The Better Cotton Initiative has completed a pilot project of its standard system in the U.S. that ran this year.

It included 22 farms in Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and California that, together, produced more than 26 million pounds of cotton lint. The farms each completed a self-assessment and hosted an on-farm visit by independent third-party verifiers to confirm they met BCI’s criteria for environmental stewardship and working conditions. All participants that completed the process are now licensed to sell Better Cotton to participating merchants.

Cannon Michael, owner of Bowles Farming Co., located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, said, “We take pride in the way we treat our employees, care for the environment and strive to improve. I think this opportunity to ‘prove up’ against independent standards and verification is good for us and our customers.”

Bowles was one of six participating farms that are members of Supima, the marketing arm of U.S. pima cotton growers. Supima president Jesse Curlee said, “We’re on board for very practical business reasons. British retailer Marks & Spencer is a key customer for us. They’re also a BCI member, and sourcing Better Cotton is a key component of [Marks & Spencer’s] corporate sustainability strategy.”

Patrick Laine, chief executive officer of BCI, said, “We’re delighted with the collaboration and efforts of cotton growers in the U.S. to bring U.S. Better Cotton to the supply chain. This responds to a request of many global brands. The first volumes of U.S. Better Cotton to reach the market were purchased immediately, and we intend to satisfy that demand in coming years by expanding the supply of U.S. Better Cotton. This is an extremely positive start, and we look forward to working with more USA farmers on continually improving practices that are directly relevant to their businesses.”

BCI has been working in other cotton-growing regions of the world since 2010 to promote measurable and continuing improvements for the environment, farming communities and their economies. Last year, spurred by strong interest from major brands and retailers using Better Cotton as a supply benchmark, it chose to expand the focus to include the U.S.

BCI will convene a multistakeholder process early in the new year to review the lessons learned during the pilot and receive feedback from all parties engaged in the project or interested in BCI’s development. The group’s mission is to transform worldwide cotton production by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.

The seeds of BCI were first sown in Brazil, India, Mali and Pakistan in the 2010-11 season. Since then, Better Cotton has been harvested in China, Mozambique, Tajikistan and Turkey, and the first harvests of Better Cotton from Senegal and Kenya are being cultivated now.

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