Organic, like Fairtrade, is a buzzword that is popular in both the food and textile industries. It refers to food and textiles cultivated and produced with the use of feed or fertiliser of plant or animal origin, and without the employment of chemically formulated fertilisers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.
Global Organic Textile Standard:
As the name suggests, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the world’s leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibres. It defines high-level criteria from the harvesting of raw materials, through the environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing process, up to labelling, in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer. Garments and textiles labelled with the GOTS Mark, have completed the rigorous certification process, and have thus been licensed to do so.
GOTS certification and licensing only starts with the first processing step in the textile supply chain. For cotton, for example, this would be the ginning process (the separation of cotton fibres from their seeds in a cotton gin), and for wool this would be the scouring process (whereby the wool is washed in hot water and detergent to remove the non-wool contaminants). GOTS does not set the standards for the cultivation of organic fibres; this is under the scope of governmental organic farming standards. In the UK, this aspect of organic certification is handled by a number of organisations, regulated by The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), of which the largest are the Soil Association and Organic Farmers and Growers. The GOTS does, however, have requirements and various labels regarding fibre composition itself:
- Only textile products that contain a minimum of 70% organic fibres can become GOTS certified.
- The GOTS label grade ‘made with organic’ requires a minimum of 70% certified organic fibres. A maximum of 10% synthetic fibres can be used. Socks, leggings, and sportswear can be made from up to 25% synthetic fibres.
- The GOTS label grade ‘organic’ requires a minimum of 95% certified organic fibres.
The GOTS certification process is thus then concerned with all chemical inputs such as dyestuffs and auxiliaries, and with wastewater management. Certification entails the on-site inspection and certification of processors, manufacturers, and traders, by independent specially accredited bodies. These bodies need to meet certain standards themselves in order to be approved by the GOTS International Working Group. Assigned certifiers make use of appropriate inspection methods, which may include, but are not limited to, the following key elements:
- Review of bookkeeping in order to verify flow of GOTS goods
- Assessment of processing and storage system, through to visits to the applicable facilities
- Assessment of the separation and identification system, and identification of areas to risk organic integrity
- Inspection of the chemical inputs (dyes and auxiliaries) and accessories used, and assessment of their compliance with the applicable criteria of GOTS
- Inspection of the wastewater (pre-)treatment system of wet processors, and assessment of its performance
- Check on social criteria (confidential interviews with management, workers, unions/stakeholders, physical on-site inspection, personnel documents)
- Verification of the operator’s risk assessment of contamination and residue testing policy, potentially including sample drawing
These checks and balances all work to provide a credible assurance for the integrity of GOTS certified textiles.
The principles of the cultivation and farming of organic fibres themselves, recognise the interrelationships between all parts of the production system, from the soil to the consumer. Organic fibre certification, similarly to GOTS, is concerned with both the regulation of chemical inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, preservatives, and antibiotics in the crop growing and animal rearing process, and the social and environmental responsibilities of the farmers.