Navigating your way through the overgrown jungle of standards and certifications isn’t intuitive. For any given aspect of the supply chain there can be literally dozens of standards and certifications vying for your attention.
Standards are technical performance benchmarks and frameworks, developed by bodies of experts. There are mandatory (legally required) and voluntary standards; since we’re discussing certifications right now, we’re focused on voluntary standards. Standards exist for every aspect of operations, and vary incredibly in effectiveness and reputation. In general, the most important categories will be (with some overlap); quality management, social responsibility & ethical practices, and environmental management & sustainability. Suppliers adopt a voluntary standard by operating in compliance to the standard’s criteria.
Compliance to a standard does not mean that the supplier has been certified to the standard. While a supplier may be operating in legitimate compliance, they may simply be claiming to. The certification process can be expensive, or initially difficult to accomplish, and many small-to-medium suppliers don’t understand the value proposition.
Certification occurs when an accredited independent body (an auditor) verifies that a supplier is in conformance to the appropriate standard. Upon successful verification, the auditor typically issues a certification statement.
The following are some of the most well known and respected standards and you should expect any responsible garment manufacturer to be holding a number of these.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
GOTS is the leading textile processing standard for organic fibres. The aim of this standard is to define worldwide, recognised requirements that ensure organic status of textiles – from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing, and up to labelling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer.
GOTS has certification bodies that certify entities of the textile supply chain and their products. GOTS is comprised of four reputed member organisations, namely OTA (USA), IVN (Germany), Soil Association (UK), and JOCA (Japan), which contribute to GOTS, together with further international stakeholder organisations and experts.
Textile processors and manufacturers are enabled to export their organic fabrics and garments with one certification accepted in all major markets. The standard covers all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibres, mainly focusing on cotton, wool and silk.
ISO 9001 is the international standard that specifies requirements for a quality management system (QMS). Organizations use the standard to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements.
ISO is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, however the standard is used internationally across a range of industries.
Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)
WRAP is an independent, objective, non- profit team of global social compliance experts dedicated to promoting safe, lawful, humane and ethical manufacturing around the world through certification and education. WRAP certification is for the factories where goods are made, rather than the end product.
WRAP is based in Virginia, United States, and has certified facilities around the world.
A grassroots movement, Fairtrade Foundation is about better prices, decent working conditions, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in developing countries around the world. If you meet the social, economic and environmental standards set out by Fairtrade International, you can trade under Fairtrade conditions and display the prestigious Fairtrade Mark on your products.
Fairtrade Foundation works with small farmers, producers, and traders worldwide who meet strict standards. The Mark is only used on products certified in accordance with internationally agreed Fairtrade Standards. This certification aims to empower disadvantaged producers in developing countries by tackling injustice in conventional trade.
The Fairtrade Foundation is an international certification, however, it is headquartered in London, United Kingdom.
The B Corp certification is one of the most trusted and coveted, certifying the company’s contribution to creating a sustainable global economy while conducting business with purpose. Using a triple-bottom-line approach to ensuring people, planet and profits go hand-in-hand with business, B Corp is used in over 70 countries by over 3000 brands.
B Corp certified businesses are expected to meet the rigorous social, environmental, transparency and accountability standards set out for them, while working towards healthier jobs and communities for stakeholders throughout the supply chain.
B Lab was founded in Pennsylvania, United States but have teams around the world including Canada, Australia and New Zealand.