China NGOs blame brands for ignoring supply chain pollution

December 05, 2013
China Dying Report

The Green Choice Alliance, a group of seven Chinese environmental NGOs yesterday released the third in a series of investigative report into the country’s textile industry. It says that a large number of dye houses are breaching China’s new emission standards and that many international brands that use them are turning a blind eye.

The GCA Textile Industry Phase III Report calls on brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Uniqlo, Tommy Hilfiger and Youngor to face up to the serious water pollution problems caused by their supply chains.

China is the world’s main textile producer, and the five provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Guangdong, Fujian and Shandong account for more than 90 percent of national output of dyed textiles and house most of the polluting factories. Four of these provinces also have coastlines.

Over the past few years, the printing and dyeing industry has become increasingly concentrated in areas such as Hangzhou Bay, the Taihu Basin, and the Pearl River Delta where water pollution has become extremely severe, the report said.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection released new water pollutant discharge standards on January 1 this year, tightening the standards for major pollutions.

However, the NGOs found that many regions have yet to comprehensively implement the new standard. Among the five provinces where the dyeing and finishing industry is most concentrated, only Zhejiang and Fujian have implemented the new standards to a relatively strict degree, and only Zhejiang has comprehensively disclosed data on companies violating the new standards.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPEA), one of the NGOs, cited official figures showing that at least 400 printing and dyeing enterprises in Zhejiang province exceeded sewage discharge levels in the first half of this year.

In the Keqiao district of Shaoxing, which has the largest group of textile factories in Zhejiang, 10 small companies that failed to reduce water pollution were forced to close this year, said Jin Shanfu, chairman of the Shaoxing Textile Industry Association.

The district has also established an online surveillance system to monitor sewage emissions.

"The government has the power to switch off the valves at every company. Once emissions exceed the permitted  amount, valves will be switched off immediately," Jin said.

“China’s printing and dyeing industry plays a decisive role in the global textile industry. When a large number of dye houses violate discharge standards, not only will it pollute the local environment, it also means there is a high risk of environmental violations in the supply chains of major textile brands”, said the IPEA’s Jun.

Faced with these challenges, a number of leading brands including Puma, H&M, Nike, Esquel, Walmart, Levi’s, Gap and M&S have already started to use publically disclosed data to establish a search mechanism to check their suppliers, thus actively identifying pollution problems within their supply chain, according to the report.

However, brands like Polo Ralph Lauren, Uniqlo, Youngor, Tommy Hilfiger, Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein and Target, have still only provided a very limited response to questions on their supply chain or have not responded at all, the report charges.

The NGOs recommend that those brands that have so far ignored problems in their supply chains should look to brands that have made progress for guidance, and immediately establish a search mechanism to identify risks, and that all brands should ensure that immediate action is taken to correct any defects discovered.

Joey Lee, project manager at the IPEA, said: "We suggested that these fashion brands set up a screening mechanism to identify polluters in their supply chains, forcing their suppliers to explain their poor records on pollution and to rectify the situation."

However, most fashion brands have chosen to ignore the problem, he said.