Sustainability Initiatives - Cotton

The "Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)"


Why Better Cotton?

Agriculture is strongly intertwined with the world economy, livelihood of the world's poor, and biodiversity conservation. Agriculture uses more than half of the Earth's habitable land, employs more than one billion people and produces goods worth one trillion dollars annually. It is also the biggest user of water, accounting for almost 70% of global withdrawals, and up to 95% in developing countries (FAO, 2006). Furthermore, pesticide and fertilizer use on agricultural crops leads to widespread ecological degradation. Estimates indicate that up to 40,000 lives are lost around the world each year due to improper pesticide application and handling (WHO, 2002).

Cotton is one of agriculture's most water-intensive and pest-sensitive crops, often grown in semi-arid and water scarce areas. It has been estimated to consume 11% of the world's pesticides (Kooistra, K.J., et. al. 2006). Its cultivation represents over 2.4% of global arable land, involving about 30 million farmers. Cotton is produced in about 90 countries worldwide, many of which are classified as developing countries. The economies of many developing countries and the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers and their families are dependent on cotton production. The environmental and social impacts are therefore widespread, and need to be addressed.

What is Better Cotton?
To respond to the impacts of cotton cultivation the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) has been established. BCI aims to promote measurable improvements in the key environmental and social impacts of cotton cultivation worldwide to make it more sustainable (economically, environmentally, and socially). BCI endeavours to initiate global change in the mass market, with long-term benefits for the environment, farmers and other people dependent on cotton for their livelihood. 'Better Cotton' is being defined through a collaborative multi-stakeholder approach that leverages the commitment of global buyers of cotton and/or cotton products to demand large and increasing amounts of 'Better Cotton'.

Vision, Mission, Goals

BCI's vision is to enable millions of farmers around the world to grow cotton in a way that is healthier for the farming community and the environment, and more economical.

BCI encourages the adoption of better management practices in cotton cultivation to achieve measurable reductions in key environmental impacts, while improving social and economic benefits for cotton farmers and their communities worldwide.

This global multi-stakeholder initiative recognizes the wide array of issues connected with cotton cultivation, each with differing importance depending on regional circumstances. In order to effectively address the key negative impacts of cotton cultivation, BCI will act on the most significant issues, within certain cotton growing regions, while striving for continuous improvement and expansion of its activities to additional regions over time.

Short Term Aims

  1. Version 1 of the global Principles & Criteria for Better Cotton are developed by mid-2008.
  2. Better Cotton - from the tools for farmers to help them grow Better Cotton, to the supply chain to allow the purchase of Better Cotton - is tested in the field during the 2009 growing season.
  3. A funded Better Cotton system is approved for implementation in 2010.

Approach & Philosophy

BCI's approach is to define 'Better Cotton' by establishing global principles and criteria that are applied through regionally specific implementation strategies and tools. BCI will use regionally-based indicators to measure the impact of the implementation strategies and tools, as well as the overall success of BCI.

BCI's philosophy is to develop a market for a new mainstream commodity, where the boundary of its work is at the farm gate. BCI will not directly address global policy & trade issues, and focuses on building capacity rather than policing. BCI is not designed with a product label in mind, and is complementary to organic and Fairtrade cotton.

BCI will engage with all stakeholders that support BCI's vision and mission.


BCI is a collaborative global process, involving a wide range of stakeholders from farmers and their representatives along the cotton value chain to brands, and retailers. BCI is governed by a Steering Committee of global organisations including, but not limited to, producer organisations, trade & industry organisations, civil society, and international institutions. Current members are adidas, Gap Inc., H&M, ICCO, International Federation of Agricultural Producers - IFAP, IKEA, Organic Exchange, Pesticide Action Network UK, and WWF.

BCI's administrative organisational structure is illustrated here [download PDF]. Some highlights are as follows:

Steering Committee is comprised of up to 20 organisations selected from a cross-section of stakeholders with an interest in cotton cultivation. The Steering Committee is the decision making body of BCI.

Executive Committee is elected by the Steering Committee and is comprised of up to five members that represent a cross-section of the Steering Committee composition.

Support Unit is currently comprised of an Initiative Manager, a Technical / Environmental Coordinator, and a Social Coordinator.

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