotton as we continue striving to create change. We are committed to pioneering innovative approaches to promote decent work conditions in cotton fields for workers and farmers alike, which would not be possible without strong engagement from diverse stakeholders.
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Today, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) launched its 2019 Annual Report. In the report, BCI shares that Better Cotton – cotton produced by licensed BCI Farmers in line with the initiative’s Better Cotton Principles and Criteria – now accounts for 22% of global cotton production*.
In the 2018-19 cotton season, together with expert on-the-ground Implementing Partners and with support from more than 1,800 members, BCI provided training on more sustainable agricultural practices to 2.3 million cotton farmers – 2.1 million gained a license to sell Better Cotton. This drove the volume of more sustainably produced cotton available on the global market to a new level.
At the opposite end of the supply chain, BCI’s Retailer and Brand Members passed a significant milestoneat the end of 2019, sourcing more than 1.5 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton ¬≠– a record for BCI. That’s a 40% increase on 2018 and sends a clear signal to the market that Better Cotton is becoming a sustainable mainstream commodity. Better Cotton uptake now accounts for 6% of global cotton production.
”It is particularly pleasing to share the progress BCI is making, thanks to the concerted efforts of our members, partners and other stakeholders, towards our 2020 targets. With two more cotton seasons (2019-20 and 2020-21) within which to make further advances at field level, we are committed to not only continuing to deliver beneficial change at field level, but also to learning from the experience and adapting to become more effective. We do not yet know how close we will come to our 2020 targets, and we are still assessing how the current Covid-19 pandemic will impact our efforts. But one thing is certain, we have made significant and undeniable progress over the past 10 years, and there are many successes to celebrate.” – Alan McClay, CEO, BCI.
2019 Report Highlights
Better Cotton was grown in 23 countries in the 2018-19 cotton season.
Licensed BCI Farmers produced 5.6 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton. That is enough cotton to make approximately 8 billion pairs of jeans, a pair each for every person in the world.
Better Cotton now accounts for 22% of global cotton production.
BCI and its 76 field-level partners delivered training and support to a total of 2.3 million farmers.
2.1 million cotton farmers received a BCI license to sell their cotton as Better Cotton – 99% are smallholders farming on less than 20 hectares.
BCI Retailer and Brand Members sourced 1.5 million metric tonnes of cotton as Better Cotton in 2019 – a record volume.
Uptake of Better Cotton now accounts for 6% of global cotton production.
BCI welcomed more than 400 new members in 2019.
By the end of the year, BCI had 1,842 members across five membership categories, a 29% increase on 2018.
Access the interactive BCI 2019 Annual Report to learn more about our successes, challenges and the progress we are making towards our 2020 targets.
*The percentage has been calculated using ICAC’s 2019 global production figures.
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