GOTS is tackling an increasing number of misleading organic claims

GOTS is tackling an increasing number of misleading organic claims

The Global Organic Textile Standard – or GOTS – is stepping up its efforts to clamp down on what it says are "rampant" mislabelling and false 'organic' claims in the apparel sector.

The organisation filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at the end of March documenting the "widespread inaccurate and misleading" use of the term 'organic' by US companies and marketers in connection with textile products.

It references the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy on labelling organic textile products containing organic ingredients such as organic cotton, organic wool and organic linen.

This states that only textile products produced in full compliance with the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) regulations may be labelled as NOP certified organic and display the USDA organic seal.

However, as most of the NOP's permitted inputs are not applicable to textile processing, NOP labelling is likely unachievable for most garments and textile products that use a variety of dyestuffs and auxiliary agents.

"As a practical alternative, NOP's policy memo explicitly confirms that textile products produced in accordance with GOTS, such as apparel, mattresses or socks, may be sold as 'organic' in the US, without reference to NOP certification or the USDA organic seal," explains Herbert Ladwig, GOTS managing director.

In the complaint to the FTC, GOTS requests the agency makes it clear to marketers that in the absence of government organic textile standards, private and globally applicable standards with third-party certifications have been developed that are recognised by certain federal agencies.

Such global standards – in contrast to national ones – are more suitable anyway to industries such as textiles that are organised globally.

The organisation also urged FTC to expressly acknowledge GOTS, refer to NOP's Policy Memorandum on Textiles, and monitor and enforce use of the term 'organic' on textiles that are not certified under either NOP or GOTS. Such steps would significantly help prevent misleading organic claims and ensure consumer confidence in the term 'organic,' it says.

The FTC complaint comes after GOTS last month won a civil action in the US District Court of Virginia against mattress companies Serta Simmons Bedding, Delta Enterprises Corporation, and Dreamwell Ltd for unauthorised use of the GOTS certification trademark.

"The lawsuit and FTC complaint should send a clear message to the textile sector that unauthorised and unsubstantiated claims that textile products are 'organic' or GOTS-certified will not be tolerated," Ladwig adds.

GOTS is a voluntary global standard for the entire post-harvest processing – including spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing and manufacturing – of apparel and home textiles made with organic fibre such as cotton and wool, and includes both environmental and social criteria.

Key provisions include a ban on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), highly hazardous chemicals (such as azo dyes and formaldehyde), and child labour, while requiring strong social compliance management systems and strict waste water treatment practices.

GOTS was developed by the Organic Trade Association (US), Japan Organic Cotton Association, International Association Natural Textile Industry (Germany), and Soil Association (UK), and its operating unit is the Global-Standard gemeinnützige GmbH.