Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work

Cotton is grown in areas of the world with formidable challenges, both environmental and social. BCI’s mission dictates that we operate in many of these regions, 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* challenges in particular, BCI is actively engaged in dialogue on Decent Work and forced labour issues with our stakeholders, including civil society organisations, retailers and brands, and expert organisations. These efforts were initiated originally in line with BCI’s aspiration to explore the possibility of developing a BCI Programme in Uzbekistan. Over the last year, the focus has broadened to also include increasing concerns about forced labour in cotton production wherever such challenges may arise.

Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work

Building on this, BCI is working to strengthen the Core Indicators of Better Cotton Principle Six: Decent Work, with an initial focus on Indicator 6.3.1 Forced Labour. To this end, in March 2020, BCI 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 have produced recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the system in identifying, preventing, mitigating and remediating forced labour risks. You can find further information and the full report below.

All Task Force updates will be shared on this page.

Task Force Findings and Recommendations: October 2020

Cotton is grown in areas of the world with formidable challenges, both environmental and social. BCI’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, BCI 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, BCI 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 BCI 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 BCI to be able to work with a world-class group of independent experts,” comment 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 BCI Council and Management Team are reviewing the report and will carefully consider the Task Force’s findings and recommendations through the lens of BCI’s 2030 strategy. They will prepare a detailed response to the recommendations, which will be shared in January. BCI 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, BCI 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.

BCI 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 BCI 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.

Access the full report.

Task Force Update: July 2020

Status Update

  • Throughout June 2020, the Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work undertook deep dives in four sub-groups focusing on the following areas: criteria and assurance, risk-based methodology, Implementing Partner due diligence and management, and grievance mechanisms and remedy. The groups came together to discuss findings, recommendations and overarching themes in a workshop on 6 July.
  • Following a consensus within the Task Force, the timeline for the project was extended until early October 2020. This will allow more time to further develop the recommendations to better equip BCI to take them forward. Operationalisation and implementation of the recommendations will be more long-term and will start in the new year.
  • Over the past few months, a series of knowledge sharing sessions were organised to spotlight the know-how of specific organisations represented on the Task Force. The topics covered multiple geographies and included forced labour toolkits for supply chain actors, approaches to forced labour risk assessment in agriculture, and lessons learned from monitoring in cotton supply chains. An Indian grassroots organisation, external to the Task Force, was also invited to speak on the role of the local communities in detection, mitigation and rehabilitation of child labour and forced labour.

Consultations

  • On 10 June, the Task Force held its first consultation with BCI Members, most of them Retailer and Brand Members from the Buyers and Investors Committee (a group charged with linking Better Cotton supply and demand) of the Better Cotton Growth and Innovation Fund. The purpose of the session was to introduce the scope of the Task Force and its working process.
  • A second BCI Retailer and Brand Member consultation workshop took place on 22 July. A summary of draft recommendations along with specific questions for Retailer and Brand Members to consider were shared ahead of the workshop. The consulted members will also be asked to provide written feedback once more substantiated recommendations are shared in mid-August.
  • A consultation with BCI Implementing Partners and BCI Country Teams is planned for 19 August to discuss context-specific relevance and feasibility of the draft recommendations. The workers’ perspective will be explored in a series of consultative sessions with worker-focused organisations (the list of organisations is being confirmed).
  • Due to the high level of interest expressed in the work of the Task Force, an additional informational webinar is planned for a wider group of BCI Members on 12 August. The webinar will provide an overview of the Task Force project background and trajectory, as well as a summary of emerging recommendations. BCI Members can register here.

Task Force Members

The Task Force on Forced Labour and Decent Work brings together representatives from civil society, retailers and brands, and consultancies with a strong expertise in human rights and forced labour issues in supply chains, particularly in the textile sector. The Task Force also draws on the expertise of a project adviser with a background tackling the risks of child and forced labour in cotton harvest at the International Labour Organization, as well as its wider membership.

Civil Society 

  • Patricia Jurewicz, Founder and Vice President | Responsible Sourcing Network
  • Shelly Han, Chief of Staff & Director or Engagement | Fair Labour Association
  • Allison Gill, Cotton Campaign Coordinator | International Labor Rights Forum
  • Isabelle Rogers, Global Cotton Programme Manager | Solidaridad
  • Chloe Cranston, Business and Human Rights Manager | Anti-Slavery International
  • Komala Ramachandra, Senior Researcher | Human Rights Watch

Consultancies / Research Organisations 

  • Rosey Hurst, Founder and Director | Impactt
  • Aarti Kapoor, Managing Director | Embode
  • Brett Dodge, Senior Consultant | Ergon

Retailers and Brands

  • Fiona Sadler, Head of Ethical Trade (will temporarily represent M&S) | Lydia Hopton, Ethical Trade Manager | M&S Clothing and Home
  • Aditi Wanchoo, Senior Manager – Development Partnerships Social & Environmental Affairs | adidas
  • Jason Tucker, Director of Labor Performance, Sustainable Manufacturing & Sourcing | Nike

Project Advisors

  • Stephen McClelland, Independent Senior Consultant

Find out more about the Task Force members here.

Task Force FAQ

Q: Does the Task Force cover all Decent Work issues or only forced labour?

A: The primary focus of the Task Force is improving the effectiveness of the Better Cotton Standard System in identifying, preventing and mitigating against the risks of forced labour and facilitating remediation of the victims of forced labour. However, given the interrelated nature of Decent Work, it is expected that some recommendations will also cover related areas, such as child labour, freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Q: Is the Task Force focused on Decent Work issues in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China?

A: The Task Force has a global remit – it is looking at improvements in the Better Cotton Standard System overall and is not focused on a specific geography. However, under the terms of reference for the group, the Task Force will distinguish between system improvements targeted at regions with a higher risk of forced labour, versus those that can be rolled out across the general Better Cotton System globally.

Q: Once the recommendations of the Task Force are implemented, does that mean BCI will resume its assurance programme in the XUAR?

A: No, the recommendations of the Task Force – even when implemented – are not a definite indication that BCI will resume licensing or assurance operations in the XUAR. The decision on when, or if, to resume assurance activities in the XUAR will be based on a broader set of considerations, including an expert review of the situation on the ground, an assessment of the enabling environment and stakeholder consultation.

Read the Task Force Terms of Reference here. Please note that this a summary of the full Terms of Reference – the full document is available upon request. Please contact assurance@bettercotton.org.

*Decent Work is defined as work which offers fair pay, security and equal opportunities for learning and progression, in an environment where people feel safe, respected, and able to express their concerns or negotiate better conditions.