Sustainable Apparel’s Critical Blind Spot

By Lisa Genasci 10 October, 2012

A quick summary of the report that has just been released by IPE & Green Choice Alliance, A quick summary of the report that has just been released by IPE & Green Choice Alliance, A quick summary of the report that has just been released by IPE & Green Choice Alliance

Adidas, Nike, Levi’s and H&M have begun to address issues with their dyeing and finishing suppliers
22 of the brands receiving the letter, including Marks & Spencer, Disney, J.C. Penney, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger gave limited or no responses
More on this next month ...

Many brands that say they are producing sustainable product are in reality greenwashing their textile production in China, according to the latest report from five environmental NGOs in China.

Sustainable Apparel’s Critical Blind Spot, which can be found here,  was a follow on from a report released in April that named 49 global fashion brands using polluting factories in China and suggested consumers make a “green choice” when buying clothes. Read our review on the  first report here.

Led by Ma Jun’s  Institute for Environmental and Public Affairs, “Cleaning up the Fashion Industry”  listed 6,000 water pollution violations by manufacturers of goods ranging from sports apparel to luxury handbags. Subsequently, 30 brands began conversation with IPE about how to improve the environmental performance of their supply chain, according to Ma Jun.

Clothing brands and retailers such as H&M, Nike, Esquel, Levi’s Adidas, Walmart, Burberry and Gap have all established regular screening mechanisms, actively identified pollution records in their supply chain and pushed more than 200 textile and leather suppliers to address their issues.

Of these, Adidas, Nike, Levi’s and H&M have begun to address issues with their dyeing and finishing suppliers, the report said.

The latest investigation looked deeper into supply chains and was based on a letter sent September 25th by the NGOs to the 49 brands looking for information about pollution management issues at materials suppliers.

Brand lagging behind & greenwashing

In all, 22 of the brands receiving the letter, including Marks & Spencer, Disney, J.C. Penney, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger gave limited or no responses to specific questions relative to emissions violation problems in their supply chain. This despite Marks & Spencer, for example, promoting its “Plan A”, which is a sustainable business benchmark for global textile companies and retailers.

“not continue to let suppliers pollute the environment and hurt communities whilst using concepts such as ‘zero waste’ and ‘carbon neutral’ to greenwash their performance”

Companies promoting sustainability should “not continue to let suppliers pollute the environment and hurt communities whilst using concepts such as ‘zero waste’ and ‘carbon neutral’ to greenwash their performance,” the environmental NGOs wrote in the report.

The report draws attention to the fact that textile exports from China have dropped recently, pushed by higher labor costs in China, trade barriers, the appreciation of the RMB and higher resource costs. The labor-intensive garment manufacturing sector has shifted some of production to south and Southeast Asia, even Africa.

Big brands have moved some of their cut and sew production to South and Southeast Asia.  Nike shut down its only shoe factory in China and recently, Adidas also closed its only factory in China, leading people to believe China is steadily losing its status as the textile factory to the world.

More analysis on this  next month!

Read the full report here

Read the press release here

Lisa Genasci
Author: Lisa Genasci
Lisa Genasci is the CEO and founder of ADM Capital Foundation (ADMCF) which provides support to some of Asia’s most marginalized children and works to combat intransigent environmental challenges facing the region.  Before working in the non-profit sector, Lisa worked for ten years with the Associated Press, three as a correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro, three on the foreign desk and four as a financial reporter in New York. She created and for three years authored a column on women and workplace issues, ‘On the Job,’ which was widely distributed in U.S. and foreign publications. In Hong Kong she wrote business stories for CNN and worked as a freelance features reporter for local publications. She currently writes a blog on Asian philanthropy and on some of the region’s most significant environmental and poverty challenges.
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