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Textile labelling legislation generally requires information about the textile fibre composition to be disclosed, but not the finishing substances used; such as dyes, fire retardants or protective agents or the country of origin.

An agricultural crop can now be certified organic by numerous certification agencies globally. There are also close to 100 different labels addressing environmental or social sustainability, or consumers’ health in the textile and clothing industry, (Pan UK, 2007). These labels have been developed by either public institutions, private certification agencies, NGOs, industry federations, or by retailers themselves, but this myriad of labels can leave a consumer extremely confused.

There is also no denying that environmental awareness is today at the fore-front of public consciousness, and many fashion manufacturers have responded by attaching eco-labels to their products, leading to the phenomenon of "greenwashing," or the misrepresentation of eco-credentials. To eliminate false claims, third-party certification has become crucial in determining a fabric's environmental merits.

Oeko-Tex Standard 100

In 1992, the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 was introduced to the textile industry in Europe to specify allowable levels of potentially harmful substances that threaten human health. Following their lead, several certification systems have been established. Oeko-Tex rates only textiles and is concerned with human health, testing finished products for toxins; the closer the skin contact, the higher the rating needed.


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McDonough Braungart Cradle to Cradle System
One of the more stringent certifications however, is MBDC's (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry) Cradle to Cradle system, which has a four-tier rating system. It evaluates the product's entire life cycle, including raw materials extraction, environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing, use of toxic chemicals and dyes, treatments to avoid water pollution, renewable energy sources, reclamation and ethical standards; however one universal standard for textiles still seems unlikely.


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Global Organic Textile Standard

GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) sets standards for natural fibres, from a minimum of 70% content grown organically to manufacturing and does not allow PVC packaging and labelling; it also sets standards for waste water treatment for wet-processing and responsible water and waste removal. The GOTS label also enables the labelling of cotton fibre from the organic conversion period, for example “100% organic cotton – in conversion”. Cotton in conversion is grown on land which has only recently been converted to organic methods (typically less than 2 or 3 years). Therefore, although no chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are being used, residues are still found in the soil. This conversion period is very difficult for farmers, who usually experience an initial drop in yield, while not being able to obtain premium organic price for their crops. Therefore, labelling fibres in conversion can be a very useful method to help farmers convert to organic.

globsl organic textile

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Fairtrade is the name for the trading certification and labeling system in the UK by the Fair Trade Foundation. The FairTrade Mark was first launched in the UK in 2005 for raw cotton. Fairtrade standards include environmental criteria, which generally require farmers to work toward best environmental practices, through the use of “Integrated Crop Management” systems, which seek to minimize the use of agrochemicals, and prohibit the use of the most hazardous pesticides. Nonetheless the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers is still allowed, as many poor farmers, without strong support to learn organic methods, would not be able to join the scheme if chemicals were completely prohibited, and therefore as a result, Fairtrade certified cotton is not necessarily organic. The Fairtrade mark on cotton guarantees that the fibre was grown in the developing world, in a country such as India or Africa, where it had the greatest positive impacts on the producers involved.

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FLO-CERT GMBH accredits the processing and manufacturing of Fairtrade cotton at each stage of the process. It is an independent International Certification company offering Fairtrade certification services in more than 70 countries. In addition, it assists in the socio-economic development of producers and helps to foster long-term relationships and good practice with traders of certified Fairtrade products.

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The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation
The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) gives assurances to consumers that producers have received a fair price and also ensures a more transparent supply chain. FLO is the organization that coordinates Fairtrade labelling at an international level and sets international Fairtrade standards. It is also responsible for organising support for producers around the world, developing global Fairtrade strategy, and promoting trade justice internationally.

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UK Soil Association
The organic standard set by the UK Soil Association and other bodies excludes GM seeds and since 2006 has forbidden the use of GM seeds in all its commodities. The Soil Association actively campaigns against the use of genetically modified (GM) ingredients in human and animal food and on the commercial planting of GM crops in the UK.

The Soil Association symbol is the UK's most recognised trademark for organic produce and their standards not only meet the UK government's minimum requirements but in many areas are higher, particularly with the use of pesticides and fertilisers. They have also developed standards for areas not covered by government or EU regulations, which include textiles and health and beauty care products.


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The EU Ecolabel
The Ecoflower Label is a European label that is a voluntary scheme, established in 1992 to encourage businesses to market products and services that are sustainable and kinder to the environment. Products and services awarded the Ecolabel carry the flower logo, allowing consumers - including public and private purchasers - to identify them easily. The EU Ecolabel covers a wide range of products and services including paper products and textiles.

The EU Ecolabel was adopted by the Commission in July 2008 as part of a broader action plan on Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy. The criteria for the Ecolabel were agreed at European level, following wide consultation with experts, and are not based on one single factor, but on studies which analyse the impact of the product or service on the environment throughout its life-cycle, starting from raw material extraction in the pre-production stage, through to production, distribution and disposal.


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The British Standards Institute
The British Standards Institute (BSI) is the UK's National Standards Body (NSB) and was the world's first. It represents UK economic and social interests across all of the European and international standards organizations and through the development of business information solutions for British organizations of all sizes and sectors. BSI Standards works with manufacturing and service industries, businesses, governments and consumers to facilitate the production of British, European and international standards and has a close working relationship with the UK government, primarily through the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Current technological advancements in the textile industry include the development of nano-engineering and the BSI is playing a key role in leading the development of nanotechnology standards and has recently announced the publication of nine documents for nanotechnology terminology and guidance for UK industry. The BSI British Standards has drawn together industry expertise to create common definitions for nano-related products and guidance on labelling, safe handling and materials specification, which will support worker, public and environmental safety and underpin commercialization and procurement. Nanotechnology is quickly developing emergent area and is the branch of science and engineering that studies and exploits the unique behaviour of materials at a scale of approximately 1-100 nanometres.

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