Top Brands Linked to Pollution

Greenpeace says clothing makers must be held accountable for the actions of their China-based suppliers.

greenpeaceprotest-305.jpg A shopping mall security guard tries to stop a protest by Greenpeace members in Beijing, July 13, 2011.

The environmental group Greenpeace has called on major clothing brands to address the pollution of Chinese rivers by their suppliers, putting up campaign banners on the Beijing headquarters of Nike and Adidas.

In a report titled "Dirty Laundry," the group said the Chinese suppliers of clothing giants, including Nike and Adidas, were polluting rivers in the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas.

"Hazardous chemicals with hormone-disrupting properties have been found in wastewater samples from two factory complexes that supply these and other global fashion brands," the group said in a news release on Wednesday.

Nike and Adidas command seven percent and six percent respectively of the global sports clothing market.

Greenpeace Toxics campaigner Li Yifang said recent tests of the wastewater at the Youngor Textile Complex on the Yangtze River Delta and the Well Dyeing Factory on the Pearl River Delta had found toxic chemicals "that have no place in our natural environment.”

"Hazardous chemicals are being released into China’s rivers to make clothes worn by people around the globe," Li said.

The group called on clothing brands Adidas, Nike, and Li Ning to take the lead in influencing their suppliers to stop the pollution.

"These brands have the ability and responsibility to work with their suppliers to provide products that do not irrevocably damage the environment and public health," Li said.

While the companies had developed sophisticated corporate and social responsibility (CSR) systems in response to previous consumer pressure over the years, they still lack a means to prevent pollution by their suppliers, the report said.

Corporate response

In written response to the report, Adidas said: "At the end of the manufacturing process for Adidas’ goods there is a washing process, but the possibility that high concentrations of the chemicals ... mentioned can occur is very low."

Meanwhile, Oregon-based Nike responded in a letter: “We are continuously working toward improving water usage and management of water in our supply chain."

The company confirmed that it sourced clothing that was cut and sewn at factories in the Youngor group, but added: "They do not have manufacturing processes that include use of the chemicals called out in your letter. In addition, neither factory sources materials from the Youngor Dye House."

Greenpeace said its laboratory tests had revealed a cocktail of hazardous chemicals, including nonylphenols—a subset of alkylphenols—and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), in wastewater samples from the two companies.

Alkylphenols and PFCs have hormone-disrupting properties and can be hazardous even at low levels, it said.

Restricted by the EU and international conventions, the chemicals are still widely used by the textiles industry in developing countries such as China, where they are not yet restricted.

Li said top brands shouldn't limit their pollution control strategy to the finished product, but should take responsibility all along their supply chain.

Nationwide pollution

Chinese officials recently estimated that around 70 percent of the country's rivers and lakes are polluted, with the ecology of China's lakes and rivers becoming increasingly unbalanced.

Activists say the Yangtze River basin in particular is so threatened by pollution, erosion, and a deteriorating ecosystem, that special legislation is needed to protect it.

Local and central governments often invest in anti-pollution projects, but then do not provide money for them to continue, they say.

Environmentalists have called for pollution control measures to be built into a "green GDP" figure for the national economy.

Activists say that while China has an exemplary body of environmental protection legislation, environmental protection officials seldom pack enough political punch to ensure that such laws are implemented by powerful local governments and their corporate vested interests.

Reported by Luisetta Mudie.


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