Today a new report was released presenting evidence that some of the world’s largest fashion brands, including Sweden’s H&M and Spain’s Inditex/Zara, are buying viscose for their fashion lines from highly polluting factories. Changing Markets Foundation gathered evidence from factory locations in Indonesia, China and India showing that these widely used viscose factories are dumping highly toxic wastewater into local waterways, destroying marine life and exposing workers and local populations to harmful chemicals.
Incase you didn’t know already, viscose is a popular man-made fibre used by high street brands and high-end designers alike, and as far as production goes, is not inherently unsustainable. However, when manufactured irresponsibly it can have a devastating impact on workers and people living in areas surrounding manufacturing plants.
The report, titled ‘Dirty Fashion: How pollution in the global textiles supply chain is making viscose toxic’, reveals links between the polluting factories and major European and North American fashion brands including H&M, Zara/Inditex, ASOS, Levi’s, Tesco, United Colors of Benetton, Burton, Marks & Spencer, Asda, Dockers, Haggar, Next, Debenhams, Matalan and Van Heusen.
H&M is buying directly from seven of the polluting factories investigated and Zara/Inditex from four of them. While several brands, including H&M and Zara, have committed to more sustainable sourcing of wood pulp used to produce viscose, the manufacturing of viscose is still largely ignored, receiving little oversight from retailers.
Natasha Hurley, Campaign Manager at Changing Markets, said:
“This report reveals that some of the world’s biggest brands are turning a blind eye to questionable practices within their supply chains. With water pollution increasingly being recognised as a major business risk, shifting to more sustainable production processes should be high on retailers’ agendas.”
At factories in West Java operated by Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla and Austria’s Lenzing Group, Changing Markets found villagers washing viscose products in the Citarum river, directly exposing themselves to toxic chemicals and adding to the river’s already considerable pollution load.
At production plants in the Chinese provinces of Hebei, Jiangxi and Shandong, operated by viscose manufacturing giants including Sateri, Tangshan Sanyou and Shandong Helon, investigators found evidence of water and air pollution, worker fatalities and severe health impacts on local residents.
At a plant operated by Birla subsidiary Grasim Industries in Madhya Pradesh, investigators discovered a close nexus between the local authorities and Grasim management which meant most violations, including incidences of water pollution impacting the Ganges, are going unreported.
The viscose staple fibre market – which is projected to grow from $13.45 billion in 2016 to $16.78 billion per year by 2021 – is highly concentrated, with 11 companies controlling 75 per cent of global viscose production, so a concerted effort on the part of retailers could achieve dramatic change.
What can I do to help?
This new report shows that brands can bring viscose manufacturing into a ‘closed loop’ so that the chemicals which are used do not escape into the environment.
“Changing Markets is calling on retailers and brands to implement a strict zero pollution policy, with regular auditing of suppliers to ensure they comply with high production standards.”
By publishing this article we are supporting Changing Markets with their report, in the hope that these brands support to their suppliers to clean up their act and transition towards producing viscose fabric sustainably.
As a consumer, you have power. You have purchasing power, which means that brands are forced to listen when demand for clothing rises and falls. We ask that you buy viscose from brands that have made a clear commitment to sustainable sourcing of wood pulp and clean viscose production. We also ask that you share this article, talk about it on social media and question these brands. You have the power to enforce change.
To read the report Dirty Fashion, click here.