There has been a proliferation of voluntary standards across
different commodities and products in recent years. Most of these standards are
aimed at improving environmental benefits and social conditions from both a
governance and potential industry impact perspective.
The range of voluntary standards within the cotton
industry varies in approaches but share the
same fundamental objective: shifting an increasing share of cotton production
to more sustainable systems. As more private sector brands get more involved in
the promotion of and sourcing from farmers that operate in a fair and
sustainable manner, the application of voluntary standards will likely increase.
To help ensure the plethora of voluntary standards maintain a strong sense of
credibility, governance and transparency, the International
Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling (ISEAL) Alliance's Code
of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards was formed.
Most global voluntary standards follow ISEAL guidance when establishing
standards, verification processes, and governance protocol, among other program
Some of the more common programs include:
- Organic cotton emphasizes
environmental and health benefits by replacing synthetic pesticides and
fertilisers, with farming methods that enhance soil fertility and
- The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) focuses on empowering large numbers of farmers to
address the most relevant areas of impact with an aim to affect bulk
cotton commodity production.
- Cotton made in Africa promotes farmers' adoption of better agricultural practices and
facilitates traceability and operational improvements a few steps up the
- Fair Trade cotton focuses on social aspects by guaranteeing a minimum price and
providing a fair trade premium for social community-based projects.
Together, these programs
offer actors along the value-chain an opportunity to help improve cotton cultivation
practices in a way that fits with their organization's strategy. This
flexibility will help increase industry participation, including the number of
farmers adopting better management practices, thereby reducing cotton's
environmental and social impacts on a larger scale than that possible through
any one initiative alone. It is worth noting that BCI is currently the only
program that accepts genetically modified cotton.
Many of these standards are
in the early years of development and implementation and have begun to engage a
wide range of industry members - from farmers and traders to processors and
retailers. However, representation from small- and medium-sized enterprises may
not be represented adequately given the unique challenges some standards can
pose on them if not designed correctly.
Would the industry benefit from working more directly with
the voluntary standards to help them mainstream their efforts? If so, how might
we best do this?
Many - if not all - of these programs suffer from limited
resources needed to support farmers' capacity building and certification
efforts and improve market access and demand. How can the cotton industry help bolster farmer capacity
building and/or coordinate a supply chain to support the pull-through and
traceability of the cotton through the supply chain?