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].


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 reduce the impact of growing cotton significantly. 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 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 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 2018, 33% 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. 

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 2018 performance

Better Cotton as a % of total cotton sourced

0% 100% 50% 2016 2017 2018 % share of total cotton Year 20% 28% 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, in 2018, we 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. 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 increased the share of cotton sourced as Better Cotton to 47% — 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 2018, retailer and brand member sourcing of Better Cotton accounted for 4% of global cotton consumption. In 2018, BCI experienced a historic level of uptake as 93 retailers, such as C&A, and brand members sourced more than one million metric tons of Better Cotton, an increase of 45% over the previous year

Read BCI’s latest quarterly activity report and 2017 annual report

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.

Chain of custody model (BCI)


Where next?

Looking ahead, we will continue focusing on reaching our 100% more sustainable goal and drive Better Cotton uptake.