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Georg Dieners explains to the Luna Journal what has changed in consumer purchasing behaviour in recent years and what requirements textile companies should fulfil for an Oeko-Tex seal of quality.
How would Oeko-Tex like to promote sustainability?
Georg Dieners, Secretary General of the International Oeko-Tex Association: “In order to make the textile and clothing industry more sustainable, it is essential that politicians, NGO´s and the companies in the sector pull together. For years, the media and the public have also been pushing for changes in global textile production in order to make it more social and environmentally friendly. At the same time, supply relationships today are very complex and extend across the globe. In this situation, our international Oeko-Tex Institutes, with their decades of expertise in the field of sustainability (since 1995, for example, we have been auditing production sites with regard to environmental compatibility and social standards), can offer far-reaching and practical solutions for the increased requirements in the textile and leather industry. Oeko-Tex covers the entire production chain with its complete system consisting of several complementary or interlinked certification systems, making it an important partner for greater sustainability.
What has changed in consumer purchasing behaviour in recent years?
Apart from the usual criteria such as quality, function or an attractive price, consumers today want to buy one thing above all – textiles with a clear conscience. More and more, therefore, environmentally friendly production and social and fair working conditions in textile factories are the decisive factors in purchasing decisions – especially in view of the negative reporting on the global textile and clothing industry. In order to meet this growing need, consumers are given guidance, for example with the label “Made in Green by Oeko-Tex”, that the articles bearing this label come from sustainable production through independent, reliable certification and are safe from a human ecological point of view.
How do you explain the growing interest in seals on the part of manufacturers?
With the help of seals and product labels, brand suppliers, retailers and manufacturers can make their services with regard to textiles that are harmless to health and sustainably produced directly visible on the product and strengthen confidence in the textile industry with transparency and traceability. Brand suppliers, retailers and manufacturers who are consistently committed to sustainable textile production also face the challenge of selecting their suppliers in terms of the desired quality, efficiency, environmental friendliness and social working conditions. This is not at all easy in view of complex global supply relationships. Seals and labels such as Sustainable Textile Production (STeP) by Oeko-Tex help to communicate our own sustainable production conditions to the outside world in a transparent, credible and easily understandable way.
Where do you see the most important advantages for companies working with Oeko-Tex?
Oeko-Tex has always been internationally positioned and has an immense distribution within the textile chain. One of Oeko-Tex’s strengths is to provide companies with a certification system in which they can be sure that not only national but also international legal requirements are included. This is not a negligible aspect in terms of consumer protection. In addition, there is the high degree of awareness as well as the reputation up to the consumer. The individual components of our testing and certification system complement each other optimally and build on each other. They are geared to the different needs of raw material manufacturers, spinners and weavers, finishers, garment manufacturers, retailers and brands. The companies decide individually which services they want to make use of.
How can manufacturers differentiate themselves from “greenwashing” companies? What do the manufacturers have to take into account?
Greenwashing, i.e. the mere pretence of sustainable commitment to polish up one’s own image, is unfortunately widespread nowadays and in the long run creates even more distrust within the textile industry. In my opinion, however, there is far too much at stake for manufacturers and suppliers of textiles when they run out of excuses. Rather, they should rely on a reliable system, in other words on transparency, credibility and fairness, in order to reap confidence. Here too, trust is good, but control is even better.
What do your different seals stand for?
Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex is a certification for textiles tested for harmful substances at all processing stages. Similarly, the Leather Standard by Oeko-Tex is awarded after thorough laboratory testing for leather articles that are harmless to human ecology. Certificates are issued when all the components of an article meet the annually updated requirements.
Made in Green by Oeko-Tex is a product label for textiles made from materials tested for harmful substances that have been manufactured in environmentally friendly factories and under socially responsible working conditions. The product ID on the label makes it possible to transparently track the manufacture of labelled products.
Within the framework of Sustainable Textile Production (STeP) by Oeko-Tex, the modular analysis of all relevant company areas such as environmental management, social responsibility or quality management examines the extent to which production companies operate sustainably and where there is still potential for improvement. The STeP assessment will also be extended to leather production sites in the current year.
Eco Passport by Oeko-Tex is an independent testing and certification system for chemicals, colourants and auxiliary materials used in the manufacture of textiles and leather articles.
Detox to Zero by Oeko-Tex enables manufacturers in the textile chain to assess the status of their chemical management, the quality of their waste water and sewage sludge and to document this through independent verification. The result of Detox to Zero by Oeko-Tex® is a status report that can be used as proof of compliance with the detox requirements of Greenpeace.
What requirements must manufacturers meet in order to be awarded one of your seals?
The test mark of the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex, for example, has been providing consumers with an important decision-making aid when purchasing textiles for over 20 years. The prerequisite for the award is that all the components of an article meet the required criteria – in addition to the outer fabric, for example, sewing threads, inserts, prints, etc., as well as non-textile accessories such as buttons, zips, rivets, etc. On the basis of its extensive catalogue of criteria with several hundred regulated individual substances, Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex takes into account important legal regulations such as banned azo dyes, formaldehyde, pentachlorophenol, cadmium or nickel as well as numerous chemicals that are harmful to health, even if they have not yet been regulated by law. Further prerequisites are the existence and application of operational quality assurance measures and the legally binding signing of declarations of commitment and conformity by the applicant. In addition, extensive product controls and regular company visits ensure greater safety.
How are the products checked for Oeko-Tex requirements?
The test criteria and limit values for Oeko-Tex tests for harmful substances, e.g. according to Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex, are based on the actual, intended use of a textile article. The following applies: the more intensive the skin contact of a textile is, the higher the human ecological requirements must be met. Products with direct and/or intensive skin contact (e.g. baby articles, underwear, sports textiles, bed linen or terry towelling) must therefore meet stricter requirements than articles worn away from the skin (e.g. jackets or coats) or furnishing materials (e.g. curtains or tablecloths). By the way, the validity of Oeko-Tex certificate numbers can be specifically checked at any time on the Oeko-Tex website www.oeko-tex.com
What added value do manufacturers offer their consumers with the seals?
The Oeko-Tex testing and certification systems show how transparency, product responsibility and trust can go hand in hand when buying textiles. Because: credible information provides reliable orientation and makes it easier for consumers to do what is right for them. Trust and loyalty can only be achieved through fixed parameters. In the 100 by Oeko-Tex standard, for example, the Oeko-Tex test criteria apply uniformly throughout the world. It therefore makes no difference where the certified products were manufactured and where the consumer buys them. The products are tested and certified exclusively by neutral and independent institutions: the accredited research and testing institutes of the International Oeko-Tex Association. The validity of a label can be checked at any time by the consumer using the test number indicated on the label (www.oeko-tex.com/gueltigkeitspruefung). The Oeko-Tex test criteria are updated annually and extended if necessary.
Oeko-Tex has established new regulations for textiles and leather. What will change for manufacturers in 2019?
In 2019, too, the Oeko-Tex Association aims to strengthen consumer protection and sustainability along the value chain of textiles and leather; at the beginning of the year, the existing guidelines for the Oeko-Tex product portfolio were therefore adapted once again. After a three-month transitional period, the new regulations will finally come into force on 1 April 2019. This year, for example, new substances such as siloxanes were included in the limit value catalogues. A tightening of the limit values applies, for example, to the parameters phthalates (plasticizers). Glyphosate products are now under observation.
To what extent must the already labelled products comply with the new regulations?
A Standard 100 certificate is valid for twelve months and can be extended for a further year upon request. In order to guarantee continuous product safety and a smooth process along the entire textile chain, the new regulations must be adopted by this time at the latest. The on-site company audit carried out by one of our Oeko-Tex Institutes is another obligatory part of the certification process. The aim of the company audit is to support operational quality assurance with regard to compliance with the required Standard 100 criteria. Product conformity must be ensured by the certificate holder.
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