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 certificationsvying for your attention.
Here's a quick guide to the main certifications that we look for from our garment manufacturing partners.
First, let's define some key terms:
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:
Name: ISO 9001 (2015)
Description: One of the most widely used quality management systems. Created by the largest standards organization in the world, the International Organization for Standardization.
Description: Designed to protect human rights in the workplace through social accountability. Manufacturers demonstrate their compliance to purchasers with this certification, there isn’t consumer-facing label. Ideal standard in apparel and textile manufacturing.
Name: Fair Trade
Description: Created by the World Fair-trade Organisation (WFTO), this certifiable standard is dedicated to providing farmers and workers in developing countries with increased wages and working conditions.
Name: MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX®
Description: An independent textile label for highlighting consumer products and semi-finished products at all levels of the textile chain that are made from materials tested for harmful substances and that have been manufactured by using environmentally friendly processes and under safe and socially responsible working conditions.
Name: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
Description: The predominant standard for testing and verifying organic materials. Most commonly used with organic cotton. This certification provides a consumer label as well.
Description: FLO-CERT is a global certification and verification body for Fair-trade products and assures fairness across global supply chains
Name: Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP)
Description: 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 implements the following 12 principles; Compliance with local laws, Prohibition of forced labour, Prohibition of child labour, Prohibition of harassment or abuse, Compensation and benefits, Hours of work, Health and safety, Prohibition of discrimination, Freedom of association, Environment, Security, Customs compliance
Name: Fair Wear Foundation
Description: Fair Wear Foundation works with brands, factories, trade unions, NGOs and governments to verify and improve workplace conditions. FWF represent over 120 brands, bringing together the key components needed for sustainable change to improve workplace conditions
Description: Bluesign is a certification for the textile industry focusing on legal compliance in relation to environmental health and safety. The certification standard combines aspects of consumer safety, water and air emissions and occupational health, with a particular focus on the reduction of harmful substance usage at early stages of production
Inevitably, the challenge that arises with supplier certification is verifying that their claimed certifications and operational compliance are genuine. If additional externalities are present, such as manufacturer opacity and remoteness; the challenge of verification can grow exponentially.
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