You have probably seen the terms like ethical, handmade, and local that define the sustainability of a brand’s product. These terms appear in most brand descriptions and can be misleading, even opening up the possibility of greenwashing. Since these terms aren’t regulated by law, brands can easily use them with no need to back up their claims. It can be hard to know which brands can confirm their sustainability practices through evidence.
One way for us, to look at how sustainable a garment or a brand is is by looking at certifications. As with many things, there are again trustworthy certifications out there that hold brands accountable while some aren’t. We would always check twice when a certification is made by the brand itself!
We want to show you some of the most well-known certifications and how to read garment them!
Standards and Certifications in Sustainable Fashion Industry
One thing you should know before moving forward is the difference between standards and certifications. A standard is a set of criteria or guidelines dictating how something should be made or how processes should happen. Certifications on the other hand are a legal requirement.
To navigate our way through the world of sustainable fashion certificates can take some time. Yet, looking at them once in a while is best to make conscious buying decisions. We have broken down the most important standards and certifications into four categories for you: Fairtrade, Fibre Standards, Labour Rights and Working Conditions, and Chemical Control! Let’s dive into them together.
Fairtrade is a strategy that aims to foster sustainable livelihood and to empower workers and small businesses through fairer trade. Fairtrade includes a system of certifications that ensure certain standards are met in the production and supply of a product. It signifies that products are made according to the principles of transparent supply chains, minimum prices, fairer terms of trade for producers, as well as sustainable production practices. In other words, Fairtrade means for farmers and workers, workers’ rights, safer working conditions, and fairer pay. For shoppers, it means high quality and ethically produced products.
Fairtrade Textile Standard is a part of the greater Fairtrade programme. Standards are set with criteria for all stages of production and throughout the entire supply chain. The criteria include fair and sustainable trading relations, worker rights, and environmental requirements. Only countries where Freedom of Association is possible are considered for fair trading. Furthermore, it contributes to a living wage, worker engagement, health, and safety, as well as capacity building for workers. Considering the environment, it controls chemical use, such as arsenic, chlorinated benzenes, and chlorine bleaching. Moreover, it practices and includes a list of prohibited materials specific to textile production.
Some certifications and standards take a relatively broad scope. Others prioritise a specific area, such as the sustainability of the fibre and material used in a product. To define the fibre standards, we should know that they track the sourcing and the production of fibre. This means they cover that every person and organisation in contact with the fiber must meet their standards. Only then the final product can be certified. The standards vary according to the regulations of each certification.
GOTS is the textile processing standard for organic fibres, which covers a broad range of both ecological and social criteria. It ensures the organic status of textiles from the harvesting of the raw materials to manufacturing up to labelling. GOTS focuses on certified organic fibres such as cotton, wool, and silk. To obtain the GOTS “organic” label a product must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic fibre. Also, it should not be treated with bleach or any other toxic substances. Additionally, products should be made under conditions that meet social and environmental standards. These standards include restrictions on additional fibre materials, prohibiting dangerous substances, restrictions on accessories, no child labour, and occupational health and safety (OHS) for workers.
Labour rights and Working Conditions
Farmers and workers in factories are among the most vulnerable people in the global supply chain. Therefore, improving working conditions is crucial. For this, many aspects of job quality need to be considered, including working time, wages, health, and safety. Governments certainly have a role in ensuring working conditions that meet minimum national and international labour laws. However, employers and employees are also important actors. Studies show that 84 countries exclude groups of workers from labour law, and out of 139 countries, 50 deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly. Not all governments regulate strict national and international labour laws. Therefore, some organizations ensure advanced human rights in workplaces globally through standards and certifications.
Society’s most challenging problems, such as establishing safe and equal working conditions, cannot be solved by the government alone. The B Corp certifies the company’s contribution to creating a sustainable global economy while conducting business with purpose. The B Corp community aims to reduce inequality, poverty, ensure a healthier environment, and more high-quality jobs for employees. Not only does the B Corp Certification evaluate a product or service but it assesses the overall positive impact of the company that stands behind it. This certification includes a positive impact on their employees, communities, and the environment. B Corp certified businesses are expected to meet the rigorous social, environmental, transparency and accountability standards set out for them. Meanwhile, working towards healthier jobs and communities for stakeholders throughout the supply chain
The Fair Wear Foundation is a non-profit organization aiming to create a fair fashion norm. Where the garment industry supports workers in realising their rights to safe, dignified and properly paid employment. While Fair Wear isn’t a certification they do have a set of standards that they assess their company members on. Fair Wear is a strong indicator of how serious companies take their impact on the people in their supply chain. Especially people working in the sewing, cutting and trimming processes, since these are the most labour intensive parts of the supply chain.
Four key activities make up the Fair Wear approach: brand performance checks, factory audits, complaints helplines and factory training sessions. The Brand Performance Check is a tool to figure out how the member brands’ business practices improve labour conditions. Every year, brands will be reviewed on their efforts by measuring how well they have assessed, identified and resolved issues with their suppliers. This actually helps brands determine what they are doing well and where to improve to create positive and sustainable change. The results are shared publicly to ensure transparency and accountability. Also, factory audits are based on the Fair Wear Code of Labour Practices, including standards about employment being free to choose, Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and safe and healthy working conditions.
A huge number of chemicals are used in the fashion, textile and footwear industries to turn raw materials into final products. These chemicals can cause health problems not only to the people who work with them, but many of the chemicals also end up in freshwater systems. Businesses can reduce their chemical impact by using materials and fabrics that meet third party certification standards such as the GOTS and by working with suppliers that replace toxic chemicals with safer alternatives.
The bluesign® is a certification mainly focusing on sustainable fashion. Their independent system provides solutions to brands to eliminate harmful substances at each step of the supply chain. So, it proves that a textile has the smallest ecological footprint possible. The bluesign® certifies transparency and traceability of all processing steps down to the raw materials. They look carefully at resource productivity, consumer safety, water emissions, air emissions, and occupational health and safety standards. So, bluesign® is great, for those looking to check a brand’s environmental footprint, resources and chemicals used and employment practices.