GOTS Wins Civil Action against Mattress Companies

Lawsuit and FTC complaint aim to reduce rampant false GOTS and organic claims as well as logo uses in the textile sector - based on USDA’s policy on labeling organic textile products

It was a major win for consumers faced with a “Wild West” of textile products being mislabeled and/or falsely advertised as “organic.” On March 21, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) won a civil action in the US District Court of Virginia against defendants Serta Simmons Bedding, Delta Enterprises Corporation, and Dreamwell, Ltd., alleging unauthorized uses of the GOTS certification trademark on sleeping mattresses, particularly infant mattresses. The civil suit (Global Standard gemeinnützige GmbH v. Serta Simmons Bedding, LLC et al, Eastern District of Virginia Case No. 1:15-cv-01486) was promptly resolved with a permanent injunction prohibiting unauthorized uses of the GOTS certification trademark.

A week later, on March 30, GOTS filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) documenting the widespread inaccurate and misleading use of the term “organic“ by US companies and marketers in connection with textile products.

"The lawsuit and FTC complaint should send a clear message to the textile sector that unauthorized and unsubstantiated claims that textile products are ‘organic’ or GOTS-certified will not be tolerated," stated Herbert Ladwig, GOTS  Managing Director. “To serve our certified operations and provide fair competition in the market for certified organic goods, we welcome market participants to notify both us and the FTC of any perceived misuses of the term organic or the GOTS logo.”

In 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) released a Policy Memorandum addressing the labeling of textile products containing organic ingredients (such as organic cotton, organic wool, and organic linen). The memo clarifies that only textile products produced in full compliance with the NOP regulations may be labeled as NOP certified organic and display the USDA organic seal. However, as most of the NOP’s permitted inputs are not applicable to textile processing, NOP labeling is likely unachievable for most garments and textile products that use a variety of dyestuffs and auxiliary agents.

“As a practical alternative, NOP’s policy memo explicitly confirms that textile products produced in accordance with GOTS, such as apparel, mattresses, or socks, may be sold as ‘organic’ in the US, without reference to NOP certification or the USDA organic seal,” Ladwig states.

In the complaint to the FTC, GOTS requests the agency make clear to marketers that in the absence of government organic textile standards, private and globally applicable standards with third-party certifications have been developed that are recognized by certain federal agencies. Such global standards – in contrast to mere national ones – are more suitable anyway to industries which are – as the textile industry is - organized globally. The organization also urged FTC to expressly acknowledge GOTS, refer to NOP’s Policy Memorandum on Textiles, and monitor and enforce use of the term “organic” on textiles that are not certified under either NOP or GOTS. Such steps would significantly help prevent misleading organic claims and ensure consumer confidence in the term “organic.”

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About GOTS: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the stringent voluntary global standard for the entire post-harvest processing (including spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing and manufacturing) of apparel and home textiles made with organic fiber (such as organic cotton and organic wool), and includes both environmental and social criteria. Key provisions include a ban on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), highly hazardous chemicals (such as azo dyes and formaldehyde), and child labor, while requiring strong social compliance management systems and strict waste water treatment practices.

GOTS is recognized worldwide as the leading processing standard for textiles made with organic fibers, and GOTS certification enables consumers to purchase items that are certified organic from field to finished product.

The standard was developed by leading international standard setters - Organic Trade Association (U.S.), Japan Organic Cotton Association, International Association Natural Textile Industry (Germany), and Soil Association (UK) which formed an International Working Group to define globally-recognized requirements that ensure the organic status of textiles. GOTS' operating unit, the Global-Standard gemeinnützige GmbH, is a non-profit organization.