Organics is most often associated with food products that have been sourced responsibly. At a minimum, organic foods are grown free of toxins. Meat is usually grass fed, free of hormones and antibiotics. Likewise, fruits and vegetables are grown from organic seed or cuttings and are free of chemical pesticides. In the USA, for commercial producers to label foods as organic, they must meet strict guidelines for production, processing and transporting. Similar guidelines are in place for fabrics and textiles. The Global Organic Textile Standard International Working Group strives to ensure that organic textiles are readily available to consumers.
The working group implements policies and procedures to help manufacturers produce textiles and apparel that meet the Global Organic Textile Standards or GOTS. The standards focus on the materials used to develop goods, the methods to replenish spent product, and the working conditions of those harvesting raw materials.
History of GOTS
The GOTS working group was formed in 2002 specifically for the purpose of supporting standards related to the production of organic textiles. The organization is made up of four entities:
- Organic Trade Association or OTA (USA)
- International Verband der Naturtextilwirtschaft or IVN (Germany)
- Soil Association (England)
- Japan Organic Cotton Association (JOCA)
Together, the work group develops standards that have been adopted or paralleled by most industrialized countries.
GOTS Certification Process
In order for a textile to be labeled as organic, it must be GOTS compliant. The standards look at many criteria. The equipment that is used for processing is inspected as well as storage areas. It is important that organic materials be maintained separately to avoid contamination. Processing procedures are reviewed including site visits and observations. A thorough review of the components of the product is completed including testing for approved additives such as dyes. Financial documents are reviewed to help identify the amount of textiles produced, the destination of traded materials, and the procedures for disposing of waste materials.
GOTS compliance is voluntary; however, an external audit must be conducted as part of the certification process. Trained certifiers work with sites to earn and maintain compliance. Certifiers may be qualified to inspect one or more scopes:
- Processing of materials and operation of facilities
- Product processing or finishing
- Trade of products
Based on information presented by Sumit Gupta at the 4th National Conference on Organics in New Delhi (10/7/14), the certification process adheres to following sequence:
- Farming raw products
- Spinning raw products
- Weaving into usable fibers
- Dyeing or finishing with additives
- Sewing into the final product
- Brand distribution through retail outlets
Site visits are generally conducted during the certification process and every three years upon certification to ensure that manufacturers and associated businesses continue to meet the standards. In addition, they must maintain paperwork for five years from the date of certification. If global standards are changed, entities have one year to prove that they are in compliance (with new standards).
The United States is the world’s third largest producer of cotton--one of the most well-known organically grown textiles. For materials made from cotton to be GOTS compliant, the raw material (the cotton you see on the bush) must be grown in accordance with generally accepted organic farming principles. It should be grown in an environment that is free of “persistent” or toxic pesticides, fertilizers must be natural rather than synthetic, and it can’t be cultivated from genetically modified seed. Cotton that has been grown organically must also be processed in an approved facility that eliminates opportunities for contamination and that has environmentally responsible procedures for everything from cultivation, harvesting and elimination of waste.
Once the cotton has been spun and weaved into usable fibers, those materials must be free of certain chemical additives. The GOTS 2014 Manual provides guidance about prohibited additives or dyes. Though the list is long, general prohibitions include anything generally recognized as toxic or carcinogenic, known endocrine disruptors, phthalates, heavy metals, formaldehyde and more. In addition, all fibers must originate as non-GMO (genetically modified).
Benefits of GOTS
With non-organic processing methods, natural fibers such as cotton, bamboo, and hemp are exposed to substances that aren’t good for the environment. Pesticides are used to kill insects and herbicides are used to kill weeds, both of which can weaken and destroy crops. These toxins stay in the ground where the fibers are grown, stay in the fibers as residue and may be spread to other areas by animals or workers. Organic farming methods reduce exposure to chemicals which may reduce CO2 emissions or lead to birth defects.
The use of organically farmed and responsibly processed textiles has additional benefits. First, workers are not exposed to harmful chemicals. Second, farmers have control over the seeds that they use and the crops that they choose to rotate (to maintain healthy, balanced soil). Third, everyone benefits from avoiding toxins on a day-to-day basis. GOTS certification by manufacturers ensures that apparel and household products are free of known allergens, toxins and carcinogens (cancer causing).
For consumers concerned about the authenticity of organic products, there are two regulatory entities that are authorized to allow a company to call its products organic. The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organics Program has guidelines that businesses and individuals must follow in order to have their products considered organic or made with organics. If farmers are vigilant with the production of quality, organic foods and fibers, those same materials will be used at the first or raw stage of production for GOTS certified goods.
Consumers can feel confident that the products they purchase are GOTS certified. Labeling is available from both the USDA and GOTS to designate products that meet their high standards. Labels that are used include “USDA Organic”, “GOTS Organic”, or “GOTS Made with XX Organic Materials.” To be labeled organic, approved non-organic fibers or additives must be less than 5%. For the made with “XX” label, approved non-organic fibers or additives must comprise less than 30% or more of the final product.
For businesses and consumers who want to use organic fibers and textiles, the Global Organics Textile Standard International Working Group has policies and procedures in place to identify appropriately sourced, processed and distributed organic products. Raw materials are produced on farms that use non-GMO seed or stock; avoid hazardous materials; and, in the process, reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases. Manufacturers also avoid toxic substances, properly treat wastewaters and ensure safe working conditions for their employees.
GOTS certified fibers and textiles are an ideal choice for anyone who prefers allergen and toxin free apparel or merchandise. Those with health concerns or skin conditions should consider organics. Parents with a newborn baby or infant should look for USDA Organic and GOTS labels. Organic clothing, diapers, bedding, etc., are an excellent choice for their sensitive skin.