A certification is the provision granted by an independent body with a written guarantee that the product, the system, the service and the manufacturing process meet specific requirements and standards. It is a tool for companies to validate and communicate sustainability claims about their products, services, and processes.
Standards are technical performance or management benchmarks and frameworks developed by groups of experts. A management standard validates the management system or framework of processes and procedures used to ensure that an organisation can fulfil all tasks required to achieve its objectives. Performance Standards do not focus so much on the processes, but rather stipulate specific characteristics and/or performance levels that the organisation must achieve and be able to demonstrate in order to become certified. There are mandatory and voluntary standards. When we talk about fashion certifications, most of the applied standards are voluntary. The most important categories are quality management, social responsibility and ethical practices, and environmental management and sustainability.
Compliance with a standard does not mean that the provider has been certified to the standard. While a provider may be operating in legitimate compliance, they may also simply be claiming that they are – even when that is not the case.
The certification process can be expensive or initially difficult to achieve, and many small and midsize providers do not understand the value proposition. However, there are documents that prove the compliance that certain standard entails. The standard establishes measurable or verifiable requirements to have a distinctive seal or label or the right to use one particular statement. The requirements are verified by an independent body, selected by the issuing association. The process usually involves an on-site audit.
Some companies use certifications as a model of communication to their stakeholders as they can generate trust, help the reputation of the brand, and make the products comparable to some standards used in the market.
Mandatory Standards and Certifications:
These are necessary to place a product in certain markets (at least with particular labelling), and they are well known for their official nature. The regulation and requirements are established by a governmental institution, although third parties may be accredited by the governmental institution to control and issue certifications. The fraudulent use of the certification is prosecuted.
Voluntary Standards and Certifications
The scope of these certifications can be global, and their use is always voluntary. The development of the Standard is carried out by the owning organisation and third parties are normally accredited by the owner of the Standard to control and issue certifications.
The fraudulent use of the certification does not have a legal penalty, although there is a reputational impact. A company’s credibility depends on that of the owning organisation.
A non-exhaustive list of International standards
AccountAbility’s AA1000 Series of Standards are principles-based frameworks used by global businesses, private enterprises, governments, and other public and private organizations to demonstrate leadership and performance in accountability, responsibility, and sustainability.
The AA1000 Series of Standards include simple, practical, and easy-to-use frameworks for:
-Developing, analysing, and implementing sustainability initiatives (AA1000AP, 2018).
-Creating and conducting inclusive sustainability-related stakeholder engagement practices (AA1000SES, 2015).
-Assuring credibility in reporting on the progress toward sustainability goals (AA1000AS v3).
The standard allows those who use it to establish a systematic process of linking with its "stakeholders" that generates indicators, objectives and "reporting" systems.
It measures social performance in eight areas important to social responsibility in workplaces.
ISO 26000. Social Responsibility
It provides guidance to those who recognise that respect for society and the environment is a critical success factor. Apart from being the “right thing to do”, application of ISO 26000 is increasingly viewed as a way of assessing an organisation’s commitment to sustainability and its overall performance.
It is a guide for the implementation of the international standard for environmental management systems.
It establishes the requirements for the adoption of a quality management system. This strategic decision can help to improve the organisation’s overall performance and provide a sound basis for sustainable development initiatives.
B Corp is a seal that certifies that a company exists with a dual purpose: to be profitable and generate profit, and to create a positive impact on society and the planet. It is issued by B Lab, a non-profit network transforming the global economy for the benefit of all people, communities, and the planet. The BCorp certification is currently under review for the inclusion of requirements on ten specific topics spanning environmental, governance-related, and social impact, which companies would need to meet in addition to using the B Impact Assessment as an impact management tool. Some fashion brands have this certification: Ecoalf, Hemper, Barner, Parafina, Patagonia, Chloé, Circoolar, Piñatex, Isdin.
Under Regulation (EC) No 66/2010, the EU Ecolabel may be awarded to products which have a reduced environmental impact during their entire life cycle. Commission Decision 2009/567/EC has established the ecological criteria and the related assessment and verification requirements for textile products, which are valid until 30 June 2014. Its use is not as widespread in the fashion industry. Among others, EU Ecolabel Textiles products meet criteria that guarantee: the limited use of substances harmful to health and the environment; the reduction in water usage and air pollution, and the colour resistance to perspiration, washing, wet and dry rubbing, and light. Currently, only 65 companies are holders of the Ecolabel Textile licence; among them, Vero Moda, Lenzing, Calik Denim, Seacell.