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Published
Jun 14, 2017
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H&M, Zara and Asos are buying from highly polluting manufacturers, report finds

Published
Jun 14, 2017

A new report has revealed that despite increasing environmental awareness, some of the world’s largest fashion brands continue to ignore a highly polluting process: the manufacturing of viscose.


Viscose is a material widely used in the fashion industry. This Zara dress is made of 100% viscose - Zara


Changing Markets Foundation launched an investigation into the production of this man-made fibre, which is widely used in the textile supply chain. It found that factories in Indonesia, China and India are dumping highly toxic wastewater into local waterways, destroying marine life and exposing workers and local populations to harmful chemicals.

Further, the investigation revealed links between the polluting factories and major fashion brands including H&M, Zara/Inditex, ASOS, Levi's, Tesco, United Colors of Benetton and Burton. Marks & Spencer, Asda, Dockers, Haggar, Next, Debenhams, Matalan and Van Heusen were also named in the report.

According to Changing Markets, H&M is buying directly from seven of the polluting factories investigated and Zara/Inditex from four of them.

“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,” says campaign manager at Changing Markets, Natasha Hurley.

“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.”

In some areas visited for the investigation, pollution from viscose manufacturing is suspected to be behind the growing incidence of cancer, and villagers have stopped drinking the well water for fear of the effect it will have on their family’s - particularly their children’s - health. The factories are also destroying many traditional livelihoods, with local fishermen particularly badly impacted.

The viscose staple fibre market is projected to grow from $13.45 billion in 2016 to $16.78 billion per year by 2021. According to Changing Markets, the market is highly concentrated, with 11 companies controlling 75% of global viscose production. This means a concerted effort from retailers could achieve dramatic change.

“With a small group of just 11 companies controlling 75 per cent of global viscose production, there is a clear opportunity for rapid and transformational change across the sector. The time to act is now,” says Hurley.

The organisation called on viscose manufacturers to move towards a closed loop system so that chemicals used in the production of viscose do not escape into the environment. 

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