Environment is secondary to protection

ILO, BCI, FWF, GRI, STeP, GOTS, GRS – with all these acronyms it is not only the uninitiated who find themselves in the dark. Specialists from the textile and apparel industries, where these acronyms originate, are themselves often at a loss as to know where to begin. At the same time, the initials all stand for something worthwhile.

They describe programmes and initiatives, through which the ecological and social acceptability of apparel manufacture and the stages that lead up to it are to be improved. At all events, the sheer number of initiatives makes it difficult to get one’s bearings. Worldwide there are, after all, around 200 quality marks for sustainability. On top of that, there are 260 Restricted Substances Lists (RSLs), which are published by brand manufacturers and which contain the names of substances, whose use in the manufacturing process is restricted. We can only assume that the number of such substances will grow. At all events, this does not serve to further the cause. Many producers become uncertain in the face of the jungle of quality marks. They are plagued by the question of which sustainability standards customers in the B2B arena will demand in future. The search for the ‘Holy Grail’ leads, moreover, to absurdities. So that quite a few companies from Sportech get certification several times over for their efforts to adhere to the principle of sustainability. Good luck to those who can afford it!

The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 doesn’t cover flame-resistant clothing

Those who feel that sustainability certification for their manufacturing processes is a little premature can always opt for the Oeko-Tex Standard 100. This standard is amongst the oldest and most widely-known seals of approval in the world and is used by 9,500 companies from more than 90 countries. Its aim is to ensure that undesirable, hazardous chemicals are not used in the production of textiles. To that end, the Oeko-Tex community has developed binding quality criteria in respect of human rights and ecological acceptability for a total of four classes of product. Essentially, they relate to substances that can be used in the dyeing and finishing processes and restrict the maximum amount that may be present in any given textile sample. There are many textiles that can be certificated using the criteria laid down by the standard. But not quite all. Certain kinds of protective clothing fabrics cannot comply with the prescriptions for hazardous substances – specifically in those cases where their flame-resistant properties rely on finishing substances containing bromine. Conversely, however, we should not assume that a lack of certification necessarily means that textiles intended to be worn close to the skin are dangerous. Particularly in the case of protective textiles produced in Europe, the opposite is true, as a rule. With the exception of the finishing process relevant to their protective function, they fulfil all the criteria prescribed by the standard. At the same time, there have been numerous attempts at replacing the finishing substances with more acceptable ones. A replacement is, however, only possible if the performance is then adequate. For protection is what it is all about in professions involving risk to life and limb.

The area of application is what decides the issue of certification

Another quality mark for responsibly produced textiles is the Global Organic Textile Standard, GOTS for short. In contrast to the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, it is awarded to textiles that are manufactured in both ecologically and socially acceptable ways and are, for the most part, made from natural materials. Precisely for this latter reason, however, it does not have a role to play, when it comes to technical textiles. Because of their functionalities and special applications, technical textiles are overwhelmingly manufactured from synthetic fibres and fibre mixtures. Moreover, no direct contact with the skin is likely, as far as their particular areas of application are concerned – mostly in aeroplane construction, in architecture and the packaging industry. On the contrary: technical textiles and their effects are mostly concealed, performing functions that are relevant to overall safety in the background. In such cases, the safety function always takes precedence. For that reason, technical textiles are relatively rarely certificated with regard to their ecological or social acceptability. Equivalent standards (eg. Bluesign, EU-Ecolabel, STeP) only really come into play, when – as in the case of Protech and Sportech – there is a question of direct skin contact.

Sabine Anton-Katzenbach

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