Markets working to support sustainable development

Better Cotton Standard System

The Better Cotton Standard System was designed by the Better Cotton Intiative (BCI) to entrench sustainable development goals within the global cotton industry, to encourage good practice and to establish better cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.

The Standard System defines better cotton through a set of production principles and criteria - these say that better cotton is produced by farmers who:

  • minimise the harmful impact of crop protection practices.
  • use water efficiently and care for the availability of water.
  • care for the health of the soil.
  • conserve natural habitats.
  • care for and preserve the quality of the fibre.
  • promote "decent work."

The Standard System is implemented using an assurance programme whereby farm assessments are conducted regularly. Here, the minimum requirements vary according to how big the farm is -- i.e. if it's a smallholding, a medium-sized farm or a large farm. Once the intial measurements are conducted, farmers receive a score based on their answers and high scoring farmers are rewarded through extended Better Cotton licence periods.  The mechanisms used within the assurance programme vary and include: self-assessment at Producer Unit level (a collection of smallholders or medium farms) or individual level for large farms; second Party Credibility Checks (by BCI and/or Partners); and third Party verification (by independent verifiers). Risk-based assessments also give specific attention to the highest and lowest performers. 

To ensure transparency and traceability, there are also a set of supply chain procedures. ‘Better cotton’ is separated from ‘non-better cotton’ and a unique identification number is placed on each bale. Traceability is achieved through use of a third party tracking system.

The BCI does not provide a consumer facing label and is designed for business-to-business production and sourcing decisions.


Market coverage: 

In 2012, there were 164,000 farmers producing 'better cotton', 683,000 hectares under 'better cotton production', which produced a total of 623,000 MT of better cotton (in 'Lint' form). Better cotton partners are in Brazil, Mali, South Asia and China. 

There are 197 members of the BCI, representing a diversity of suppliers, retailers, civil society organisations and producer organisations. BCI members include major retailers and brands - selected examples include Adidas, Ikea, Levi Straus & Co., Nike, and Tesco. 

Background information: 

The Better Cotton Standard System was developed by the Better Cotton Intiative - an international, voluntary intiative with members from throughout the cotton supply chain. BCI are working towards establishing a gobal cotton industry that is 'better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.’ Specifically, BCI's target is to certify 5 million Better Cotton farmers producing 8.2 million metric tonnes of Better Cotton by 2020 - that’s around 30 per cent of global cotton production - by 2020. 


  • To demonstrate the inherent benefits of Better Cotton production, particularly the financial profitability for farmers
  • To reduce the impact of water and pesticide use on human and environmental health
  • To improve soil health and biodiversity
  • To promote decent work for farming communities and cotton farm workers
  • To facilitate global knowledge exchange on more sustainable cotton production
  • To increase traceability along the supply chain.
Funding source: 

Membership fees are payable annually. These fees are differentiated according to organisation type, size and structure. Fees range from EUR100 for non-OECD producer organisations to EUR 50,000 for the largest retailers/brands. Income also came from donor organisations including the Swedish International Development Agency, WWF and Rabobank. 

Notable information: 

The outcomes achieved by the Better Cotton Standard System are supported by BCI conducting capacity development schemes whereby farmers are given training and guidance to help them continualy improve their sustainability.  Furthermore, BCI also have a 'claims framework' through which they communicate their achievements, information and stories from the field to share knowledge about best practice within the sector.