Dirty Fashion Disrupted: Leaders and laggards revealed

November 2019 Report
Dirty Fashion Disrupted: graphic of fashion models in spotlight

Executive summary

One year on from Dirty Fashion: On track for transformation, this report assesses where global clothing companies and viscose producers stand in the transition towards responsible viscose. Through detailed scrutiny of 91 brands’ and retailers’ transparency and sourcing policies, and producers’ responsible production plans, we examine progress to date and gaps in existing commitments and pledges.

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 other initiatives, such as the 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 a key part of the production chain causing significant pollution and taking a heavy toll on the health and livelihoods of communities living in the shadow of viscose factories.

In June 2017, all this changed when we published Dirty Fashion: How pollution in the global textiles supply chain is making viscose toxic. Following on-the-ground investigations in India, Indonesia and China, we revealed how companies supplying viscose to the international market were dumping untreated wastewater in lakes and waterways, ruining lives and livelihoods. Toxic run-off into rivers next to factories was destroying subsistence agriculture and had been linked to higher incidence of serious diseases in local populations. Communities living near some of the plants spoke of a lack of access to clean drinking water and sickening smells that were making life unbearable.

Some clothing companies reacted swiftly to our findings, expressing shock at the scale of the damage we had uncovered and pledging to take steps to tackle it. In the weeks and months following the publication of our report, many of them voiced their concern to us but seemed uncertain about how to drive the transition towards more responsible production.

As a result of this, in February 2018, we produced the Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing, which defined key principles and guidelines for cleaning up manufacturing. In parallel to the Roadmap, we published a follow-up to our first report, Dirty Fashion revisited: Spotlight on a polluting viscose giant, which confirmed our earlier findings of pollution in the viscose supply chain but focused specifically on the world’s biggest producer, the Aditya Birla Group (ABG).

With New Look and Morrisons coming on board with the Roadmap this year, ten major brands and retailers – Inditex, ASOS, H&M, Tesco, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Esprit, C&A, Next, New Look and Morrisons –  have now made a public pledge to integrate its requirements into their sustainability policies. With this commitment, some of the world’s biggest clothing brands and retailers are sending a strong signal to viscose manufacturers that they expect the industry to move to more responsible viscose production by 2023-25.

The report finds that that the fashion industry is waking up to the realisation that it needs to take responsibility for what happens in viscose supply chains and be transparent about where and how clothes are manufactured. 2019 has seen the highest level of engagement from brands and retailers than ever before on this issue, while manufacturers are increasingly making strides towards responsible viscose production.

Visit the dirtyfashion.info site for more

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