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Polluting Paradise: Gap, Inc Among Companies Exposed in Indonesian Toxic Water Scandal

Image credit: GAP

In its latest investigation into the polluting effects of the textile industry, Greenpeace International has uncovered the dumping of industrial wastewater containing a cocktail of toxic and hazardous chemicals, and caustic water, directly into the Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia. Gap, Inc., the company behind international fashion brands including Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy, is linked to the pollution through its direct business relations with PT Gistex Group, the textile manufacturer that operates the polluting facility.

“Gap’s latest advertising campaign declares that we should ‘Be Bright,’ but by collaborating with toxic suppliers, Gap’s clothes are turning the Citarum into a multi-coloured mess. Gap and other big brands need to work with their suppliers in Indonesia and elsewhere to urgently eliminate all uses of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and products before it is too late,” said Ashov Birry, Toxic-Free Water Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Toxic Threads: Polluting Paradise,” published Wednesday, details how PT Gistex has taken advantage of a system that requires little transparency about its activities and where inadequate laws are failing to prevent the release of hazardous chemicals. Other companies linked to the PT Gistex Group include Brooks Brothers — which has outfitted 39 of the 44 U.S. Presidents, including Barack Obama — Marubeni Corporation, adidas Group and H&M.

A wide range of hazardous substances – including nonylphenol and tributyl phosphate – were identified in the water samples taken from the PT Gistex facility’s discharge outfalls. Many of these chemicals are toxic, while some have hormone-disrupting and highly persistent properties. The investigations also revealed wastewater from one of the smaller outfalls to be extremely alkaline or ‘caustic’ (pH 14), indicating that this wastewater had not received even the most basic treatment before discharge.

“People living along this river, that rely upon its water, have a right to know what is being released into it, and the customers of the international brands like Gap have a right to know what chemicals are being used to make their clothes,” added Birry.

The textile industry is currently one of the major contributors to industrial toxic water pollution in West Java, with 68% of industrial facilities on the Upper Citarum producing textiles. Greenpeace’s Detox campaign demands fashion brands commit to zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals by 2020 and work with their suppliers around the world to disclose all releases of hazardous chemicals from their facilities to communities at the site of the water pollution.

Launched in July 2011, the campaign has already convinced 17 international brands including Valentino, Levi’s and Zara to commit to detox, mobilising over a half a million activists, fashionistas, bloggers and designers united by the belief that beautiful fashion can be created without great cost to the Earth.


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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