Dirty Fashion: Crunch Time

December 2020 Report
Dirty Fashion: Crunch Time graphic of clothing label

Executive summary

Almost three years since the first fashion brands and retailers signed up to our Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing, this report evaluates where the global textile industry now stands in the transition towards responsible viscose. We have engaged with 100 brands and retailers, and most prominent viscose manufactures’ and initiatives, evaluating their responsible production plans, commitments and progress on transparency. In this report, we examine progress to date and find that, while the frontrunners of the industry have made great headway, legislation is needed to unlock a sector-wide transformation.

When our Dirty Fashion campaign launched in 2017, there was little knowledge of the environmental and social impacts of viscose production within the clothing industry. To the extent that brands and retailers were aware of sustainability problems in the viscose supply chain, they were mostly focused on the sourcing of timber for use in the production of wood-based dissolving pulp, which is the starting material for most viscose. In partnership with the NGO Canopy, many had pledged to stop sourcing pulp from ancient and endangered forests. Through ‘Detox’ commitments with Greenpeace, and initiatives like the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Foundation’s Programme on hazardous chemicals, some had also taken action to curb pollution from wet processing by committing to phase out the use of toxic substances in textiles dyeing and finishing. However, almost without exception, brands and retailers had neglected to address viscose manufacturing – a key part of the supply chain that was causing significant pollution and taking a heavy toll on the health and livelihoods of communities living in the shadow of viscose factories.

Our own investigations into viscose factories across India, Indonesia and China in 2017 and 2018 – presented in our Dirty Fashion and Dirty Fashion revisited reports – highlighted how inadequate chemical management and water treatment have been destroying marine life and agriculture, directly exposing workers and local people to harmful chemicals and leading to severe health problems. The reports also revealed many fashion giants were buying from these polluting viscose factories.

Following our investigations and initial engagement with clothing companies, which wanted to find a solution to polluting viscose manufacturing, we developed a Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing.

The Roadmap, launched in February 2018, provides a blueprint for responsible viscose manufacturing. It outlines a set of principles for brands, retailers and producers to move towards a closed-loop manufacturing system, where emission controls and chemical recovery rates are in line with best practices – the so-called EU Best Available Techniques (BAT).

To date, the Roadmap has 14 signatories: ASOS, C&A, Esprit, George at Asda, H&M, Inditex, Levi’s, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Morrison’s, New Look, Next, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Puma and Reformation. These companies have made a public pledge to improve viscose manufacturing by 2023–25, and have committed to publishing their viscose suppliers.

At the same time, some of the biggest viscose manufacturers accounting for over 50% of total viscose production – Aditya Birla Group, Asia Pacific Rayon (APR), Lenzing, Sateri and Tangshan Sanyou – have already aligned, or committed to align, their performance with EU BAT at all their facilities in the coming two to three years.

Visit the dirtyfashion.info site for more

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