“Interview：Better Cotton Initiative in promoting sustainable cotton farming”
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a not-for-profit organisation stewarding the global standards for Better Cotton, and bringing together cotton’s complex supply chain, from the farmers to the retailers.
BCI has the strategic approach with the goal of finding more sustainable solutions for farmers, for the environment, and for the future of each sector. The members of the Better Cotton Initiative are a number of global companies such as Adidas, H & M, IKEA, and Nike, joined BCI. In this case, Mr Shimotaya interviewed with Mr. Darren Abney, Membership Engagement Manager, North America, Better Cotton Initiative, about prospect of BCI for the future. (Interviewee: Takeshi Shimotaya CSR/Sustainability consultant Managing Director of Sustainavisionltd., Translation: Iwama Rie = Sustainavision Research Analyst Intern)
Thanks Daren for accepting my offer to take interview with you. I really appreciate it. I think Better Cotton Initiative is getting global attention in these days and many companies worldwide have been much more interested. But unfortunately I think not so many Japanese companies know Better Cotton Initiative. So could you tell me what Better Cotton Initiative is briefly? How and why BCI was established? And what the aims of the BCI are?
Cotton is a renewable natural resource but the future of cotton production is vulnerable to poor environmental management, poor working conditions and unstable markets. The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) operates as a not-for-profit organisation and exists 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. To achieve our mission, we connect people and organisations from across the cotton sector from field to store, to promote measurable and continuing improvements for the environment, farming communities and the economies of cotton-producing areas. Together we define what a better, more sustainable way of growing cotton looks like. We call this definition “Better Cotton”.
We aim to work with 5 million farmers and account for 30% of total global cotton production by 2020.
Could you tell us what the problems in cotton industry in these days are, and how BCI contribute to solving these problems?
When most people think about issues in the textile industry, they think of collapsing buildings in Bangladesh during cut and sew operations or children working, sewing on sequins when they should be at school. As serious as these issues are, there are further challenges in textiles that receive less attention, despite being much larger in scale and scope and involving millions more people. These challenges are off the radar of many major brands because they occur further down the supply chain.
These issues include: water management, soil depletion, working conditions, super weeds, surging use of herbicides, audit quality, and more.
BCI was formed to address these issues – and did so by creating a Standard of Production with 6 major principles, 44 criteria responding to those principles, and 8 indicators to measure progress.
BCI brings together farmers, ginners, traders, spinners, mills, cut & sew, manufacturers, retailers, brands and grassroots organisations in a unique global community committed to developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity. By helping farmers to grow cotton in a way that reduces stress on the local environment and improves the livelihoods and welfare of farming communities, BCI aims to create long-term change. It is a global approach that provides a solution for the cotton industry as a whole, including both smallholders and large scale farmers.
These big brands; Adidas, H&M, Levi’s, IKEA, Nike and Marks & Spencer, are BCI’s pioneer members. Why these companies are interested in BCI? What can BCI do for these companies?
Cotton is one of the world’s most important natural ﬁbers. It’s used by nearly everyone on Earth every day, and supports 250 million people’s livelihoods. It’s a renewable natural resource, but only if we manage it responsibly
Since cotton is a key fiber for many of these companies, BCI enables these leading brands to address their mainstream conventional cotton usage by offering a standard for more sustainably produced cotton. As members of BCI these companies have access:
• To an online traceability system,
• Off the shelf marketing materials prepared by BCI to communicate the benefits of Better Cotton to their stakeholders (including customers)
• Supply chain engagement support.
You told me that BCI has been supporting member companies’s tracability system, marketing material to communicate its stakeholders and its supply chain engagement, which are very nice. By the same token, I think BCI has also been supporting the livelihood and the working environment for farmers and workers. BCI tries to secure a more sustainable future for cotton. So could you tell us how BCI make positive impacts on famers and workers? Could you share some of the best practices with us?
BCI established 6 Production Principles that define the areas the farmers have to manage to produce Better Cotton:
1. Minimize harmful impact of crop protection practices, learning to properly apply pesticides.
2. Use water efficiently and care for water availability.
3. Care for soil health.
4. Conserve natural habitats.
5. Care for and preserve the fiber quality.
6. Promote decent work standards.
The Better Cotton Assurance Program works on a Performance Scale, for example: Pesticides are only prepared & applied by persons that are healthy, trained, over 18, and not pregnant or nursing; and Workers & employers have the right to bargain collectively.
In terms of consumer perspectives, what would you think about future trend toward environmental and social performance of companies, in particular cotton consumption?
There is certainly a trend toward consumers demanding more sustainable and responsible products, as long as it doesn’t come at a cost to them. While the textile industry has seen more visibility in the mass media in recent years, there is still a gross misunderstanding about the impacts of the industry as whole, among average consumers.
BCI has taken the approach that providing businesses with cotton that’s been more sustainably produced, reduces their risk of losing a fiber that’s instrumental to their business. International brands including adidas, H&M, IKEA, Levi Strauss & Co., M&S and Nike already source Better Cotton for their products. Their support and that of all BCI’s members means that more and more Better Cotton is coming onto the market. In 2013, 3.7% of all the cotton produced globally was Better Cotton. By 2020, we want this figure to be 30%. By then, the cotton products you use every day are more likely to contain cotton produced in a more sustainable way. That’s better for the farmers, the environment and the cotton sector, and that’s better for all of us.
So can all of that lead to a more informed consumer? We leave that for the Retailers and Brands to decide.
BCI helps companies to build the partnership or strong relationship with public organisations, private companies and volunteer associations across the boundary. Could you share best examples with us?
Our Partners are key actors in the scale up of Better Cotton all over the world. Partners take on significant leadership for Better Cotton, typically in their specific geographical area. They can also be responsible for building the capacity of farmers to participate in the Better Cotton Standard System, through field level training and outreach, and for collecting the data at field level which evidences the impact which Better Cotton is having on the environment and the lives of the farmers and farm workers. We partner with national or regional cotton producers’ organisations such as ABRAPA in Brazil, Cotton Australia in Australia and APROCA in Mali. Governments and governmental bodies related to cotton production, marketing, processing and trading, e.g. the Chinese government, and IAM in Mozambique. Entities created ad hoc to grow, promote and sell Better Cotton, e.g. IPUD in Turkey, and initiatives working to promote sustainability in the cotton sector, e.g. Cotton Made in Africa.
In terms of how we implement the BCI standard at farm level, , Implementing Partners are crucial to our model. They are the organisations who create an enabling environment for the farmers to participate in the Better Cotton System Working both directly with farmers and through trained trainers, they carry out capacity-building work so that the Better Cotton System can be implemented and robust data can be collected at field-level.
Thank you very much for your answers. These are very helpful and useful to understand BCI. Lastly, I would like to ask you that you told me you plan to come to Japan in this January. What are your plans for this trip?
Kowa Co. is working with BCI, Fairtrade Japan, and Textile Exchange to host a Responsible Cotton Sourcing Seminar in Tokyo on Friday, January 23, 2015. The aim is to bring visibility and understanding of the sustainable cotton options to Japan’s leading Retailers and Brands. The afternoon event will be hosted from 13:00-18:00 at: Sendagaya Citizen Hall, 1-1-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. I’m very much looking forward to meeting new companies and understanding more about the Japanese company’s sustainable cotton sourcing strategies.
More details about the seminar are online at: http://bettercotton.org/get-involved/events/.
Thank you very much again and I hope you have a successful seminar and meetings in Japan in this January.
Yahoo Japan and Alterna online carries Sustainavision Managing Director Mr Shimotaya’s article “Promote sustainable cotton farming:Better Cotton Initiative Interview” on 19th of January 2015 (Japanese site).
Alterna online link：