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Interview with Dr. Jean-Pierre Haug

Dr. Jean-Pierre Haug
Dr. Jean-Pierre Haug
Secretary General

Many publications accused textiles to be toxic and dangerous to the end users
In an exclusive interview with Mary Christine Joy, Dr. Jean-Pierre Haug discusses sustainability and textiles. He talks about new challenges and developments in this field. Synopsis: Dr. Jean-Pierre Haug joined Oeko-Tex in the year 2010 and was previously working with Swiss textile testing institute, TESTEX as its COO. He has contributed immensely towards spreading awareness about sustainability amongst textile manufacturers and retailers and making Oeko-Tex one of the most popular sustainability certification organizations in modern times. Excerpts:

Has Oeko-Tex worked enough towards spreading awareness amongst textile corporate houses with regards to sustainability and environment friendliness?

Definitively yes; with more than 11’000 running certificates, which are valid for at longest one year, the number of mills which are regularly contacted and informed about current developments and new trends is very high. The big problem, if we talk again about introducing sustainability in the supply chain, currently is not very high pressure from buyers, i.e. brands and retailers. But I’m sure, as a consequence of the current discussions on various platforms and initiatives, this pressure will increase. Textile mills which can demonstrate that they are working already on a high level of sustainability will definitively have a big advantage on the market.

How do you rate the performance of emerging economies when it comes to awareness about sustainable textiles? Countries like India and China have a well-established textile industry. Are their textile industries sustainable as well?

Current investigations from NGOs and incidences such as the fire disasters in some garment mills show that there is big potential to improve the overall situation in these countries under the light of sustainability. Important buyers such as brands and retailers have started several initiatives such as the "Zero Discharge Initiative" or the HIGG index from the SAC, which shows that they will improve the conditions in their supply chains. Companies being at the forefront will have a better position in the market in the future.

How important do you suppose is sustainable and eco-friendly textile in modern times? Has this concept gained enough speed among textile companies?

The topic of sustainability will definitively get more and more importance in the future. The western world has remarked that the current way of consuming natural, non-renewable resources and at the same time spoiling the environment will sooner or later lead to a situation which our planet cannot digest any more. Also the "consumption" of human resources in the emerging markets of the world is contradictory to the ethical values of the western countries. Various publications in mass media are informing the end user regularly of non-acceptable situations in some producing sites. And if you consider what discussions have been conducted after the fire incidences in some garment factories in the last months, then you can easily draw your own conclusions on the consequences this will have in the future.

Can you explain a bit about the label 'Confidence in Textiles’? What is it all about?

Under the slogan "Confidence in Textiles", we introduced the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 more than 20 years ago. At this time, the first green wave was flushing over Europe and many publications accused textiles to be toxic and dangerous to the end users. Actually, the development of Oeko-Tex Standard was an extrapolation of already existing requirements for foodstuffs to textiles. However, a lot of work was necessary to establish useful and adequate limit values for textiles since the route of intake differ quite a lot compared to foodstuffs and drinking water. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 itself is definitively a success story and has influenced the development of legal requirements imposed to textiles in the world immensely. My personal feeling about the future of this standard is still very positive, since it is a very effective tool to demonstrate that the produced textile goods meet the requirements in term of chemical content of nearly all existing laws in the world and "restricted substance lists" from various organizations, brands and retailers.

Do you suppose end-consumers are equally excited about sustainability certifications? Will they prefer to buy sustainable textiles over any other branded textile for the same price?

The trend in the end-user market is going to this direction, also supported by documentations and news published in the mass media. One of the problems in this area which you have also mentioned is the price of the article sold in the market. This is still an important factor when buying textiles, but there is also a big chance for textiles which are labeled "sustainably produced". Then the end user can decide himself: shall I rather buy a textile proven to be produced sustainably in the entire supply chain at a higher price or shall I buy the cheaper one and thus potentially supporting conditions in the producing countries which I personally would not accept.

How do you think can sustainability certifications like Oeko-Tex make a difference?

Oeko-Tex was introduced in 1995, already a certification scheme next to the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, and it covers the "responsible" manufacturing of textiles and garments. This system is now under refurbishment and will be published in the first half of this year under the title "Sustainable Textile Production" or its acronym STeP. The very well introduced Oeko-Tex Standard 100 on the other hand is covering already part of the sustainability topic by certifying that the produced articles are free of harmful concentrations of chemicals which may harm the consumer when using the textiles.

What all criteria do you take into consideration at the time of issuing certifications? What all qualities do the company needs to possess in order to receive this certification?

For Oeko-Tex Standard 100, the range of chemicals which are controlled is openly communicated and can be retrieved by every interested party from the internet. With STeP, we will certify textile and garment mills and not focus on the products. The certification will cover environmental management system and performance, safety, quality, chemical management and last but not least social requirements.

You also seem to organize events and provide awards to textile companies. Can you describe a bit about these events that you organize?

The companies following our two standards, i.e. Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and Oeko-Tex Standard 1000, which is the name of precursor of the coming STeP Standard, do invest a lot in their performance. Oeko-Tex Association has decided that it is time to honor the most sustainable companies from both systems on occasion of our 20th anniversary. The companies have had time to register themselves for the award and the best of them will receive the award this summer.

How do you think can consumers differentiate between genuine sustainable products and fake ones?

Here you are touching the problem of "Green washing". A textile is for example not simply sustainable because the last or the last two processing steps are performed on a high sustainability level. A real sustainable textile product has to be manufactured through its entire supply chain in a sustainable way. This starts at the spinning mills involved all following processes and facilities and ends with the cutting and sewing mill. This is a big topic for the future and I’m convinced it will give a lot of work for the next 10 or even 20 years.
Published on: 20/02/2013

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.