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Interview with Marcus Bruegel, Technical Director of the International Working Group on the Global Organic Textile Standard

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Q: What does the acronym 'GOTS' stand for?

A: The acronym ‘GOTS’ stands for Global Organic Textile Standard, a textile processing standard that sets comprehensive rules for ecologically and socially responsible textile production.

Q: Is GOTS a public or a private standard?

A: Unlike the organic food sector, there are no governmental standards or regulations in place in the United States or elsewhere that define requirements for organic textile production. This void was filled by GOTS, which was developed as a private standard by organizations that are backed up by stakeholder based decision bodies / technical committees. This has ensured that when integrating their respective existing organic textile standards into the GOTS, views of relevant stakeholders were considered from the beginning.

The International Working Group, which developed GOTS, is soliciting participation by international stakeholder organizations in the ongoing process of review and revision of the GOTS. Starting with the revision of currently valid standard version 2.0, a formal stakeholder input process will be established.

Q: What does it mean to be certified to GOTS?

The GOTS label grade ‘made with organic’ requires a minimum of 70% certified organic fibers. A maximum of 10% synthetic fibers can be used. Socks, leggings and sportswear can be made from no more than 25% synthetic fibers.

The GOTS label grade ‘organic’ requires a minimum of 95% certified organic fibers.

Also, a product can only be GOTS certified and labeled as a whole. It is not possible to certify and label only a part or component of a product.

What requirements must GOTS certified textiles meet?

A: GOTS certified products may not contain a blend of the conventional and organic versions of the same raw material in the organic portion of the same product.

All chemical inputs (dyes, auxiliaries and processing chemicals) must be assessed and must meet basic requirements on toxicity and biodegradability/eliminability. Critical inputs that are still widely used in conventional processing (i.e.:  toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde, aromatic solvents, and GMOs) are prohibited in GOTS certified products.

There are also restrictions for the use of accessories. Raw materials, intermediates, final textile products as well as accessories must meet stringent limits regarding unwanted residues. Additionally, packaging material must not contain PVC.

In principle, farmers producing the raw fibers (e.g. cotton growers) must be certified according to the applicable organic farming standard (e.g. USDA / NOP for textiles sold in the US). All operators of the processing and manufacturing chain as well as traders up to the import stage must also be GOTS certified as a prerequisite for a final product to be sold, labeled or represented as GOTS certified.

How long has GOTS been in existence? Who developed it?

A: The starting point for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) development was the Intercot Conference 2002 in Düsseldorf (Germany), where a workshop was launched with representatives of organic cotton producers, the textile industry, consumers as well as standard organizations and certifiers who discussed the need for a harmonized and world-wide recognised organic textile standard.

The International Working Group on Global Organic Textile Standard (IWG) was founded as the result of this workshop. Its aim was to continuously work on harmonization of the various regional approaches and to develop a set of Global Standards.

The International Working Group consists of four organizations: the Organic Trade Association (OTA), US, International Association Natural Textile Industry (IVN), Germany, Japan Organic Cotton Association (JOCA), Japan and the Soil Association, England. Each of the organizations introduced their own textile standard prior to the development of their joint work on GOTS.

The first version of GOTS was introduced in 2006 and the corresponding label was published in 2008.

Q: How does GOTS differ from the organic food standard?

A: Producing textiles and garments in an industrial approach is not practical without the use of chemical inputs such as washing agents, softeners, chemical dyestuffs, prints and their helping agents. In its evaluation of these inputs as well as its selection of accepted accessories, GOTS tries to determine the environmental best practices that are still feasible in the market.

The International Working Group, which developed GOTS, also believes that a textile product with an ‘organic’ claim must meet clear standards regarding the working conditions under which it is processed and manufactured. It therefore made meeting these standards mandatory to earn GOTS certification.

Q: Who oversees the enforcement of GOTS?

A: The International Working Group and/or the Approved Certifiers will pursue all legal remedies for any unauthorised or misleading use of the GOTS logo on product declarations, in advertisements, catalogues or other contexts. Corrective and/or legal action and/or publication of the transgression can be used to safeguard credibility of the GOTS logo.

Q: Are there other organic standards that have been developed for textiles?

A: At the time GOTS was developed, numerous different standards and draft standards existed already in the niche market of organic textiles. The different standards caused confusion with producers, retailers and consumers who were interested in this field and they were an obstacle to international exchange and recognition of organic textiles.

The aim of GOTS was to harmonize these standards and related certification systems. GOTS also sought to introduce a worldwide accepted definition of an organic textile and allow certified suppliers to export their organic textiles with one certificate recognised in all relevant sales markets in order to strengthen the awareness and market for organic textiles.

The result was the unification of the standards of the four IWG member organizations and the previous standards of the certifiers Control Union Certifications (EKO Sustainable Textile Standard), EcoCert, ETKO and ICEA.

Q: Where should you look to find the GOTS label?

A: The GOTS logo must be applied in such a way that it is visible to the buyer / receiver in the textile supply chain and to the end consumer (e.g. use on (final) packaging and/or hangtag and/or a (care) label). The GOTS logo must always be accompanied by a) a reference to the approved certifier (e.g. certifier's name and/or logo) and b) a reference to the last certified entity in the supply chain (e.g. name or licence number). This helps to ensure the integrity of the organic product throughout the supply chain.

Q: What steps can consumers take to ensure that the textiles they are buying are, in fact, organic?

A: Unlike in the food sector, the term ‘organic’ can be used for textiles even if this is not verified and traced through 3rd party inspection and certification. The best option is to look for and demand labels like GOTS that define criteria for an organic fiber or textiles claim and assure compliance with these criteria through independent certification throughout the entire textile supply chain.