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06 Oct

Ethical Fashion Certifications and Standards: What Do the Labels Mean?

These days, all the images, logos, buzzwords and greenwashing in the world of fashion can make it hard to see the wood for the trees, or in our case, the truly ethical products amongst the not-so. To make things easier for you, we’ve made this simple guide to fashion’s most common certifications and standards.


The FAIRTRADE Mark on an item of clothing means that the cotton within the item is produced by a Fairtrade certified producer organisation in a developing country, who will be receiving a fair and stable price for their cotton. Producer organisations are made up of many workers and farmers. Currently, there are over 1.65 million farmers and workers within 1,226 Fairtrade producer organisations.

For producer organisations to become Fairtrade certified, they go through a process of being audited by FLOCERT, which is an independent global certification and verification body. Producer organisations must meet Fairtrade standards in order to become certified. The Fairtrade standards aim to provide support for social, economic, and environmental development of small scale farmers, and completely prohibit forced labour and child labour.

Max Havelaar Fairtrade Certified Cotton

If you see this label, it means that the cotton in your clothing is Fairtrade certified – as outlined above. This is a FAIRTRADE Program Mark which is different to the FAIRTRADE label in that only one ingredient (in the case of clothing, this is cotton) of a company’s product needs to be 100% Fairtrade certified for that product to hold this label. For example, a t-shirt made with 10% cotton, can still hold the Fairtrade Program mark if all of the cotton used is Fairtrade certified.

It is helpful in encouraging businesses to include Fairtrade products in their supply chain, and for consumers to then recognise these efforts. It often guarantees a greater commitment to small-scale farmers and producer organisations, as well as long-term trading from companies by buying individual ingredients like cotton in larger quantities.

World Fair Trade Organization

If you see the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) label, it means that the company producing the clothing has been accredited for meeting the WFTO criteria. WFTO assess companies based on the 10 Fair Trade Principles set out by WFTO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Standards. Note that this assessment is separate to FLOCERT. This label signifies not only that the practices across the supply chain are checked against the WFTO Fair Trade Standard, but it also represents support to the battle against poverty and inequality.

Fair Wear Foundation

If you see this label, it means that the company producing the item is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF). When a company becomes a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, they have committed to FWF verifying and improving their supply chain conditions. FWF verify based on their own standards, which are set out in accordance with eight labour standards created from ILO conventions, and the UN’s Declaration on Human Rights.

FWF is a not-for-profit foundation who work with companies, brands, factories, trade unions, NGOs, and governments. To ensure transparency and full accountability, they work at three levels – verifying the workplace, the company, and the organisation. FWF now has 80 member companies which represent over 120 brands – member products are sold in over 20,000 outlets and 80 plus countries across the globe.

The Soil Association

This final set of labels are set out by the Soil Association who verify every step of a clothing brand’s supply chain, looking at environmental impacts and some social impacts in accordance with their standards. They look at criteria like a brand’s use of harmful chemicals, whether or not they provide safe working conditions, their efforts to reduce energy and water usage, and many more.

Global Organic Textile Standard

If you see the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label then it means the item of clothing is made from at least 70% organic fibres and meets the Soil Association standards. To receive this certification, brands must manage their environmental impact, have high social standards, reduce energy and review water usage. Compliance is verified by independent auditors.

Organic Content Standard Certifications

The last two are the Organic Content Standard Certification (OCS) labels verifying the presence and amount of organic fibre in an item of clothing. This is the OCS 100 label, it means that the item is made of at least 95% organic material. Below is the OCS blended label, and signifies that the item has a minimum of 5% organic content, which is blended with conventional or synthetic raw materials.

Editor's note

Feature image via Unsplash. Images via the standards and certifications mentioned.

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