The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) has revealed that its 150 retailer and brand members collectively sourced more than 1.5 mn metric tonnes of ‘better cotton’ last year – a 40 per cent increase on 2018. The volume of ‘better cotton’ – produced by licensed BCI farmers in line with the BCI principles – was enough to make 1.5 bn pairs of jeans and represented six per cent of global cotton production. The BCI has also revealed that its suppliers and manufacturers actually produced more than two million metric tonne of ‘better cotton’ ensuring there was more than enough available to meet retailers’ needs.

A BCI statement said: “By increasing sourcing commitments year-on-year and integrating better cotton into their sustainable sourcing strategies, BCI retailer and brand members are driving demand for more sustainable cotton production worldwide.”

Under the BCI’s mass balance system, brands and retailers pay for ‘better cotton’ to be produced – contributing towards the cost of farmer training and expanding the network of sustainable cotton farmers.

Due to difficulties in tracing the cotton through the ginning and spinning processes, there is no guarantee that the cotton they collect has been grown under BCI criteria – however the scheme does result in more cotton being grown through sustainable practices.

Nagy Bensid, Director of yarns and fibres for Decathlon, a long-standing BCI member, said: “While physical better cotton is not traceable to the end-product, what matters is that the funds raised through BCI end up contributing to farmer training and expanding the network of cotton farmers doing better for themselves, their communities, the environment and planet.

“Decathlon has a target to source 100 per cent more sustainable cotton by 2020 – this is a combination of Better Cotton together with organic and recycled cotton. “This commitment has generated a high level of motivation internally at Decathlon. The BCI Team has also always been supportive of our journey, listening to our needs and quickly responding to any challenges we met.”

BCI brand and retailer members contributed more than 11 mn euro to field-level projects in the 2018-19 cotton season, enabling more than 1.3 mn cotton farmers in China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Tajikistan and Mozambique to receive support and training.

The BCI has also revealed that it welcomed more than 210 new members across its membership categories in the second half of 2019. They included 32 retailers and brands from 13 countries, 179 suppliers and manufacturers, and three civil society organisations. BCI had been criticised for refusing to pull out of the Xinjiang region of China, where cotton suppliers – including a member of its own council – have been accused of using forced labour.