Chinese NGOs aim at pollution by major garment brands
The Green Choice Alliance – best know for investigating and publicizing environmental, safety and labor abuses within Apple’s supply chain in China – is turning up the heat on the garment and textile industry. In a new investigative report issued yesterday the NGO group has documented cases of large-scale pollution within the supply chains of firms such as Zara, H&M, Adidas, Nike and Li Ning.
“The textile industry has always been a heavy polluting industry as the companies discharge large amounts of pollutants and have low water use efficiency. Many textile firms, including the famous ones, violate the environmental rules,” said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a leading member of the Green Choice Alliance.
As of February 20, 2012, the Alliance says that more than 6,000 environmental violations by textile firms have been recorded in its China pollution database. Cases highlighted in the new report include:
- Zhejiang Qingfeng Textile Printing and Dyeing Co Ltd, a supplier of Guess, Gap, Levi's and other international brands.
- Guangdong Fuan Textile Printing and Dyeing Co Ltd, whose clients include Reebok and Nike.
- Nanjing Zhongtianyuanteng Clothing Co Ltd, a supplier of Esprit and C&A.
Of course the fact that garment and textile firms are responsible for a lot of pollution in China is hardly news and they have been targeted by NGOs before. Last year, for example, Greenpeace issued its Dirty Laundry report, profiling the problem of toxic water pollution resulting from the release of hazardous chemicals by the textile industry in China.
The Green Choice Alliance, which combines the resources of multiple local NGOs, has proven itself capable of lifting awareness within China of industry-specific environmental problems and effecting change. As well as a broad base of grass roots activists, one of its key strengths is persistence.
Its first report to zero in on Apple was actually the fourth in a series initiated to put pressure on the electronics industry to bring heavy metal pollution under control. Apple came under increased scrutiny because, unlike other electronics firms, it refused to come clean on its problems and engage in dialogue.
Tell it how it is
Disclosure is the most important weapon to be used in the battle against China’s industrial pollution, according to Ma.
"If local authorities put economic development ahead of environmental protection, it will be very difficult to implement efficient supervision. Instead of fines, many companies care much more about registrations of disciplinary violations because these will impact public listing of these polluting firms,” he said.
“Once the environmental violations are recorded on the website of local governments or reported by media, it is not as easy as pay a fine for these companies to eliminate the negative effects.”
Thus far industry reaction to the Alliance’s Cleaning up the Fashion Industry - Apparel Industry Investigative Report have been mixed. According to a report on The People’s Daily website Adidas has made a positive response while Zara said it cannot respond to the report. Indeed it was claimed in another press report, Zara was said to have “posted an obscene gesture”.
This process of disclosure and engagement the Green Choice Alliance has embarked upon with garment and textile companies will take time to show results. Not all firms are as forward-thinking as Nike, which last year launched an action plan to eliminate hazardous chemicals from its supply chain by 2020.
It is safe to assume, however, that with the Alliance on their back (and its reports being covered by the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee), more firms will start to follow Nike’s lead.