GOTS filed a complaint last week with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission documenting what it claims are the widespread inaccurate and misleading use of the term “organic” by U.S. companies and marketers in connection with textile products.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s National Organic Program issued a Policy Memorandum addressing the labeling of textile products containing organic ingredients such as organic cotton, wool and linen. The memo clarified that only textile products produced in full compliance with the NOP regulations may be labeled as NOP-certified organic and display the USDA organic seal. As most of the NOP’s permitted inputs are not applicable to textile processing, NOP labeling is likely unachievable for most garments and textile products that use a variety of dyestuffs and auxiliary agents, GOTS said.
“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 U.S. without reference to NOP certification or the USDA organic seal,” said Herbert Ladwig, GOTS managing director.
In the complaint to the FTC, GOTS requests the agency make 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 recognized by certain federal agencies. In contrast to mere national ones, such global standards are more suitable to industries which are — as the textile industry is — organized globally, GOTS said. The organization 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.”
This followed an action on March 21 when GOTS won a civil action in the U.S. District Court of Virginia against defendants Serta Simmons Bedding, Delta Enterprises Corp. and Dreamwell Ltd. alleging unauthorized uses of the GOTS certification trademark on sleeping mattresses, particularly infant mattresses. The civil suit was resolved with a permanent injunction prohibiting unauthorized uses of the GOTS certification trademark.
GOTS said it was a major win for consumers faced with a “Wild West” of textile products being mislabeled or falsely advertised as “organic.”
“The lawsuit and FTC complaint should send a clear message to the textile sector that unauthorized and unsubstantiated claims that textile products are ‘organic’ or GOTS-certified will not be tolerated,” Ladwig said. “To serve our certified operations and provide fair competition in the market for certified organic goods, we welcome market participants to notify both us and the FTC of any perceived misuses of the term organic or the GOTS logo.”
GOTS is the stringent voluntary global standard for the entire post-harvest processing, including spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing and manufacturing of apparel and home textiles made with organic fiber, and includes environmental and social criteria. Key provisions include a ban on the use of genetically modified organisms, highly hazardous chemicals such as azo dyes and formaldehyde, and child labor, while requiring strong social compliance management systems and strict waste water treatment practices.