Untangling Organic Textile Certification
Overview of the OTCO's organic fiber and textile handling certification.
Untangling Organic Textile Certification
Compiled by Andrew Rodman
There are two categories of labeling under the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS):
- “Organic” and “Made with Organic” Organic: 95 percent or more organic content.
- “Made with xx% organic material”: (70-95 percent organic fiber) can contain non-organic natural fiber, or up to 10 percent regenerated, or synthetic fibers.
Summary of GOTS Standard
The Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) allows for labeling products in conversion, which is similar to OTCO’s transitional class (from conventional to organic). A shirt might say “Made with 85 percent in conversion cotton” as long as it is certified to the conversion standard. In addition to the “Made with” category, it can contain non-organic fibers, but cannot contain conventional fibers of the same raw material that is used for organic quantity.
For example, if you wanted to make an organic cotton and wool blend, it could contain an organic cotton but may not contain organic wool in the “Made with” category. If labeled as “Organic,” the five percent can be natural fiber if not commercially available in organic forms, or it can be up to five percent of a synthetic fiber that is specifically allowed (i.e polyester or lycra).
Processing requires separation and identification throughout production. This prevents contamination from co-mingling when organic fibers are produced with conventional textiles. There are certain prohibited materials in production like formaldehyde, GMOs, heavy metals, copper (on zippers and buttons) and chlorophenols. Dyes which are bio-accumulative are prohibited and only certain biodegradable dyes are allowed. If you are blending wool and cotton together, and if you have non-organic cotton, that would have to be non-GMO cotton.
Last year, fibers were certified to the American Organic Standards. Now GOTS is the standard. The Organic Trade Association was one of the members of the International Working Group that authored the Global Organic Textile Standard, representing the U.S. market. GOTS prohibits more than ten percent of synthetics like spandex in a product labeled as “Made with,” except for products sold in the U.S. market. Domestically, socks, leggings and sportswear may contain a maximum of 25 percent of synthetic or regenerated fibers which are allowed (i.e. spandex, lycra, polyester), illustrating the difficulty of agreeing on one global standard.
Fiber sold as organic in the U.S., doesn’t have to be certified organic. Just because it says “organic cotton” does not mean it is certified organic. Certification is market, not label driven. The Global Organic Textile Standard is in place to cover all of the production and processing. Similar to how food was labeled 20 years ago; the label may say “organic oranges,” with no certification means to back up that claim.
These standards only apply to post-harvest handling and production of Fibers. This is on top of organic standards for growing the cotton, or the sheep or alpaca. These crops and animals have to be certified according to recognized international or national production standards (i.e. NOP, IFOAM, EEC 2092/91). Part of the record keeping requirements is having certificates on hand for the production of the raw fiber commodity.
The Soil Association has their own private textile standards that are based on the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM). Oeko-tex is a system common in Europe. It is an approval of relative toxicity of dyes. A facility can be certified to Oeko-tex 1000, meaning the dies they use are approved under the Oeko-tex standard, or the dyes can be certified to the Oeko-tex 100. All of those dyes that carry that certification are going to be fine with GOTS organic textile standards. The way the Global Organic Textile Standard looks at contaminants comes from Oeko-tex.
Something that is in the Global Organic Textile Standard, but is not in the USDA organic standards is the social criteria; how you treat employees, how you pay them, on allowing trade unions and on prohibiting child labor. There can be no bonded labor, there must be safe and hygienic working conditions and worker freedom. A living wage must be paid, and there can be no excessive work hours.
There is also an entire environmental management section in Global Organic Textile Standard as well. Among environmental concerns is the discharge of water. Water released from a textile operation has to be free of, or have very low levels of certain contaminants.
Fiber certification agencies
- Oregon Tilth Certified Organic is the only agency certifying to GOTS in the U.S.
- Control IMO (Institute for Marketecology)
- The Soil Association
You can find GOTS online at www.global-standard.org.
Learn more about OTCO's Organic Fiber and Textile certification by visiting our organic fiber page