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Oeko-Tex at 30: Taking the Next Step with ‘Responsible Business’ Certification

The vision of the Oeko-Tex Association, founded in March 1992 through a partnership between the Hohenstein Research Institute and the Austrian Textile Research Institute, is still reflected today in the organization’s core values of trust, safety and sustainability.

Oeko-Tex is more resolute than ever in developing comprehensive solutions. In addition to new Impact Calculator, which helps STeP by Oeko-Tex certified production facilities reduce their carbon emissions and water consumption, this summer the association will launch a service to help companies transition to new due diligence laws.

“Our aim is to support companies in fulfilling their due diligence obligations in their operations and global supply chain required under the new regulations,” Oeko-Tex secretary general Georg Dieners told Sourcing Journal. “With our founding idea of continuously supporting the textile and leather industry toward product safeness and sustainability, we are currently working on a new certification that will [help] brands and retailers to commit to international agreement[s] on human rights and environmental protection.”

Dieners said the new service will be called Responsible Business by Oek-Tex, developed in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on business and human rights and all relevant guidelines.

In 1992, 20 years before the UN announced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Oeko-Tex launched Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex, now one of the best-known labels for product safety.

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The limit values and test methods on which Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex is based were internationally standardized and are adapted to the latest scientific findings and legislation at least once a year, a principle that is applied to all Oeko-Tex standards.

“From the very beginning, we have considered the needs of all players in the textile value chain and continue to create solutions for current and future market requirements,” said Dr. Stefan Mecheels, owner of the textile testing service provider Hohenstein.

At least seven SDGs are firmly integrated in the Oeko-Tex product portfolio. For example, Good Health & Well-Being (SDG 3) and Clean Water & Sanitation (SDG 6) are reflected in the STeP by Oeko-Tex factory certification and Responsible Consumption & Production (SDG 12) and Climate Action (SDG 13) are implemented through the comprehensive Made in Green by Oeko-Tex product label.

Today, the international association consists of 17 independent research and testing institutes focused on textiles and leather, with contact offices in over 60 countries. They are responsible for the joint development of the test methods and limit values in the Oeko-Tex Standards and carry out laboratory tests and factory audits according to globally uniform specifications.

These comprehensive product and process audits ensure appropriate risk management, consumer and environmental protection and legal compliance. With their wide-ranging research and development, the accredited Oeko-Tex test institutes provide important insight for innovations within the textile and leather industry.

They work in close cooperation with manufacturers and make a significant contribution to the development of high-quality textile and leather products at all stages of the value chain.

Currently, 21,000 manufacturers, brands and retailers in more than 100 countries work with Oeko-Tex to ensure that their products are tested for potential harmful substances.

Dieners said over the years, probably the biggest accomplishment for Oeko-Tex has been “building trust with consumers and enabling them to make responsible decisions to protect the people and the planet.” He said this is reflected in the more than 25,000 certificates issued annually.

“We were an early bird, and we soon realized the importance of including social aspects of manufacturing when we developed STeP by Oeko-Tex,” he said. “Now, we have to look at the latest climate reports and the impacts we are seeing are occurring much faster and are much more destructive and far-reaching than 20 years ago…So it has become clear to us that the implementation of sustainability measures alone will not be sufficient to achieve those ambitious goals. While the industry has started to take responsibility seriously, we are convinced that cooperation must be lifted to another level as soon as possible.”

The industry has to reconsider and reorient areas such as product lifecycles, and “above all else, product [has] to be produced in an environmental[ly] and people-friendly manner.”

“OekoTex will continue with our approach of using scientific date to improve the industry and give guidance to customers,” Dieners added. “In the end, we all need transparency to make the right decisions.”