WRAP, GOTS, BCI and FSC – there’s no shortage of certifications (or acronyms) in the fashion industry, but if you don’t know what they actually mean, how can you be sure they’re not all BS?
Certifications and accreditation systems exist to provide assurance for companies and consumers that their products are made ethically and sustainably – but there’s no one-size-fits-all accreditation for the industry.
For this reason, more fashion brands align themselves with the accreditations in relation to their values (environmentally friendly or ethically made, for example). And it’s important that these exist so it’s not just one person’s word. So if you’re interested in digging a little deeper to see what your favourite brands are doing to lower their impact, keep an eye out for these terms.
US-based organisation WRAP certifies “socially responsible factories in the sewn-products sector”. WRAP’s principles include compliance with local laws and workplace regulations, prohibition of forced or child labour, prohibition or harassment, abuse or discrimination, and standards in relation to hours or work and compensation. The organisation also encourages and ensures garment makers have freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, and a safe and secure environment. The certification process for WRAP includes self-assessment, monitoring by a WRAP-accredited monitoring firm, and evaluation. If a certificate is issued, there are three levels of WRAP certification – Platinum, Gold, or Silver.
OEKO-TEX® is firmly in the environmental space, testing and certifying products that are free from harmful and non-toxic chemicals. The organisation consists of 18 independent research and test institutes in Europe and Japan that are responsible for the joint development of test methods and limit values that form the basis for its standards. There are various OEKO-TEX® standards for different materials and levels of certification – from leather manufacturing to substances safe from a human-ecological perspective to more generation environmentally friendly chemicals, auxiliaries and colourants used in the textile and leather industry.
You might have spied these tags on the Australian made garments at Cue or Veronika Maine. Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA®) is an accreditation body working collaboratively with local textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) businesses to ensure their Australian supply chains are legally compliant. ECA’s accreditation is focused on ensuring that local TCF workers are paid appropriately, receiving all their legal minimum entitlements and working in safe conditions throughout the entire supply chain.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain. GOTS is becoming increasingly visible in the fashion industry as more and more brands opt for certified organic cotton for their products. A GOTS certification ensures an organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing, up to labelling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer.
Also in the cotton space but not necessarily organic is the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). This is a widely adopted program that exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future. The BCI principles are to minimise the harmful impact of crop protection practices, promote water stewardship, care for the health of the soil, enhance biodiversity, use land responsibly, care for and preserve fibre quality, promote decent work and operate an effective management system. This one is firmly for the long-term sustainability for the industry, and less so about the human or labour element.
Fairtrade in the fashion industry usually relates to the farming of cotton and cotton production. Fairtrade’s principles assists farmers in developing prices that aim to cover the average costs of producing their crop sustainably, the Fairtrade Premium – an extra sum of money paid on top of the selling price to invest in business or community projects of their choice, decent working conditions and a ban on discrimination, forced labour and child labour, access to advance credit ahead of harvest time and being able to plan more for the future with more security and stronger relationships with buyers.
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is becoming more popular in the fashion industry as brands and shoppers become aware of the ecological impact of harvesting trees for fibre content. Where FSC used to be reserved for paper and paper products manufacturing, it’s now being used to ensure cellulose based fabrics such as rayon and viscose are made from FSC-certified forests. The FSC principles include compliance with laws, workers’ rights and employment conditions, Indigenous peoples’ rights, community relations and more.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an international organisation dedicated to establishing and protecting the rights of all animals. PETA advocates for products that are made without the use of any animal products (from leather to wool and everything in between). For this reason, PETA is a commonly used certification for fashion brands and products claiming to be vegan.
Image courtesy of Cotton Australia.