Global fashion firms' dirty sourcing habits exposed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am


Nearly 50 global fashion brands have been sourcing textiles from notorious polluters in China, according to a study by five mainland environmental groups.

It says two-thirds of the companies turned a deaf ear to the environmentalists' requests to clean up their supply chain.

Investigators examined 6,000 officially blacklisted polluters in China's textile industry and found that many have been making products for some well-known brands.

Through seven months' work, 48 brands were identified.

Their products range from popular sportswear to luxury handbags.

Ma Jun , director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said yesterday it was hoped the information would help consumers make a 'green choice'.

'When you buy colourful textile products from these brands, you should know that their suppliers in China have dyed rivers and lakes with similar colours,' he said. 'If you stop buying, these brands will be forced to clean up their supply chains.

'Your choice can change the world.'

The institute teamed up with four major environmental NGOs on the mainland for the project.

The companies responded quite differently to the findings, according to Ma.

Some immediately checked with their problematic suppliers and demanded an explanation, but most were silent, if not resistant, to the issue.

The investigators praised Nike, Esquel, Wal-Mart, H&M, Levi's, Adidas and Burberry for their co-operative attitude and prompt action.

But 33 companies, including Marks & Spencer, Esprit, Calvin Klein, Armani and Carrefour, were criticised for not replying to the allegations.

Spanish clothing retailer Zara sent an e-mail statement to the environmental groups' investigators saying: 'We regret that we cannot respond to individual requests for information from schools, universities and professionals regarding our business model.'

The textile industry contributes a significant proportion of pollutants to rivers and lakes on the mainland, according to environmental authorities. Most is generated during the dying process.

Chemicals used by the textile industry not only strip oxygen from the water, upset the ecological balance and poison fish and prawns. They also expose people to toxins such as nonylphenols.

Wang Jingjing, deputy director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said most of the evidence they collected came from official sources.

For eight years the institute had been compiling a database of water polluters using information from mainland environmental authorities, she said.

Polluters were keyed in the database only after they were openly punished by the government for polluting accidents.

Wang said the investigators went through a painstaking check of each textile polluter's link to famous brands.

'We have checked everything, from official websites to financial reports, recruitment ads and even procurement bids,' she said.

Feng Yongfeng, head of Beijing-based environmental protection organisation Daerwen, said that their next move would be site inspections of some of the suppliers to catch them in the act of polluting.

Since 2007, the mainland's major environmental groups have been jointly campaigning influential international businesses to discipline their mainland suppliers.

Apple, for example, has been repeatedly criticised for being ignorant of pollution and labour abuse at Chinese factories making iPhones and iPads.