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BCI Revamps Efforts to Improve Sustainable Cotton Production

The Better Cotton Initiative’s revised Better Cotton Principles and Criteria (P&Cs) take effect this month and incorporate several substantial changes to the Better Cotton Standard System.

The Better Cotton Standard System, according to BCI, is a “holistic approach to sustainable cotton production” covering three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. The system is designed to ensure the exchange of good practices and to encourage the scaling up of collective action to establish Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.

This marks the first overhaul of BCI’s sustainability pillars.

Among the major new requirements, BCI has increased the emphasis on environmental principles. Its reinforced approach toward pesticide use and restriction includes phasing out highly hazardous pesticides and banning pesticides listed in the Rotterdam Convention, a multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to importation of hazardous chemicals.

The use of minimum personal protective equipment when applying pesticides has also been integrated into the Better Cotton Standard.

Instead of a focus on water efficiency, the BCI standard will now focus more on a water stewardship approach in order to address collective action toward local sustainable water use. The water stewardship pilot project launched in October to test the new approach across small, medium and large farms in India, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan and Mozambique.

BCI’s approach to biodiversity will now focus on the identification, mapping and restoration or protection of natural resources. A new “land use change” approach, based on high conservation value assessment, will serve as a safeguard against any planned conversion of land for the purpose of growing Better Cotton. The new method will be tested in high-risk countries, BCI said.

Regarding social issues, the BCI standard now takes a clear position on gender equality that aligns with the International Labor Organization’s “Decent Work” agenda requirements on gender. The Decent Work agenda involves efforts on job creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue, with gender equality as a crosscutting objective.

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Guidance on various topics such as child labor, sanitation facilities and equal payment have also been included in the new P&Cs.

BCI said that by adhering to the P&Cs, BCI Farmers produce cotton in a way that is measurably better for the environment and farming communities. As of this month, farmers will be trained on the revised Better Cotton Standard.

According to the 2016 BCI Annual Report, about 1.58 million farmers were licensed to sell Better Cotton in the 2015-2016 crop season compared to 1.22 million the previous year. BCI farmers produced Better Cotton in 23 countries, across five continents, which amounts to 12 percent of global cotton production. BCI membership grew to 986 in 2016, representing a 40 percent increase from the previous year.