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LONDON – In the November-December edition of Apparel Insider, published this week, there is a lengthy paper on the Brazilian cotton industry, with a focus on the work of the Better Cotton Initiative in Brazil.

This piece was written by Veronica Bates Kassatly and spotlighted Brazil because, among other things, this is comfortably BCI’s largest market.

The complete article was shared with BCI on 4th November 2020, with full right to reply. They did not respond to, or acknowledge, our email.

While BCI has subsequently been critical of our piece to its members, it never requested any amendments or alterations to the article on factual grounds when we initially sent it over in early November.

We have since learned that BCI has told its members it has adopted a BCI Council-endorsed policy “not to engage directly with this industry publication” [ie Apparel Insider].

As a publisher, we believe wholeheartedly in transparency and openness in our industry as the only route to genuine progress and meaningful change.

That is why are now sharing the full Brazil paper, completely OPEN ACCESS on our website.

We welcome comments, debate and criticism from all sides, on any article we produce, whether in our magazine or in a relation to a story on our website.

Brazil is the latest of several articles we have run by Veronica Bates Kassatly over the past 18 months. The Brazil analysis follows upon earlier articles in which Kassatly questioned the wisdom of BCI partnering with XPCC in Xinjiang.

Should we have run this analysis (which can be viewed HERE and HERE)? Well, let’s put it this way: since we ran those pieces, US Customs and Border Protection has issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO) against cotton products made by XPCC based on information that “reasonably indicates the use of forced labour, including convict labour.”

We were reporting on BCI’s ties to XPCC back in November 2019, long before other publishers. BCI were unhappy about that, just as they are about the Brazil piece.

But we have no regrets about pressing home the issue of BCI’s decision to work with XPCC. Subsequent events have more than vindicated the first-class research and reporting of Veronica Bates Kassatly on this issue.

Brazil

Onto Brazil, and this is certainly a public interest piece. This article documents concerns about soy production in Brazil, the fact cotton is grown as a secondary crop on soy producing land, and questions how such cotton can be labelled more sustainable.

The nub of the article can be summed up in the concluding line: “I am not calling for a ban or boycott of Brazilian cotton,” argues Kassatly. “I am simply saying that to label it ‘more sustainable,’ ‘better’, or ‘preferred’, is nonsense.”

As a publication, we resolutely stand by this sentiment and, indeed, the full paper, which I urge anybody with an interest in sustainable cotton issues to read.

There is a broader issue at play here. I wrote recently about greenwashing in the global fashion space, and intrinsically linked to this is transparency – or lack, thereof – in the industry.

If BCI has an issue with our Brazil piece – or any article we publish, for that matter – the correct, and healthy way of addressing that is to come directly to us and talk. We would have been more than happy to amend the article if they had discovered any factual inaccuracies. Moreover, we would have given up space in the magazine for BCI to respond to the article, as we have done in the past.

To instead go directly to its members and attempt to discredit our publication – which sources confirm it has done – is a regressive, unhelpful step which reflects badly on BCI and its leadership.

It is worth noting at this juncture that, since being incorporated just over three years ago, we at Apparel Insider have established solid working relationships with most of the world’s leading apparel brands as well as NGOs, MSIs, and other industry stakeholders.

They might not always like what we write but we maintain good, healthy working relationships with them. We keep them on their toes, which is how it should be.

We, along with our readers, share the same aim – to push the apparel industry towards a more sustainable footing. Like many, we have begun to question if this is happening and whether the pace of change is quick enough.

To this end, as the world’s largest cotton standard, BCI has certainly been under scrutiny from us in the past 12 months. Yet our articles have come from a good place. They are written in the hope of generating discussion, bringing about a healthy exchange of views and encouraging readers to consider the question of whether greenwashing is at play.

Isn’t that in all our interests?

BCI appears to think not and has said it no longer wishes to engage with us.

An organisation like BCI should not be cherry-picking which journalists or publications to respond to.

Not for the first time, BCI is displaying extremely poor judgement.


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