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Greenpeace: Clothing Industry Showing Progress Toward Detox Commitments

A dye factory in the Binhai Industrial Zone in Shaoxing, China. | Image credit: © Lu Guang / Greenpeace

For the first time, Greenpeace has released a report on the progress of its Detox campaign to eliminate hazardous chemicals from clothing production by 2020. The 80 companies who have signed on over the first seven years of the initiative represent a combined 15 percent of global clothing production — and all of them are “making good progress” to cut 11 priority chemicals and improve transparency.

“We have made great progress in phasing out hazardous chemicals that pollute our waterways and environment — there has been a major paradigm shift in the clothing industry triggered by the Detox campaign, which now takes responsibility for their production instead of just their products,” said Bunny McDiarmid, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

Greenpeace’s interim evaluation of 19 campaign participants two years ago found mixed results and did not seem as optimistic about the industry’s direction. H&M, Inditex (parent company of ZaraPull & BearMassimo Dutti and Bershka) and Benetton were the only brands to receive great scores, while 12 companies were criticized for limiting their action based on the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC)’s “flawed chemical list.” Brands including Li-Ning and Nike received extremely low scores and scathing feedback for their reliance on the ZDHC Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) basic package and lack of commitments to eliminate 100 percent of PFCs from all their products by 2020; Li-Ning plans to eliminate PFCs from 95 percent of its woven products by 2020, while Nike had already eliminated all C8 PFCs and phased out 90 percent of all PFCs from its products at the time of that evaluation.

The new report, Destination Zero: Seven years of Detoxing the clothing industry, is more optimistic. It applauds “major advances” among Detox-committed brands, including that all are working to eliminate the 11 priority groups of hazardous chemicals Greenpeace has identified, regularly report on their presence in wastewater from supplier mills, and are making progress on removing and substituting PFCs. 72 percent report having achieved the complete elimination of PFCs, while the remaining 28 percent are “making good progress towards elimination.” Li-Ning has achieved its 95 percent target, while Nike has increased its PFC-free portfolio to include over 93 percent of its products.

Greenpeace claims that the campaign has “changed the chemical management landscape” by shifting industry’s focus on pollution to its supply chain and not only its products, prompting the ZDHC to improve their toolkit, and encouraging collaboration between Detox companies and chemical suppliers. The organization acknowledges, however, that a lot more needs to be done leading up to the campaign’s 2020 deadline: technical challenges need to be overcome, some substances need safer alternatives to be developed, the chemical industry needs to be more transparent on the formulations they provide, and best practices need to be translated into regulations.

“We have found that, on the whole, the Detox campaign has been received positively and that industry awareness over the last three years has increased dramatically, especially where several brands are working toward the same requirements in their supply chain,” said Alan Wragg, Category Technical Director for clothing at Tesco, which officially joined the Detox campaign last year. “The challenge is greater for those supply chains which are more isolated and which are only working on Detox for one global brand. In these cases, it is more effective to drive change through local industry collaboration and government regulation.”

Greenpeace is calling for better industry collaboration, more development of safer alternatives, and local and global regulations such as to make corporations legally responsible for their supply chains. The NGO further noted that eliminating hazardous chemical usage is an essential step towards a circular economy for textiles.

“While we are extremely happy to see the progress of Detox companies towards cleaning up their supply chains, 85 percent of the textile industry is still not doing enough to eliminate hazardous chemicals and improve factory working conditions. This is unacceptable,” said Kirsten Brodde, Greenpeace Germany project lead of the Detox-my-Fashion campaign. “It is time for policy-makers to step in and make Detox a worldwide standard.”


Hannah Furlong is an Editorial Assistant for Sustainable Brands, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]


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