Chemical management is the act of controlling and eliminating from the supply chain any substances that could potentially harm workers, consumers, or the environment. Chemical management has three primary areas of focus: product testing, safe and effective manufacturing practices, and control of chemical inputs. Quality assurance is an overarching theme of chemical management and ensures that all aspects of a manufacturing process ultimately deliver high quality, responsibly made products that do not impose the risks associated with hazardous chemicals on people or the planet.
OEKO-TEX® has been dedicated to eliminating hazardous chemicals from the textile supply chain for twenty-five years. The ground-breaking STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, the original OEKO-TEX® testing and certification program introduced in 1992, was created in direct response to consumer outrage at discovering that the textiles they purchased could contain harmful substances. Today, the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® ensures that certified products are tested to be free from dangerous levels of more than 300 concerning chemicals such as pesticides, carcinogenic dyestuffs, heavy metals, formaldehyde, and other health hazards as well as several chemicals that can damage the environment.
OEKO-TEX® scientists build their list of concerning chemicals based on the latest medical knowledge and relevant consumer protection regulations such as the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's CPSIA legislation, the EU's REACH regulations, and similar laws around the world. OEKO-TEX® consulted with most of these agencies as well as NGOs and industry associations to help develop effective plans to improve textile product safety and sustainability by eliminating dangerous chemicals. In fact, many STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® criteria are stricter than these legal requirements, meaning that OEKO-TEX® is a global reference for all textile related regulations and that certificate holders exceed compliance expectations.
The fact that OEKO-TEX® is an independent organization is an important aspect of its credibility and ability to contribute objective data to the industry's hazardous chemical conversation. OEKO-TEX® does not report to a government, corporation, or agency. OEKO-TEX® is able to work freely with all interested parties to develop global, science-based, harmonized chemical management standards and then help manufacturers, brands, and retailers proactively attain them. For consumers, OEKO-TEX's independence and certification traceability give them confidence that certified products truly are safe to use.
Thinking about the three pillars of a comprehensive chemical management strategy, the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® covers product safety. Textile products that are STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certified have been tested and are free from harmful levels of all the hazardous substances on the OEKO-TEX® RSL. However, while the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification prohibits use of many restricted chemicals in the manufacturing process—carcinogenic dyestuffs, for example—it does not necessarily address other chemicals that may be used unless they pass through to the certified product.
As consumers learn more about sustainability, just knowing the basics about the products they buy is not enough. They want to know more. Where are they made? Who is making them? What is the environmental impact? What happens to the products at the end of their useful lives? Along with consumers, many other stakeholders and regulators in the textile industry have started to hold companies accountable for their direct and indirect use of hazardous chemicals. In fact, chemical management is so important to sustainability strategies that the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices recently added chemical management to the criteria they examine to compile their corporate sustainability ratings.
Companies committed to more sustainable practices have started to voluntarily reduce their use of hazardous chemicals or eliminate them altogether. After all, if harmful chemicals are not used in the making of a textile product, or if they are effectively recovered and controlled, then harmful chemicals will not be in the textile product itself or in the effluents from the manufacturing process. OEKO-TEX® has expanded its portfolio in recent years to support companies who need independent testing and certification programs to validate their sustainable operations.
Transparent bills of material are important components of chemical management and many companies have started to require full ingredient disclosure from textile chemical vendors. For individual chemical inputs, compliance is relatively simple but for companies who make special blends like colorants and additives, revealing recipes requires disclosing valuable trade secrets. This is another situation where OEKO-TEX's independence and credibility can help bridge the gap between interested parties.
ECO PASSPORT by OEKO-TEX® is a program by which textile chemical compound producers can confidentially disclose their recipes to OEKO-TEX®. OEKO-TEX® evaluates the compounds in a two-step process. First, ingredients are reviewed to ensure none is on any relevant restricted substance lists (RSLs or MRSLs). Second, the compounds are analyzed for harmful contaminants. Chemical compounds that pass both phases are granted the ECO PASSPORT by OEKO-TEX® certification, which the customer can accept as proof that the chemical compound can be safely used in sustainable textile production. ECO PASSPORT by OEKO-TEX® removes roadblocks to effective chemical management by improving transparency and cooperation between vendors and manufacturers without violating confidentiality and trust.
Chemical Management and Social Responsibility
As OEKO-TEX® has witnessed over the decades, consumer demands for safe, responsibly made products will only continue to grow. OEKO-TEX® keeps pace with new developments in medical science, evolving consumer protection regulations, and textile chemistry innovations to make sure that its list of hazardous chemicals, as well as limit values and test methods, that form the basis of its testing and certification programs remain current. Certificate holders depend on OEKO-TEX® to help them produce safe, sustainable, compliant textile products in a complex and ever-changing global supply chain. The OEKO-TEX® portfolio will continue to grow as the textile supply chain expands and new sustainability challenges emerge. More information about OEKO-TEX® services and a directory of certified manufacturers and products are available at www.oeko-tex.com.