Dirty Fashion: Spotlight on China

November 2018 Report
Dirty Fashion: Spotlight on China - graphic of clothing label with Chinese flag

Executive summary

China is the largest textile producer in the world and a dominant player in the global viscose market. With a 63% share of a growing market already worth US$12 billion worldwide, the Chinese viscose industry is also under pressure to clean up its performance. Ten leading Chinese viscose producers, along with two trade associations,1 came together in March 2018 to form their own initiative to promote sustainable viscose sourcing and manufacturing. The so-called Collaboration for Sustainable Development of Viscose (CV) has launched a three-year Roadmap, which claims to provide a way for CV members to achieve sustainable viscose supply chains. However, far from driving meaningful transformation of the sector in line with best practices for responsible viscose production, this report shows that the CV Roadmap fails to drive ambition among its members, and gives Chinese producers the option to pick and choose between different standards.

At a time when global fashion brands and retailers are sending a clear message to their suppliers to commit to cleaner viscose-sourcing and -production methods, this approach appears short-sighted and unstrategic. To date, eight major brands and retailers – ASOS, C&A, Esprit, H&M, Inditex, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Next and Tesco – have publicly pledged to integrate Changing Market’s Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing into their sustainability policies. This Roadmap sets the viscose industry on a pathway to closed-loop manufacturing, in line with the most ambitious current guidelines for clean viscose manufacturing: the European Commission’s 2007 Reference document on best available techniques (BAT) in the production of polymers.2 In addition, 160 brands have pledged to stop sourcing wood pulp (used in the production of viscose) from ancient and endangered forests, in line with their commitment to CanopyStyle, which goes beyond the approach set out in the CV Roadmap.

This report finds that, through the CV initiative, Chinese producers are committing to an approach that will make them fall short of what some viscose producers (including Austria-based Lenzing, a member of the CV initiative) are already achieving, or have committed to achieve in the coming years. This is all the more concerning considering ongoing government and media accounts, highlighted in this briefing, that speak of serious pollution issues around CV members’ production sites.

In particular, this report finds that the CV Roadmap:

  • Lacks ambition, by not obliging its members to achieve the highest level of production standard recommended by the Chinese government for companies selling to the international market, or a standard that would align with EU BAT, which several leading fashion brands and retailers support.
  • Allows members to pick and choose from a selection of certification standards and industry self-assessment tools, which non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have criticised by for their lack of ambition (for example, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) standard) or for not covering some key parameters (for example, OEKO-TEX does not take a comprehensive approach towards viscose manufacturing).
  • Lacks clarity and transparency, by failing to provide publicly available information about how the CV Roadmap will be enforced, monitored and verified, and whether it will sanction non-complying members.

For all these reasons, the CV initiative will not deliver on its promise to improve the environmental performance of CV members, which needs to be acknowledged and urgently addressed. This report provides a set of recommendations for how the CV secretariat can increase the level of ambition and commit to a robust approach to responsible viscose production, in line with the requirements of the CanopyStyle commitment and EU BAT as laid down in the Changing Markets Roadmap.

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