If you have read any of my other articles on sustainable fashion, you would know that the fast fashion industry is riddled with problems. For a start, toxic chemicals are released into our air and waterways while manufacturing and processing textiles - this is awful for biodiversity and the health of natural ecosystems!
What’s equally troubling is that the individuals who work in these factories are often exposed to all these chemicals and are at higher risk of cancer, birth defects, and other severe illnesses!
But could the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS for short) be the answer to these problems? What is GOTS certified, and is it a sustainability certification we can trust? We want to avoid greenwashing, after all!
What is GOTS Certification?
GOTS first gained recognition worldwide in 2006 and is comprised of four founding organizations:
- The International Association Natural Textile Industry (IVN)
- The Japan Organic Cotton Association (JOCA)
- The Organic Trade Association (OTA)
- The Soil Association (SA)
By 2008, about 2,000 facilities were GOTS certified, which has grown even larger since then! GOTS is now recognized worldwide as the leading environmental protection and social welfare standard.
The founding organizations are backed by 18 other international stakeholders and experts, with over 12,000 GOTS-certified facilities spanning 73 countries. Their collective goal is to help set a benchmark for what qualifies as an organic textile.
While all of this sounds impressive, what does it mean?
GOTS certification guarantees social compliance, environmentally friendly production, certified organic content, and traceability of all these criteria within the textile supply chain. To receive a GOTS certification, an item should check these four boxes…
1. Organic fibers
For a bit of background, organic fibers under GOTS organic farming standards are grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). For a textile product to earn a GOTS certification and, more specifically, a ‘GOTS made with organic materials’ label, it must contain a minimum of 70% certified organic fibers – with the remaining percent still being tightly regulated. Why not 100% certified, you ask?
Well, it is nearly impossible to produce textiles without chemical inputs! GOTS isn’t about getting rid of chemicals completely. Rather, GOTS is about setting a criterion for a lower-impact way of production that is more environmentally and socially responsible.
For example, conventional cotton uses tons of water in manufacturing and is known to be full of human rights and labor violations. A better alternative might be a 70% organic cotton product and the remaining 30% recycled plastic.
This item could still be certified ‘GOTS made with organic materials’ if it checks the other boxes! The following 30% could also be natural fibers like wool or silk and regenerated fibers like lyocell!
To go one step further and receive the ‘GOTS organic’ label, the product must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic fibers. GOTS also has an ‘organic in conversion’ label, which covers agricultural practices that are transitioning to organic within a three-year timespan.
2. Ecological and social criteria
GOTS looks at specific environmental and social criteria in the processing and manufacturing stages.
Their critical environmental criteria are…
- Keeping organic fibers and conventional fibers separated,
- Using only GOTS-approved colorants and sustainable dyes in wet processing,
- Setting technical quality parameters for color fatness and shrinkage,
- Restrictions on what additional fibers and accessories (like zippers and buttons) can be added to the product,
- Prohibiting hazardous substances and evaluating the biodegradability of all chemical inputs,
- Following an environmental management plan for factors like wastewater treatment, which includes providing a written environmental policy, testing for GMOs, and keeping in-depth records on wastewater discharge).
With this in mind, GOTS doesn’t allow the following fibers in their products:
- Conventional cotton
- Virgin polyester
- Conventional Angora hair
- Chlorinated plastics
They also don’t allow any material from endangered animals or plants! I LOVE THIS!
Their critical social criteria are…
- Employment must be freely chosen, and child labor is prohibited,
- The workplace must be free of discrimination, harassment, and violence,
- Occupational health and safety (OHS) standards are followed,
- Employees can only work a specific set of hours,
- Remuneration and assessment of living wage gap, as well as freedom of association and collective bargaining, are considered,
- Migrant workers will be protected, and no precarious employment is provided.
GOTS social criteria, are based on the standards set by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
3. All processing stages
The facilities that make and distribute textiles and brands that sell the product could all receive a GOTS certification. This is because GOTS looks at the entire textile supply chain from processing to manufacturing, packaging, labeling, and distribution.
The processing stage of textiles looks at the steps taken for yarn to be converted into fabric. This means GOTS oversight doesn’t start until the first post-farm processing stage. For the cotton example, GOTS would look at the ginning, spinning, weaving, wet-processing, manufacturing, trading, and distribution stages.
4. Third-party certification
Organic fibers must be certified by national or international standards IFOAM Family of Standards, National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), USDA National Organic Program (NOP), or Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007.
GOTS also has on-site inspections of processors, manufacturers, and traders, which Third-Party GOTS does accredited Certification Bodies. Some GOTS-approved certifiers include bio.inspecta (CH), CERES Certification of Environmental Standards (DE), Peterson Control Union (NL), ECOCERT (FR), or GCL International (UK).
What Fabrics & Materials Can Be Certified by GOTS?
A GOTS-certified textile could include yarn and fabrics, as well as more “complete” garments like socks and organic bras, sustainable scarves, sustainable home decor, non-toxic bedding, eco-friendly babywear, and personal care items. These items might be made from organic fibers like cotton (the most significant portion of GOTS-certified textiles), hemp fabric, linen, wool, silk, flax, or bamboo!
One of my favorite things about GOTS is that they also look at product packaging. Card or paper packaging regulated by GOTS must be recycled from pre or post-consumer waste, PVC-free (if plastic), or certified using sustainable forestry management principles (certified by FSC or PEFC).
How to Check GOTS Certification?
Looking for GOTS-certified items? Well, you have a few places you can start. First, you can locate what specific retail shops sell GOTS products in the GOTS Shop-Finder. You can also check their Certified Supplier Database for GOTS-certified products along the ENTIRE textile supply chain, their location, fields of operation, and GOTS-certified products, according to individual parameters like product category, field of operation, country, and/or origin.
Remember that just because an organization might have some GOTS-certified products, that doesn't mean ALL of their products will be certified.
Is GOTS Certification Ethical and Sustainable?
Here is the thing, I would say GOTS is more sustainable than conventional cotton. However, this doesn’t mean GOTS is a slow fashion icon, and ‘organic’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘sustainable’! This is because full traceability is VERY difficult to find, even for the most sustainable fabrics, especially in a business as lucrative as fashion.
Like many sustainability certifications, GOTS is voluntary, so a governmental body does not regulate it. However, it is backed by governmental institutions here in the US, like IFOAM and the USDA!
So, how reliable is GOTS? Unfortunately, even with GOTS being verified by third-party auditors, some investigations have found fraud where GOTS-certified textiles didn’t start with organic crops.
As a result, some GOTS certifiers like OneCert, EcoCert, and Control Union have been banned in the EU, and OneCert even lost its license to certify under GOTS.
GOTS has acknowledged that organic certification isn’t enough, but a step in the right direction! I would have to agree with them there. If you are looking for reliable textile certifications, I would suggest looking at B corp and Fairtrade.
Are Oeko Tex and GOTS the same?
Regarding similarities, GOTS and OEKO TEX® both have independent testing and certification systems. OEKO TEX® might also cover a product, its fabrics, or the production process itself. With that being said, OEKO TEX® certification doesn’t mean a product is also organic since they might still allow the use of GMO cotton, synthetic fertilizers, and some synthetic pesticides.
GOTS-certified cotton vs. BCI cotton
I think GOTS-certified cotton is the preferable standard compared to BCI cotton. This is because BCI cotton doesn’t enforce any measures on sustainable dyes or non-toxic manufacturing methods. For example, pesticides and fertilizers, while being phased out by a management plan, are still accepted under BCI certification.
GOTS-certified cotton vs. Organic Content Standard (OCS)
The Organic Content Standard (OCS) and GOTS are pretty similar. I would say GOTS is a more thorough certification since they have additional processing requirements that must be met for an item to be considered organic. For example, GOTS has a 70% minimum organic content threshold and other restrictions on what fibers can be blended with the organic product to make up the other 30%.
GOTS Pros and Cons
A Final word on GOTS-Certified
Finding more sustainable clothing brands shouldn’t feel like pulling teeth! Lucky for us, sustainable certifications are getting better and better with each day. And while GOTS isn't perfect, I would say they are one of the better sustainability certifications.
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