How to Find Ethically-Sourced Textiles

While much has been discovered and reported about human rights abuses in the global garment supply chain, textiles used in building products like shades, rugs, wall furnishings, and chair upholstery are also subject to significant risk.

The biggest threat to sourcing ethically is the lack of transparency in the textile supply chain. Products made abroad in the Central and South Asian countries where forced labor issues are prevalent such as India, Pakistan, China, and Japan are often cheaper and made in bulk, making it more appealing for architects, developers, and contracts to choose them. What’s more, illegal child labor is very common in the production of textiles. It’s recently come to light that Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region are forced to work in unsafe conditions to produce one-fifth of the world’s cotton.

This is why, according to Jackie Dittmar, vice president of marketing, design and product development at Mohawk Group, it’s important to begin the specification process for textile products early on in project development so as to ensure the chosen items will be forced-labor free. Her company, which specializes in carpet tile and hard surface flooring products, looks out for certifications such as the Living Product Challenge and Declare Labels (created by the International Living Futures Institute), Health Product Declarations (created by the Health Production Declaration Collaborative) and Environmental Product Declarations (created by UL).

Dittmar said the materials with the highest risk for forced labor in her purview are carpet tile, rugs, luxury vinyl tile, and the plastic used for backing flooring products.

The likelihood of finding such ethically made textiles also increases if the items are made domestically where it’s easier to hold manufacturers or the leadership at plants accountable, ensuring employees are given fair work hours and wages, access to daylight, little-to-no chemical exposure, safe conditions to work in, and good healthcare.

Further resources:

National Council of Textile Organizations

International Living Futures Institute Declare Label

Commodity Atlas, Cotton – Verite

Responsible Sourcing Tool, Silk – Verite