08 May 2008
While there's now massive and growing awareness of the ecological impact
of plastic carrier bags from stores, there is little awareness in the UK
of a worldwide ecological standard relating to their clothing and
Shoppers in Wales and the South West of England are most likely to
recognise a textile and clothing label that indicates a shirt, socks or
sheets - amongst other goods - have passed a worldwide ecological
standard in their manufacture, while Scottish shoppers will be least
likely to recognise it.
It may be the ecological standard for thousands of textile manufacturers
in scores of countries, but, overall, 94% of British consumers have
never heard of it, according to Shirley Technologies Limited (STL), the
world's foremost textile testing laboratory.
"Oeko-Tex" is a worldwide chemical safety standard adopted by 6,500
manufacturers and 80 countries which evaluates and screens for harmful
substances in textiles intended to come into contact with consumers.
If goods pass strict ecological tests, then they are allowed to carry
But only 6% of British consumers have ever heard of it, so don't know to
ask for it or look for it - while 46% of the population of Germany, for
instance, is completely familiar with it.
Scotland was least aware of Oeko-Tex labelling (4%), followed by the
North of England and Midlands (both 5%), then the South East (6%), with
Wales and the South West of England most aware (both 7%). Women (7%) are
almost twice as likely to recognise the labelling as men (4%).
Retailers or manufacturers are not obliged to display such labelling,
but this comes as a surprise when so many are using green and ecological
claims to sell their goods, says STL.
Ironically, 42% of the same consumers surveyed by ICM on behalf of
Shirley Technologies said they would be willing to pay more for clothing
and textiles if they could see evidence that they were free from harmful
chemicals affecting both the consumer and employees making them.
"This demonstrates a number of key issues: the need for even greater
consumer pull-through and demand for ecologically certificated products,
and the requirement for retailers to demand this standard from
suppliers, and to adopt labelling accordingly," said Phil Whitaker of
"Ironically, while many manufacturers are claiming green credentials to
try to drive sales - and nearly half of consumers are saying they will
pay more for ecologically certificated products - Oeko-Tex is the only
scientific certification and proof of their commitment, but retailers
are yet to fully adopt it.
"Millions of products around the world have been issued with Oeko-Tex
certificates - and as a consequence are permitted to be labelled
"But it is a rarely if ever seen label in the UK - so rare that we
commissioned a survey to see just how many people did recognise the
label, or knew what it stood for. As it is, if consumers knew about the
certification then they would have absolute knowledge that a product was
"94% of people said they were not aware of the certification label or
what it meant. In Germany, for instance, 46% of people asked said they
were aware of the label and what it meant.
"That makes the UK 13% as aware of ecological issues as Germany's
Shirley Technologies, established in Manchester in 1920, is the UK's
Oeko-Tex testing laboratory, testing and issuing licences to this
"We test for some very nasty chemicals used in the production of
clothing and household articles, including formaldehyde - which is
carcinogenic - extractable heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium,
and pesticides and so on.
"We look at and for pH levels, allergenic dyes and toxic substances. A
major concern is the pH (acid/alkaline) test, with many samples failing.
Materials which fail this test can cause itching, rashes, spots, skin
peeling or allergic reaction. "
The survey was conducted by ICM on behalf of Shirley Technologies
Limited. There were 2,090 respondents, 1003 male and 1087 female.
Shirley Technologies Ltd (STL) is a UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation
Service) accredited laboratory providing competitive, independent,
expert textile testing, certification, advisory and investigation
services across the traditional and specialist textile industries.
STL is an independent subsidiary of BTTG Ltd, formerly the British
Textile Technology Group. With more than 80 years experience, Shirley
Technologies Ltd provides unrivalled and expert reassurance through its
technical services to a global network of clients which include
manufacturers, retailers, the legal profession, police, consumers and
related interest groups including Trading Standards. Highly qualified
and experienced technical staff work directly with clients to ensure
that they receive the best advice and service in a wide range of