What is a Restricted Substance List (RSL)?

Compliance with chemical safety standards in products and processes

An RSL is a list of chemicals restricted in the production of apparel, textiles and other products, usually due to governmental regulation, law, certification protocols or specific sensitiveness of consumers and NGOs about chemicals' safety. Brands and textile manufacturers can adopt RSLs that go above and beyond regulatory requirements. An RSL is owned, managed and updated by brands, trade associations or other collective organizations.


RSL's are usually RSLs are usually imposed as specifications of supply contracts to ensure that supplier’s processes and/or products meet the acceptable limits of restricted chemicals. The RSL should include acceptable chemical limits and testing protocols and analytical methods.


An RSL aims to reduce the use of hazardous substances in consumer goods and supply chains. Companies publish their RSL's to ensure suppliers and vendors and internal corporate employees are aware of and can follow corporate restricted substance requirements.


Besides RSL, the P-RSL and M-RSL acronyms are also used in the business language as more precise specifications of the term RSL.


P-RSL stands for Product Restricted Substances List and details the chemical restrictions applicable to any finished product or raw material used. The enforcement of a P-RSL implies using it as a checklist when testing finished products for restricted substances. A P-RSL does not have any involvement with the manufacturing process and only applies to finished articles. A chemical substance listed in a P-RSL must not be present on the final product but can be used in its manufacturing process. Generally, M-RSL's acceptable limits are expressed in parts per million (PPM) or milligram per Kilogram of material (MG/Kg).The regulation of chemicals through a P-RSL primarily protects consumers.


M-RSL stands for Manufacturing Restricted Substance List. It lists acceptable limits for restricted chemicals used in the manufacturing processes regardless of whether the substances remain on the finished product or are washed away. The enforcement of an M-RSL requires inspections of the supplier's chemicals warehouse and chemical testing of the supplier water effluents before an effluent treatment plant cleans them. Generally, M-RSL's acceptable limits are expressed in parts per million (PPM) or milligram per litre (MG/L). The regulation of chemicals through an M-RSL protects workers, consumers and the environment.


The uncoordinated proliferation of RSL enforced in the contractual supply agreements by fashion brands has become a significant problem for textile suppliers. Efforts to achieve standard reference lists have been made by organizations such as ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) and Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana for the M-RSLs;  AFIRM, and American Apparel & Footwear Association for P-RSL.