The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) has marked the end of its fourth season of operation in the United States, announcing that in 2017, more than 1 million bales of cotton (236,000 metric tonnes) were produced by farms participating in the Better Cotton licensing programme.
"We launched in the United States in 2014, in response to our retailer and brand members, who wanted to source US grown cotton that meets the Better Cotton Standard for social and environmental performance," said Scott Exo, BCI USA Country Manager. "Since then, along with our industry partners, we've now grown to include 366 farmers in 14 states, who now grow 5% of US cotton."
Key to BCI's rapid growth in the US has been an innovative group assurance approach to managing the requirements for participating farms.
Among the partners now managing BCI assurance groups are US offices of all the major global cotton trading companies, as well as several regional merchants, marketing co-ops and one Texas gin. Several local gin managers are helping with data-gathering and verification visits.
Cheryl Luther, manager at Black Oak Gin in northeast Arkansas, has been working with the BCI programme since its first year in the US. She said, "I've encouraged our farmers to participate as a way to benchmark themselves against globally recognised standards, set goals for ongoing improvements, and meet growing expectations from brands, retailers and their customers – not just about where their cotton comes from, but how it's grown. And it adds the increasingly important layer of independent verification."
Rapid growth in the number of US BCI partners, farms and bales is in direct response to parallel growth in BCI retailers and brand members, many of whom are setting aggressive targets for their use of Better Cotton. In the last three years, North American brands like Target, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Guess, Williams-Sonoma and others have joined earlier BCI members like Nike, Inc., American Eagle Outfitters, ANN Inc., VF Group and Levi Strauss.