Last Updated on April 22, 2023
When looking for more sustainable and ethically-made fashion you’re likely to come across various certifications. What do they actually verify though? Are some better than others? Here’s a breakdown of the most common certifications you’re likely to encounter and what they mean.
Sustainability + Labor Certifications
What is GOTS? (Global Organic Textile Standard)
If you see the GOTS logo this on a product, it means the product has 95% (or more) organic fibres. If you see the GOTS logo on a brand website, this means that some or all of their products are certified as GOTS goods which includes environmental and social standards.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a quality assurance and product certification that brands can receive after inspection to ensure they are following the GOTS ecological and social criteria needed for approval. GOTS certifications are given to brands who exhibit a high standard for decent work conditions (such as a zero tolerance policy for child labour, harassment and discrimination, or precarious employment). In addition, a brand’s supply chain and products must meet the minimum organic fibre percentage (95-100%) along with other environmental criteria. Before receiving certification, an inspection is done on the entire textile supply chain (including processing and trade). GOTS certifications all have an expiry date of one year after certification; companies must then recertify. Audits are only carried out during the yearly certification assessments.
GOTS also has a secondary logo for products that use 74% – 94% organic fibres. In this case, the logo will clearly state the percent of organic fibres used.
What is a B Corp?
If you see this B Corp certification on your clothing, this means the brand has demonstrated the minimum amount of accountability within their supply chain for both social and environmental issues.
The B Corporation is a certification that can appear on products after brands have applied and been verified by the B Corporation Standard. B CORP extends across many industries, and conveys a business’s commitment to high social and environmental performance and high transparency + accountability. B CORP has an entirely remote certification process, with no on-site auditing. Businesses send in documentation and go through a required review call with a B CORP analyst to become verified and receive their certification. Brands must re-do the certification process every 3 years to show their continuous efforts and improvements.
What is Fairtrade Certified?
If you see this Fairtrade logo on your products, this means that the producers are aligned with the Fairtrade core requirements and believe in the continual improvement of the environmental, social, and economic elements of their supply chain. In addition, brands certified to use the Fairtrade symbol have committed to making their supply chain more ethical, transparent, and stable.
The Fairtrade certification is reflective of the Fairtrade core environmental requirements (such as environmentally sound agricultural practices), economic requirements (such as Fairtrade Minimum Price requirements) and social requirements such as a zero tolerance for forced or child labour). Fairtrade also encourages brands to develop and invest in their social, economical, and environmental standards beyond their core requirements. Producers, traders, and companies can apply for the certification; after an initial on-site audit of the producers or after a temporary producer assessment, the business may use the Fairtrade logo for their products. These businesses are subjected to several different types of audits (renewal audits, unannounced audits, confirmation audits, etc.) to assure the facilities and products are implementing policies reflective of the Fairtrade standards.
What is WFTO Certified? (World Fair Trade Organization)
If you see the WFTO or Word Fair Trade Organization logo on a brand’s product or website, it means that the business or brand has passed the WTFO’s Guarantee System process and has shown they are truly following Fairtrade values within their supply chain and business model.
The World Fair Trade Organization, is an extension of the Fairtrade certification. The difference between Fairtrade and the WFTO is their expanded focus on traceability. Fairtrade focuses on products while the WTFO focuses on the entire supply chain, business model, and operations of a business. The WFTO has its own Guarantee System that combines the Fairtrade principles with its assurance process. The WFTO is not a product certification, and it does not have consistent auditing after businesses have gone through their Guarantee System.
What is WRAP? (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production)
If you see this symbol on a brand’s product or website, it means the brand produces in a WRAP-certified facility and that they have, to some degree, proven their commitment to the WRAP organizations 12 Principles.
WRAP, or Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, is a certification given to production factories. Brands can apply on behalf of factories they own and manage directly or request that the factories they partner with become certified. The WRAP organization revolves around 12 Principles, which include items related to social issues (such as hours of work, prohibition of forced labour, etc.) and environmental issues. After completing a self assessment and a factory audit/evaluation structured by the WRAP organization, the evaluated facilities are given a silver, gold, or platinum level of certification. Unannounced audits are continuously carried out after a facility receives certification.
What is SA8000?
If you see this label on your products or if the brand mentioned the SA8000 standards, this means the brand/factory is diligently working toward improvement for social labour.
SA8000 is both a standard and a certification that businesses can use as a framework for high social standards. Brands using the framework are taking steps to ensure their supply chain implements decent work elements such as fair working hours and appropriate health and safety practices. Their approach is rooted in continued improvement rather than checklist-style auditing. The SA8000 certification is valid for 3 years and during that time audits are done twice per year to track improvements.
What is Fair Wear Foundation?
If a brand is a member of Fair Wear Foundation, they are working through (or have completed) the Fair Wear process and are identifying (or fixing) areas of improvement within their supply chain.
The Fair Wear Foundation is an organization, not a certification. As such, you will not see their logo used on products. Instead, a brand may name themselves as a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, which means they are dedicated to holding their supply chain accountable and want to assure responsible and healthy conditions for their workers. Since the Fair Wear Foundation is not a certification, the organization performs checks on their members rather than audits. These performance checks are primarily to verify members are making an effort in influencing their product locations. Assessments are done annually, 3-4 months after the end of the financial year.
What is ILO? (International Labour Organization)
If a brand mentions their commitment to the International Labour Organization (ILO) standards, this means they are working toward a more transparent and accountable supply chain which focuses on decent work platforms (gender equality, fair recruitment, employment promotion/security, etc.) for all types of workers (women, children, international, minority, etc). Although there are no audits or guarantees the standards are being met.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency setting international standards for labour and social practices within supply chains through multiple industries. Their goal is the implementation of employment standards, social protection, and fundamental work ethics. In addition, the ILO dialogues with businesses to help them overcome barriers to implementing ILO standards. The ILO periodically supervises the members of their organisation to determine whether brands are continuing to implement decent work standards. However, the ILO merely uses these reports to see where their focus or help is needed, and does not audit or enforce their standards.
Sustainability & Chemical Certifications
What is GRS (Global Recycled Standard) and RCS (Recycled Claim Standard)?
If you see the Global Recycled Standard logo, this means the brand has verified a minimum of 50% recycled content in their products and have also verified their alignment with the GRS social, environmental, and chemical requirements.
If you see the Recycled Claim Standard logo, this means that the brand has only verified that their products do contain a certain minimum of recycled content. (RCS does not have the other sustainability standards that GRS verifies)
Headed by the same organization, the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) and Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) both provide verification and certification of recycled materials that are tracked throughout the supply chain to assure their validity. The certifications are similar, except that the GRS holds a brand/business to a higher (and more rigorous) standard. Both have three main objectives to align the “recycled” definition across different products, verify recycled content, and give consumers information about recycled products.
The GRS in particular also aims to reduce the harmful impact of production, assure products are produced in a more environmentally friendly way, and encourage a higher content of recycled material in products. In addition, the GRS includes standards related to preventing harmful chemicals and verifying positive social and environmental production. Both certifications are entirely voluntary and require brands to go through a chain of custody assessment to ensure the recycled content is maintained from sourcing to final product. Each stage of the supply chain is audited by a professional third-party certification body.
What is OEKO TEX Certified?
OEKO-TEX is the trademark used by The International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile and Leather Ecology. Several of their certifications (and their logos) are used by brands and can be seen on multiple different products. OEKO-TEX currently manages seven different standards (STANDARD 100, MADE IN GREEN, ORGANIC COTTON, LEATHER STANDARD, STeP, ECO PASSPORT, and RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS), each with different certification requirements and inspection processes.
OEKO-TEX Standard 100 is the one you’re most likely to see, it means products are tested and guaranteed to be free from common harmful chemicals used in textile production. Made in Green adds on additional environmental and social requirements. They also have fabric specific certifications for leather and organic cotton, as well as a Responsible Business certification.
Important to note though; sometimes brands will just say “Oeko-Tex Certified” and this almost always means it is Standard 100 and not the other environmental or social focused certifications.
On-site visits are performed for the Standard 100, Made In Green, and Leather Standard every 3 years after the initial visit during the certification approval process. On-site visits for Eco Passport are optional. Audits are done for the STeP, Organic Cotton, and Responsible Business certifications during the initial application, and done again every year for the Organic Cotton certification and after 3 years for a STeP or Responsible Business recertification.
What is FSC Certified? (Forest Stewardship Council)
If you see the FSC 100% logo on a product or brand website, this means the brand has committed to the FSC principles and all their materials come from responsibly managed forests.
If you see the FSC Mix logo on a product or brand website, this means that products are made from a mixture of materials from FSC certified forests, recycled materials, and FSC controlled wood (which is different from responsibly managed forests).
If you see the FSC Recycled logo on a product, this means that the product is made from 100% recycled materials.
The Forest Steward Council (FSC) certification indicates that brands selling products made from trees are sourcing wood from responsibly managed FSC-certified forests (which is a different certification for suppliers from the same organisation). Responsibly managed forests means:
- The trees are harvested in a way that there is “no net loss of forest over time”.
- Workers are paid a fair wage in an ethical work environment.
- Forest management practises conservation policies for local flora and fauna.
- There is a management plan in place to ensure that communities in and around the forest are consulted and respected.
The FSC has three main labels that brands can use for their products: their “100%” logo, their “Recycled” logo, and their “Mix” logo. Both suppliers and members of the FSC certification must go through a preliminary on-site audit and an annual audit after certification to ensure they are complying with the FSC principles.
What is Better Cotton/BCI? (Better Cotton Initiative)
If you see this Better Cotton label on a brand’s product or website, it means that the product (or brand) uses cotton that has been certified in its application of the BCI’s sustainability and labor standards. Note though that BCI is not organic and has also been linked to cotton from Xinjiang.
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) certification is based on seven core principles that range from crop protection, soil health, and fibre quality to a supplier’s decent work policies and their employee management model. This certification can be seen on products or on brand websites if a product contains BCI certified cotton, but it is the fibre and source itself that is certified (not a brand).
BCI works directly with farmers in order to maintain their values and provide education and knowledge to suppliers. BCI has a continued supply chain monitoring system that includes on-site and remote auditing of second and third-party ginners, third-party supply chain actors, and second-party transaction actors.
Animal Welfare Certifications
What is PETA Approved Vegan?
If you see this PETA Approved Vegan label on your clothing, this means the brand has assured they use no animal products and that they do not test their products on animals.
The PETA Approved Vegan certification appears on products (mostly beauty and clothing items) after brands have completed a questionnaire and assurance verification that applies to both the company and the suppliers/manufacturers. This process confirms the business uses no animal products and doesn’t test their products on animals.
Currently, PETA uses no compliance or performance auditing systems before certification is given; brands give a statement of assurance from their manufacturer or supplier upon their application and must simply pay the annual certification fee. Recertification and resubmission of an updated (or more recent) statement of assurance is not needed unless a brand stops paying the annual certification fee, in that case, they must restart the application process.