From bed sheets to t-shirts to jeans, cotton, it seems, is everywhere. Second only to food crops in production scale, cotton is used in almost every clothing sector and textile-based industry. With an industry of such size, GOTS certified cotton has become a standpoint for ethical cotton production, but what does GOTS certified actually mean and is it something that we should be trusting?
Primarily grown in lower-income countries, cotton often doesn’t have the best sustainability credentials. Using 3,781 litres of water in the lifetime of just one pair of jeans, cotton is an incredibly thirsty crop. Being a favourite of pests, a viable cotton crop also often requires the use of pesticides and chemicals. In short, cotton is a widely used material that when grown using commonplace practices has an often failing sustainability grade.
With an estimated 350 million people working in the global cotton trade, this simple fabric has become a global commodity, fraught with sustainability missteps and shadowy supply chains, begging the question can the cotton industry be truly ethical?
This is where GOTS comes in. GOTS stands for the Global Organic Textile Standard and is essentially a set of criteria that ensures the end-to-end garment production process is carried out sustainably and ethically. A set of requirements must be met for garments to be deemed GOTS certified.
The certification encompasses more than the cotton industry, but is a standard mark of sustainability and responsible manufacturing used in cotton production.
So, What Does GOTS Certified Mean?
Gaining certification from The Global Organic Textile Standard requires adhering to stringent policies and practices regarding both social and environmental protection throughout the entire supply chain. It ensures a standardized method for labelling a product sustainable, organic and ethical, and is currently the leading certification for the processing of organic fibres in the world.
Acquiring certification is no easy task. Focussing on every stage throughout the entire supply chain, GOTS certified textiles, including GOTS cotton, must meet credentials such as containing at least 70% organic fibres, any chemicals used must meet stringent environmental requirements and fair work practices must be followed throughout supply chains.
Cotton that achieves GOTS certification is internationally recognized as sustainable, ethically produced, and of high quality.
What is the Significance of the GOTS Label?
In an industry as big as the global cotton trade, a GOTS certification provides transparency and assurance that cotton was produced sustainably and ethically. From the perspective of cotton producers, a GOTS certification often makes it easier to trade high-quality cotton and achieve higher prices.
The fact that it is a standard that gives conscious consumers an informed choice can’t be overemphasized. It gives the power back to customers to use their dollar power on products and organisations that fit with their values.
When can a Product be Labelled GOTS?
A GOTS certification isn’t a one type fits all scenario and there are different types and levels of certifications available. This is largely dependent on the percentage of approved natural organic fibres that are present in a fabric:
- The ‘Organic’ label means the product contains at least 95% approved organic fibre.
- The ‘Made with Organic’ label means the product contains at least 70% approved organic fibres.
To achieve any level of GOTS certification, certain elements are considered.
- Organic fibres must be used. These are fibres that are produced without the aid of artificial insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, or genetically modified organisms.
- GOTS relies on the scope of organic farming standards, often defined by government bodies, to set the specific standards of organic fibre cultivation. An IFOAM Family of Standards certification is also required to produce organic fibres, adding an extra layer of protection and certification. IFOAM provides a global platform for organic farming, it is an umbrella organisation encompassing organic farming organisations and practices in over 100 countries. The organisation works to facilitate the transition to organic farming, raise awareness of the importance of sustainability, and advocate for sustainable policy.
Processing and Manufacturing
In regard to the GOTS certification process, manufacturing refers to the last step in production, including the cutting, making, and trimming stages in the supply chain, as well as the labelling and final packaging of goods.
After the raw material is gathered, the processing and manufacturing practices are examined to ensure all chemicals involved meet toxicity and biodegradability requirements. A GOTS assessment may include checking aspects such as that the machine oil that comes into contact with organic textiles is free of heavy metals, and any accessories or trims used on garments are free of chemical residue.
Acquiring the certification goes further than growing crops and applying final trims. GOTS certification is a mark of quality. GOTS Certified textiles are prohibited from using practices that are damaging to the environment or human health, including:
- The use of chlorine bleach.
- The use of dyes that release carcinogenic amine compounds
- The use of toxic chemicals, heavy metals, mercury, parathion, benzidine, formaldehyde, and GMOs.
Packaging and Labelling
Nothing if not thorough, the GOTS process even goes so far as to consider the packaging material and labelling. Using packaging made from recycled or forest management certified materials creates part of the GOTS certification process.
Health and Safety
GOTS certification also takes a stance on human rights and fair work issues in the fashion and textile production sectors. To achieve the coveted GOTS certification, products must be produced in facilities that are safe for workers and provide protection and allowances for vulnerable individuals.
Environmental sustainability forms the foundation of the GOTS process. Acting in a way that considers environmental sustainability and social responsibility is the overarching concept of GOTS certification. However, as you have probably gathered already, there are strict requirements to measure this.
GOTS-certified companies must adhere to local and national environmental laws and practices, as well as provide a written environmental policy and demonstrate monitoring and improvement practices to back up their claims. Certain activities should be included in these policies, including:
- Monitoring waste, water, and energy during textile production
- Information and statistics should be available regarding water and energy consumption involved in textile production.
- Wastewater from wet processing units must be treated before being discharged.
Social and Humanitarian Criteria
Aside from environmental protection, the other core pillar of GOTS certification is in protecting human and working rights throughout supply chains. Concepts such as the right to join a union, non-engagement in corruption or extortion, assurance of fair pay, a strict stance against forced labour, child labour and slavery, sufficient reporting practices, and protection against abuse of any kind form part of the many criteria required to gain certification. In this way GOTS gives peace of mind to consumers that other certifications don’t.
Is GOTS better than OEKO-TEX®?
While gaining a GOTS organic status is a respected standard for the production of ethical textiles, it is not the only certification available. It is useful to consider what the standard means in relation to the other certifications that companies may choose to adhere to.
Like GOTS, the “STANDARD 100” certification system by OEKO-TEX® is an internationally recognised standard for textile production. The certification independently tests raw, semi-complete, and complete fabric products.
For OEKO-TEX® compliance, textiles need to be free from more than 100 known substances and harmful chemicals that are damaging to human health.
GOTS and OEKO-TEX® global certifications both include strict testing standards, however, there are some key differences to note between the two certifications’ requirements and processes. Stand-out differences are:
- GOTS focuses on the entire production and manufacture of cotton, whereas OEKO-TEX® focuses only on the end product. This means that OEKO-TEX® does not offer transparency for the entire supply chain of a garment.
- GOTS certification is for organic textiles only, whereas OEKO-TEX certification includes organic and non-organic textiles.
- OEKO-TEX® certified products come with a promise that all elements of a garment down to every thread used, have been tested for harmful materials. The certification does not mean that the product is organic but rather that it is deemed a safe product.
- While OEKO-TEX® primarily focuses on environmental sustainability, it does have requirements for manufacturers to maintain socially responsible working conditions.
Although both standards offer a good starting point for sustainability, GOTS is often considered the more comprehensive of the two certifications.
Is GOTS better than Better Cotton Initiative?
Like OEKO-TEX, The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is another standard that should be considered in comparison to GOTS certified. A non-profit, BCI is the world’s most extensive cotton sustainability program, with a mission to make global production better for those producing it, better for the environment it grows in, and better for the future of the industry.
BCI provides training on sustainable farming practices to over 2.3 million farmers in 23 countries. Cotton produced under this initiative dominates sustainable cotton output.
GOTS and BCI both promote fair pay and safe workplace policies, however BCI also emphasizes creating learning opportunities for farmers and workers along the supply chain aiding in facilitating upskilling to improve both social and environmental conditions.
While both GOTS and BCI consider the entire cotton production process, GOTS focuses on just organic cotton, while BCI focuses more broadly on sustainable cotton. This means that BCI farmers may still use GMO seed stock or pesticides within BCI’s sustainability standards, while these procedures would be in violation of GOTS standards.
What’s more, 80% of land used for organic cotton is rainfed, showing another huge advantage of organic.
It has also been noted in a report by the Changing Markets Foundation that BCI cotton is produced using a “mass balance” system meaning that it can be mixed with regular cotton throughout the supply chain. They also noted that BCI has been found to have produced over one fifth of its better cotton in Xinjiang, China, which is now known for enforced labour conditions. That, along with the allowed use of GMO seed stock and pesticides means that we definitely prefer GOTS cotton over BCI cotton.
GOTS: Certification for a Green Tomorrow
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the world’s leading certification for organic fibres. It provides a transparent examination of the end-to-end process of garment creation, from raw material production to the glitz of high street stores, to ensure entire supply chains are working to be fairer and more sustainable.
Commendable in their shared goal to improve the lives of workers and protect the natural world, OEKO-TEX®, BCI and GOTS are rigorous in their testing, and steadfast in their mission to make a more sustainable textile industry. These certification boards are forging a sector that champions fair work practices, helps farmers to better their crops, and fosters profound respect and responsibility for the environment.
Cotton is one of the most popular textiles in the world. It is a diverse and versatile material that lends itself to everything from evening dresses to a well-worn pair of jeans. While historically, cotton production has had a failing sustainability grade, certifications like the Global Organic Textile Standard are working to change this.
So, what does GOTS certified mean? It means when choosing GOTS certified organic cotton you are choosing a future for the fashion industry that respects communities, protects workers, and cherishes the natural world. As a bonus, it also means choosing some high-quality cotton clothing.