New international guidance makes ethical claims more credible

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Por Clare Naden
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Locally sourced, sustainably produced, or made with love – claims on labels that speak to our ethical side have grown astronomically in recent years. How do we know which claims are true, and what they really mean? New international guidance has just been published to help make things clearer.  

When are claims on products such as ‘fair trade’ or ‘made without harm to animals’ the real thing, and when are they little more than a marketing ploy? And what do these statements mean anyway?

Amongst the plethora of such ‘ethical claims’ on all kinds of products and services all over the world, questions such as these are inevitably asked as the potential for confusion reigns. Lack of common terminology, clear explanation or a means to verify the claims of some, risk damaging the credibility of everyone else.

The first ISO technical specification for such claims has just been published, in a bid to clear up the confusion and provide a means for organizations to provide information that is credible, accurate and verifiable.

ISO/TS 17033, Ethical claims and supporting information   Principles and requirements, sets out internationally agreed ways to make a credible ethical claim.

Aimed at producers, manufacturers, importers, distributors, or any other organization likely to make such statements, it addresses claims that cover everything from animal welfare and local sourcing to fair trade, child labour, and more.

Co-convenor of the ISO working group that developed the technical specification, Jenny Hillard, said that the industry for ethical labelling is hugely complex:

“There are many kinds of ethical label and labelling schemes, as well as variations in different countries and different ways of interpreting the information.

ISO/TS 17033 is designed to draw together key elements from these schemes so that the information given in such claims is clear, well understood and reliable.”

It draws information from the ISO 14020 series on environmental labelling and declarations, as well as the ITC (International Trade Centre) Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Information as part of their 10YPF Consumer Information Programme. It also complements existing guidance such as the ISEAL Sustainability claims – good practice guide.

ISO/TS 17033 was developed jointly by ISO’s committee on conformity assessment (CASCO) and ISO’s committee on consumer policy (COPOLCO), and involved a wide range of stakeholders including representatives from government, industry, operators of ethical labelling schemes, consumer representatives and NGOs.

It is available for purchase from your national ISO member or the ISO Store.

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