The Better Cotton Initiative Better for farmers and the environment

C&A joined the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in 2015. While maintaining our leadership and share of organic cotton, we also accelerated our share of Better Cotton in 2019.  


Better Cotton is produced in 23 countries and reaches 1.6 million farmers, with a goal to include 5 million farmers and represent 30% of global cotton production in 2020. The initiative trains farmers to produce cotton in ways that respect the environment, boost their incomes, and strengthen the industry. To earn a Better Cotton licence, farmers must demonstrate that they adhere to six principles:

  • Minimising their use of harmful pesticides
  • Using water efficiently
  • Caring for the health of the soil
  • Conserving natural habitats and biodiversity
  • Preserving and caring for the health of the fibre
  • Promoting decent work

These principles help to significantly reduce the impact of growing cotton. The standard can be applied to farms of all sizes and complements other standards for sustainable cotton. While it does not replace our commitment to organic cotton, sourcing Better Cotton is not only vital to our cornerstone commitment of sourcing 100% more sustainable cotton by 2020, but is also a prudent approach to mitigate impacts where organic cotton is not feasible or available. It can be produced in greater quantities than organic cotton because the process advocates a more ‘inclusive’ approach alongside other farming methods. It works via a mass balance system, meaning that each unit of Better Cotton we buy supports the production of a unit of Better Cotton somewhere in the world. It also means that the costly segregation process is not necessary, making Better Cotton easier to adopt in the chain, and as a result, is more scalable.

In 2019, 60% of the cotton we bought was sourced as Better Cotton, supporting better social and environmental conditions on the ground and contributing more rapidly and extensively to transforming the industry for the better.

What is mass balance and why does it make sense?

BCI works using a mass balance system, which encourages suppliers to buy and use more Better Cotton in a cost-efficient manner because it does not require complexities that result in costly physical segregation along the supply chain. Mass balance means what comes out must balance with what went in. For example, if a retailer places an order for finished garments like T-shirts and requests one metric ton of Better Cotton be associated with this order, a cotton farmer somewhere must produce one metric ton of cotton to the Better Cotton Standard. This is then registered on BCI’s supply chain system and credits for the order are passed through the supply chain for that same weight in cotton, from one factory to the next. The result is the equivalent amount of cotton that the farmer produced as Better Cotton, but it has been mixed in with conventional cotton in its journey from field to product.

Membership in the Better Cotton Growth and Innovation Fund

As well as driving demand for Better Cotton through procurement, we also want to be a part of its future. We are part of the Better Cotton Growth and Innovation Fund, which exists to propel BCI towards its 2020 target to train over five million farmers by 2020. This will support increasing supply and speed up implementation. 

Read more about Better Cotton

Our 2019 performance

Better Cotton as a % of total cotton sourced

0% 100% 50% 2017 2018 2019 % share of total cotton Year 28% 60% 33%

Creating a market in Brazil

Although Better Cotton is grown in Brazil, few Brazilian suppliers and retailers buy it so most of it is exported. By working with our biggest spinners and engaging our supply chain, we accelerated uptake significantly in just over three years, allowing Better Cotton grown on our doorstep to be used locally. We were the first brand in Brazil to engage our supply chain on the use of Better Cotton and over the last 2 years, we have increased the number of BCI members and Better Cotton Platform users to over 60 companies.

Promoting uptake in Mexico

We have been working with supply chain partners in various regions to help develop our supply chains as they move towards procuring more sustainable cotton. For instance, C&A Mexico accelerated its sourcing of cotton as Better Cotton by providing training to suppliers and internal teams during 2018 and 2019. C&A also encouraged spinners in Mexico to become members of BCI. We now work with eight spinners in Mexico that have an active BCI membership, including four that either acquired or renewed their membership as a result of efforts by C&A Mexico. Over the last 2 years, these efforts have been fundamental to maintaining the share of cotton sourced as Better Cotton at 46% — nearly half of all cotton sourced by C&A in Mexico.

Helping drive industry-wide change

By joining the Better Cotton Initiative – along with many mainstream industry partners – we are increasing demand for cotton made in better ways. At the end of 2019, retailer and brand member sourcing of Better Cotton accounted for 6% of global cotton consumption. In 2019, BCI experienced a historic level of uptake as 150 retailers, including C&A, and brand members sourced more than 1.5 million metric tons of Better Cotton, and Better Cotton production grew 40% over the previous year.

Read BCI's 2019 annual report


Where next?

In 2020, we are working hard to account for the total volume of Better Cotton procured. As stated previously, a number of challenges could present difficulties in achieving the last few percentage points toward our goal. We will therefore focus on the following actions:

  1. Further improve reconciliation: We made good progress in 2019, and will continue to focus on reconciliation of small orders and fractions of BCCUs.
  2. Keep up with fashion trends: When fashion trends change, it is possible that we may change suppliers. All new suppliers will need to be on-boarded into the BCI system.
  3. Overcome lack of BCI members in Mexico: C&A continues to be one of the only brands in Mexico sourcing Better Cotton. Because of the lack of demand in Mexico, suppliers often charge prohibitive premiums that are not in line with the Better Cotton principles and are duplicative of our Volume Based Fee.

Going forward, we anticipate working with BCI and our suppliers to ensure reconciliation of BCCUs to most accurately reflect our efforts to source more Better Cotton and track our progress at sourcing more Better Cotton as accurately as possible within the well-known technical constraints.