1. GOTS in a nutshell
- GOTS is the stringent voluntary global standard for the entire post-harvest processing of apparel and home textiles made with certified organic fibre and includes both environmental and social criteria. Key provisions include a ban on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), highly hazardous chemicals while requiring strong social compliance management systems.
- GOTS operates as an independent non-profit organisation and sustains itself through annual fees of €150 per certified facility.
- The GOTS system includes rules, procedures, and measures to maintain and uphold integrity, which are revised regularly.
2. Rules and Framework for Integrity
- As a standard-setter, GOTS defines globally recognised requirements that ensure the organic status of textiles, from field to finished product. In addition the standard, the interpretation manual and the Conditions for the Use of GOTS Signs are integral parts of the GOTS system.
- Independent, third-party inspection audit and certification of companies. It is done through accredited Certification Bodies (CBs). These are experts in their field, and GOTS relies on their proven competence, knowledge and experience. All certification decisions are within the responsibility and purview of the CBs. GOTS does not interfere with the decisions of the independent CBs.
- Independent accreditation of CBs. GOTS has developed its own accreditation system for the approval of CBs, as well as for continuous monitoring of the approved CBs. As a prerequisite, CBs applying for approval as a GOTS certifier must already hold a valid accreditation to perform certification in accordance with ISO/IEC Guides 17011 and 17065.
- The GOTS Quality Assurance Unit (QA) oversees and implements rigorous quality control procedures.
3. Procedures for Integrity
- All participants in the GOTS system, from the smallest certified company to the largest CB, must consistently adhere to GOTS' mandatory requirements, which prevent fraud throughout the value chain.
- GOTS has a robust complaint system where any individual or organisation is able to register a complaint about perceived violations of GOTS requirements. This ensures a formalised, timely and effective means of handling and resolving any complaints raised.
- GOTS reviews all complaints rigorously and works closely with relevant partners (e.g. CBs, ABs) to conduct comprehensive, thorough investigations.
- If evidence of wrongdoing come to light, GOTS takes swift and decisive action against all implicated parties to ensure that all issues are resolved and that the responsible party is held accountable. The GOTS system goes beyond industry standards, ensuring that only authentic organic products bear the coveted GOTS label.
4. Measures for Integrity
- The following concrete measures ensure organic fiber authenticity within the GOTS value chain, with some specifically applicable to cotton:
- Fibres entering the GOTS value chain must be certified organic according to a production standard recognised by the IFOAM Family of Standards.
- Farmers/ICS groups must register in the GOTS Farm-Gin registry before their fibre are permitted to enter the GOTS system. Currently implemented in India, this requirement will soon be in effect globally.
- All incoming raw material has to be reported to GOTS along with traceability to the respective farm group, including region, state and province of origin. Wherever the production standard provides for it, the TCs are required to be additionally submitted.
- Raw cotton may not travel more than 500 km from the farm to the certified gin. This shorter trade chain protects vulnerable points and optimises the process for buyers.
- GOTS approved CBs must verify the Farmers/ICS groups in the farm-gin registry before issuing lint TCs.
- CBs must verify the Farm Scope and Transaction Certificates (SCs and TCs) of all materials entering the GOTS value chain.
- CBs must validate relevant traceability and transport documentation.
- CBs conduct mandatory testing of all seed cotton for genetically modified organisms using ISO IWA 32 protocol, performed by qualified testing laboratories (e.g., ISO 17025), and further tests (such as pesticide residue testing as per section 5.2.7 of standard version 7.0), either randomly or in case of suspicion of contamination or non-compliance, based on the risk assessment by the CBs.
- Before issuing any TCs, CBs under GOTS must conduct a rigorous assessment including a mandatory plausibility check (volume reconciliation). First processing stage TCs are only issued by CBs after additional validity checks, such as first processing site capacities, stock positions, full traceability evidence back to the farm as well as verified financial transactions between concerned parties.
- To strengthen integrity and traceability, GOTS also requires that the Farm TC number appears on the first GOTS TC at the ginning stage. The TC must state the origin for raw material, including region, state, and province. This effectively traces material back to the field and adds another layer of accountability to GOTS-certified fibre.
- CBs perform unannounced audits of gins where there is a high perception of risk.
- The GOTS Quality Assurance Unit (QA) additionally performs the following tasks to maintain integrity and transparency:
- QA performs a comprehensive review of ginner applications in the GOTS database.
- QA ensures that certified gins are located within a 500-kilometer radius of the farm groups or farms supplying the raw fibres.
- QA organises, annually, residual chemical testing of certified products that have been randomly picked up from retail stores across the globe to confirm compliance with GOTS criteria.
- QA periodically sample lint cotton from ginners to assess GMO presence.
- QA regularly shares a list of potential high-risk entities with all CBs.
- QA performs random checks of SCs, TCs, and Letters of Approval issued by CBs.
If an investigation uncovers evidence of fraud, the company will be excluded from the GOTS system, in strict accordance with the established complaint procedure. Additionally, the findings will be publicly disclosed on the official GOTS website.
- Withdrawal of TCs
Transaction Certificates (TCs) linked to fraud will be revoked by the relevant CBs, and any finished products will be prohibited from carrying the GOTS label.
- Upholding Integrity Through Collaboration with Stakeholders
- GOTS cultivates a robust and continuous dialogue with both fellow certification scheme owners and key stakeholders within the organic industry, nurturing collaboration across a spectrum of important issues.
- GOTS has an ongoing collaboration with Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) and Textile Exchange to provide the textile sector with an overview of global laboratories that can reliably conduct GMO testing as per the ISO IWA 32:2019 protocol – a common language among laboratories worldwide to screen for the potential presence of genetically modified (GM) cotton along the organic cotton value chain.
- GOTS co-hosted the Organic Cotton & Textiles Conference in Indore, India in February 2023 with partners Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) and IFOAM – Organics International. The conference focused on collaborative solutions to industry-wide issues of transparency, integrity and capacity.
- GOTS is collaborating with the European Space Agency (ESA) on a demonstrator project that employs AI and satellite imagery to detect organic versus non-organic cotton fields, enhancing the monitoring of organic cotton cultivation systems.
- GOTS is in the process of developing a central database that will trace the origins of organic materials across the entire GOTS chain of custody. This database will cover the journey from the raw material's source, through the initial processing stages, and extend all the way to the final product. To ensure the standard's independence from economic influences, a portion of the development costs is being covered by public funding.