The Better Cotton Initiative A sustainable mainstream commodity

C&A joined the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in 2015. BCI is transforming the cotton sector by working toward its objective of making a third of the world’s cotton more sustainable by 2020 [SOURCE: BCI].


Currently, Better Cotton is produced in 23 countries and reaches 1.6 million farmers. 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 license, 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 reduce the impact of growing cotton significantly. 

Read BCI's 2015-16 Harvest Report on impacts

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, it 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 as it advocates a more ‘inclusive’ approach alongside other farming methods. It works via a mass balance system, meaning that each unit of Better Cotton that 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 more scalable.

In 2017, 28% 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. 


Our 2017 performance

REEL and Better Cotton as a % of total cotton sourced

Creating a market in Brazil

Although Better Cotton is grown in Brazil, few Brazilian suppliers and retailers buy it so most of it is currently exported. By working with our biggest spinners and engaging our supply chain, we accelerated uptake significantly in just over two 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, in 2017, we increased the number of BCI members in our supply chain by 180%.

We have already inspired other brands to begin sourcing Better Cotton in the Brazilian market and were recognised with the Eco AMCHAM Award, one of the most prestigious sustainability prizes in Brazil, for our work on more sustainable cotton.

Driving momentum in Mexico

In 2017, C&A Mexico mapped its supply chain to understand its purchasing practices, and developed a 2020 sourcing roadmap to guide the purchase of more sustainable cotton. The team also delivered BCI training to all commercial employees, suppliers and mills in its supply chain, raising awareness among suppliers about C&A’s commitment to sustainability. In just over a year of active engagement and procurement, imported Better Cotton now accounts for a significant proportion of the cotton we source in Mexico.

Communicating mass balance

The Better Cotton Initiative works using a mass balance system. Mass balance is a difficult system to explain to both customers and suppliers. Simply put, it 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 tonne of Better Cotton be associated with this order, a cotton farmer somewhere must produce one metric tonne 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.


Where next?

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. Along with the other 82 retail and brand members of the BCI, we increased uptake of Better Cotton by 60% compared to 2016, from 461,000 metric tons to 736,000 metric tons [SOURCE: BCI]. We continue to encourage other brands in key sourcing regions to join the initiative.