What is the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)?

The Better Cotton Initiative has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Within this timeframe it has successfully built the organisation to become the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world. Its main focus is to teach more sustainable farming practices, or to put into their words,

to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.’  

So what does this mean exactly, and why is h.huna so proud to have a part in this? 

Cotton as a plant is grown across approximately 15 countries, in different temperatures and different climates, effecting the type of cotton received, be it coarse cotton from parts of India with very little rainfall to the USA which is known for its long-staple cottons. So, even though we may buy that off-the-shelf cotton shirt from your average high street store for under £10 all year round, we don’t know the story of that product and from where the cotton is sourced. 

Let’s take a look at an average number of people involved in the supply chain throughout the production of a cotton shirt, from cotton farming through to the customer:

  1. Farmer
  2. Spinning factory (spinning cotton into thread)
  3. Knitters (knitting cotton into white/greige fabric)
  4. Dyers (dying the knitted cotton into seasonal, common colours)
  5. Fabric mill (they may buy greige fabric from knitters and have their own dyers)
  6. Agent representing the fabric mill (one across at least 4-6 worldwide continents for a large fabric mill)
  7. Manufacturers (purchase the cotton to produce garments)
  8. Retailers (place orders with manufacturers with design illustrations)
  9. Customers

It is often within this supply chain the connection to the original source – the farmer, is lost. This is the issue so many retailers now face on the sustainable aspect, how do you know the original source of the farm from which your current shirt design is made in?

It may say ‘Made in Bangladesh’ but is this the manufacturer or the fabric mill or the cotton?

When the label states ‘Fairtrade’, is this for the working conditions or for the cotton farming? 

There are so many areas to consider on the organic cotton title and this is where the BCI tries to bring these issues to the surface to cover all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic.

To bring light to the temperatures cotton is grown in across the relevant countries, the working conditions the cotton is grown and harvested in, the natural growth period of the cotton plant in that specific country at particular times of the year, the sacrifice farmers face, should temperatures effect their crops growth potential, the high water wastage potential during drought periods, the amount of land used to grow the ever increasing need for cotton, the cost reductions they have to make to keep their sales incoming, the reduction in salaries to the cotton farming communities, and the list goes on.  

The BCI has worked to reduce water consumption during droughts in the US using effective irrigation methods, helped to increase the use of organic fertilizer in India and improved the knowledge of eliminating child labour in China, but there is still a way to go to ensure cotton as a plant and a fabric is still valued for its worth by ourselves, the customer. 

So how about the next time you see a fair trade label on a garment, you check the care label or the swing tag to see how transparent the brand are into what it is exactly that is 'fair trade'?