How ethical is the cotton supply chain?

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Here’s a quick primer on the Better Cotton Initiative and the impact it’s having on your clothes.

How ethical is the cotton supply chain?
Ever heard of BCI cotton? BCI stands for the Better Cotton Initiative and is a non-profit working with suppliers across the globe to ensure social responsibility across the cotton manufacturing supply chain. So, if you’re interested in upping your sustainable fashion credentials, here’s a quick primer on the Better Cotton Initiative and the impact it’s having on your clothes.

Who is the Better Cotton Initiative?

The Better Cotton Initiative runs the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. They work with both clothing brands and farmers on the ground to promote and develop capacity around the growing of sustainable cotton that respects the environment and the workers involved in its growing and manufacturing process. Their goal is to train five million farmers worldwide on more sustainable agricultural practices and have Better Cotton account for 30% of global cotton production by 2020.

In the 2017-2018 cotton season, 2 million BCI Farmers across 21 countries produced 5.1 million metric tons of Better Cotton lint, meaning 19% of global cotton production.

Since 2014 the BCI has been working closely with the American cotton industry to grow the US Better Cotton supply chain. It’s estimated that in the 2019-20 cotton season, close to 300 licensed BCI farms in 17 states will produce 242,000 metric tons (1.11 million bales) of Better Cotton on 212,000 hectares – accounting for 6% of US cotton production.

What does ethical cotton actually mean?

The BCI has developed six core principles that BCI farmers must adhere to, working towards an industry that works for both people and planet. The majority of these focus on minimizing the environmental impact of cotton production, including reduction of chemicals and pesticides used in the growing of cotton, encouraging biodiversity and responsible use of land, as well as a commitment to actively care for the health of the soil. Water stewardship is a core principle, with criteria to reduce the amount of water used in crop irrigation, as well as ensure that irrigation and groundwater are not polluted during the farming process. Criteria 5 focusses on the promotion of decent work across the cotton supply chain, ensuring that cotton farms do not use child labor, pay a fair wage, end discrimination and allow employees to collectively bargain for better working conditions.  

Who is BCI working with?

A quick Google search of BCI cotton will produce a list of globally known brands working with the Better Cotton Initiative. BCI works with over 100 brands globally, including H&M, Adidas, Levis, Gap, Nike and American Eagle. And whilst this doesn’t mean that environmental and labor problems are not found in their supply chains, it does ensure that they are held accountable regarding these practices and must rectify them. Check out this list to see the leading brands in sustainable cotton sourcing.

Other Initiatives to look out for

Clothing supply chains are complex, meaning that brands will often use a mix of differently sourced sustainable cotton. As well as the BCI criteria, cotton can also be certified organic, Fairtrade and with the Cotton USA mark.

Shopping Responsible Fashion

This one isn’t easy and requires a lot of research and some restraint on our part. Familiarizing yourself with the main ethical standards in fashion, such as the BCI, and the brands using them is always a good idea. We hope this ethical cotton 101 helps you get started.

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