Updated: Mar 18
by Mitch Borger and Alex Berryman
As ethical and sustainable clothing options are becoming more prevalent in the marketplace, along with it has come to a new set jargon. Terms like 'ethical' and 'sustainable' are thrown around, but when it comes to manufacturing, what do these terms actually mean and how can consumers know the product they are receiving line up with their values?
Certifications provide a means to standardize these terms, educating consumers and manufacturers on how they can support better production practices. From 'ethical fashion' to 'organic materials', there are many fantastic organizations and communities working to clean up the supply chain, each with its own mission and focus.
We have broken down 4 of the most prevalent certifications in the industry, while this list is far from exhaustive, it does show the range of ways organizations are cleaning up supply chains.
Main focus: Chemical reduction
Taking a more holistic approach, GOTS considers the whole lifecycle of the product, from growing the materials to the working conditions in the factory.
Pesticides and chemicals can have destructive effects on surrounding communities, the environment, and the health of the end-user. With the GOTS label, a customer can know the textile product is made of a minimum of 70% organic material and has been extensively tested for the presence of harmful chemicals.
While the GOTS certification does not prohibit all chemicals from the production process, a team of GOTS investigators tests soil samples, dyes and fabric swatches for traces of harmful chemicals or pesticides. Farms, mills, and factories will be periodically visited, ensuring adequate working conditions and employee rights are being maintained. Once certification is achieved, a farm, mill or factory will be added to the GOTS certification database, thereby becoming searchable by location, type of service provided and product category.
The GOTS label has become synonymous with high standards of safety and sustainability at each level of the supply chain. This is a tremendous tool for communicating your values and building trust with your customers. In order to use the GOTS branding on your products, check out their labeling specifications here.
Main focus: Safe work conditions and workers rights
Originating in 1989, the WFTO focuses on creating fair wages and fair working conditions for farmers and workers across the globe. Specializing in social enterprises, the WFTO believes that business not only has the power to protect workers but to empower them and their communities around them. By adhering to the “10 Principles of Fair Trade”, manufacturers guarantee equitable work environments for disadvantaged people groups, providing capacity building opportunities.
Unlike other certification bodies, WFTO does not extend a certification, but a membership. To become a member, manufacturers must conduct a self-evaluation on their adherence to the 10 Principles and a WFTO auditor will conduct site visits to verify compliance. Insisting on continuous improvement, they encourage their members to achieve the best Fair Trade practices, especially as the industry evolves. Importers, brands, and retailers gain value from the credibility of the label, placed on the final product, their customers can be assured that the product was made with Fair Trade practices.
When producing or sourcing your products form a WFTO member, you can take full advantage of the WFTO label on your products. After placing an order with the WFTO member, you can work directly with WFTO to sign a Contract and Labeling Agreement. By signing this agreement and submitting the fee (1% of the order value or 100 Euros), you can place WFTO branding on all the products made by that WFTO member.
Main focus: Chemical reduction
Closely linked to GOTS certification, OEKO-TEX describes the conditions in which the textile was made. Using 6 "Standards" of certification, OEKO-TEX creates varying degrees of criteria in which companies can comply.
Using 18 independent research and test institutes, OEKO-TEX research the effects of chemicals in the production process and develop test methods. Manufacturers can apply to be audited in accordance to these test methods. With some of the most rigorous standards in the industry, manufacturers and brands can be assured those that fulfill the OEKO-TEX standard are committed to reducing harmful chemicals in the industry.
The 6 OEKO-TEX standards
Standard 100 is the classic OEKO-Tex label, letting customers know that every element of that product, down to the thread, has been tested for harmful substances
MADE IN GREEN applies the same elements of Standard 100 while verifying the product was made in environmentally sustainable and socially responsible working conditions
LEATHER STANDARD lives up to its name, the label verifies the leather article adheres to the Standard 100 for non-toxic materials, far surpassing any national and international standard.
STeP (Sustainable Textile and Leather Production) combines elements of harmful chemical reductions, social responsibility, and environmental protection, factories are rated based on compliance and compared to others in their sector. Brands and retailers can view this information, support which business aligns with their values and communicate specific compliance details to their customers.
DETOX TO ZERO, created in conjunction with Greenpeace's 2011 DETOX campaign, committed to excluding hazardous chemicals from textile production. With its continuous improvement model, factories, retailers and brands can communicate their commitment to the evolving industry of eco-friendly textile production.
ECO PASSPORT is designed specifically for manufacturers or processing chemicals, verifying the chemicals they produce are OEKO-TEX approved, therefore it can be trusted by the textile and leather manufacturers that use their products.
To take full advantage of the OEKO-TEX label, you can apply directly to OEKO-TEX using this guide. Additionally, you can search for OEKO-TEX manufactures and gain specific information using their Buying Guide.
Main focus: Safe working conditions and workers rights
Launched in 1997 by Social Accountability International, SA 8000is a leading social certification for factories and organizations. Currently securing ethical working conditions for 2 million workers, SA 8000 ensures the fair treatment of workers through adherence to is "8 elements".
Using one of the 20 independent SAAS accredited certification bodies, factories will be evaluated based on documentation processes, working practices, and employee interviews. Once approved, the manufacturer can use the certification to represent their compliance with SA-8000.
Continual revisions are being made to the standard to ensure that it is up to date with relevant social issues spanning from working conditions to ever-changing management systems. Certified members These revisions encourage the development and maintenance of socially acceptable practices.
While no SA8000 label exists to be used by brands, many retailers express that they only produce with SA8000 certified manufacturers.
So now that you know a whole lot more about certifications, you may ask, which one is the most important??
By no means is this list exhaustive, there are many more certifications that are just as reputable. Agreeing upon the 'right certification' is like asking which is your favorite ice cream: its really just a matter of taste.
So next time you’re out looking for that favorite basic t-shirt or looking for your next manufacturer, look at the labels with greater confidence knowing that this product aligns with your values.
Where Does Purnaa Fit In?
Creating a supply chain that protects people and the planet is Purnaa's bread and butter. We source from multiple suppliers that hold these certifications and even hold a few ourselves.
Purnaa is a proud member of WFTO and the Freedom Business Alliance, not only do we adhere to the principles of these certifications, we actually surpass them. Through the Purnaa empowerment fund, Purnaa employees and their families can receive various support and services that help them holistically. These include scholarships for further education, much-needed loans for housing, English classes and assistance with getting driver licenses. While we are primarily an employment provider, we see our staff as members of the Purnaa family and are cared for as such.
Check out previous blog posts to see how Purnaa goes above and beyond the call of duty, loving and supporting Purnaa staff: