Fashion labels 'ignoring Chinese suppliers' dirty practices'

Environmentalists accuse Western fashion brands of using cheap suppliers whom they know are polluting the countryside

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2012, 3:44am


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More than 20 of the world's biggest fashion brands have been blasted by mainland environmentalists for ignoring the pollution practices of their alleged Chinese textile suppliers.

Environmentalists have called some of the brands, including Marks & Spencer, Disney, J.C. Penney, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, the worst examples of social responsibility by multinational companies in China.

In a report released in Beijing yesterday, five major non-governmental organisations in China said their appeals to those international fashion brands to check up on and discipline their polluting suppliers in the Chinese textile industry had been repeatedly ignored.

The environmental NGOs, including Friends of Nature, the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, the Green Beagle Institute, EnviroFriends and the Nanjing-based Green Stone, released a similar report in April with a list of 33 "irresponsible" brands. While about a third of them took action to address the issues, the rest did not respond.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, urged consumers to pressure these companies to change.

"They can ignore victims, environmentalists and even the Chinese government, but they cannot afford to lose customers," he said.

However those brands that have taken action often find it is with limited results, as mainland suppliers easily find other clients.

"As long as companies such as Marks & Spencer continue doing dirty business with them, the polluters will keep their discharge pipelines running," Ma said.

Yesterday a spokesperson for British retail giant Marks & Spencer's China headquarters in Shanghai said it had launched an internal inquiry and would release a statement to respond to the accusations.

Increasingly clothing in Western markets are no longer labelled as "made in China", but rather from Southeast Asia, Africa or India. However, the textiles used to make the finished products are still produced on the mainland.

Ma, who won this year's Goldman Environmental Prize, which is awarded annually to grass-roots environmental activists, said the Chinese government has been weak when it comes to environmental issues.

For instance, in some districts of Shaoxing , Zhejiang , the textile industry contributes more than half of the local GDP. The regional economy would collapse if the government imposed high fines that would drive the polluters to bankruptcy.

Some so-called "dirty" suppliers have complained to Ma that the international brands have squeezed their profit margins so greatly that being environmentally friendly is impossible.