The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) today marked the end of its fourth season of operation in the United States and announced that in 2017 more than 1 million bales of cotton were produced by American farms participating in the Better Cotton licensing program.
The global non-profit promotes sustainable cotton production. According to today’s release, its program now covers about 15% of the world’s production.
“We launched in the United States in 2014, in response to our retailer and brand members, who wanted to source U.S. grown cotton that meets the Better Cotton Standard for social and environmental performance,” said Scott Exo, BCI U.S.A Country Manager. “Since then, along with our industry partners, we’ve now grown to include 366 farmers in 14 states, who now grow 5% of U.S. cotton.”
Key to BCI’s rapid growth in the U.S. has been an innovative ‘group assurance’ approach to managing the requirements for participating farms. Growers participate as a part of a grower group, joining together with other growers in their area.
A BCI Group Assurance Implementing Partner — typically from a coop, merchant, gin or grower association — provides farm-level support, helps growers understand licensing requirements, gathers data, conducts farm monitoring and coordinates 3rd-party verification. BCI provides training and support to the partners.
Among the partners now managing BCI assurance groups are U.S. offices of all the major global cotton trading companies, as well as several regional merchants, marketing coops and one Texas gin. And several local gin managers are helping with data-gathering and verification visits.
“The group approach has enabled merchants and others to respond to this demand by helping farmers participate,” said Exo, the U.S.A country manager. “But it also holds great potential to advance a fundamental goal of the BCI program—continuous improvement.
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“Nearly all U.S. farms meet the core requirements for licensing. But unlike many other certification programs, which merely emphasize compliance, the Better Cotton Standard System also measures and encourages ongoing improvements, in things like water stewardship, soil health, and worker well-being. BCI participation creates a framework to assess and accelerate improvement, with the active encouragement of our partners.”
Cheryl Luther, manager at Black Oak Gin in northeast Arkansas, has been working with the BCI program since its first year in the U.S..
“I’ve encouraged our farmers to participate as a way to benchmark themselves against globally recognized standards, set goals for ongoing improvements and meet growing expectations from brands, retailers and their customers — not just about where their cotton comes from, but how it’s grown,” she said. “And it adds the increasingly important layer of independent verification.”
Rapid growth in the number of U.S. BCI partners, farms and bales is in direct response to parallel growth in BCI retailers and brand members, many of whom are setting aggressive targets for their use of Better Cotton, according to BCI’s announcement today.
In the last three years, North American brands like Target, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Guess, Williams-Sonoma and others have joined earlier BCI members like Nike, Inc., American Eagle Outfitters, ANN Inc., VF Group and Levi Strauss.