‘Beautiful fashion shouldn’t cost the earth’: Greenpeace

Greenpeace International urges global clothing brands to apply sustainable manufacturing practices, and stop the use of hazardous chemicals that cause water pollution by 2020

Textile factory wastewater in China

Beware the clothes you wear, says Greenpeace International. A favourite fashion label may be one of many textile companies polluting the planet’s waterways through toxic substances.

The environmental organisation has been advocating for a Detox Campaign since 2011, calling on the garments industry to stop the use of harmful chemicals in their supply chain by 2020, as these end up contaminating the planet’s waterways.

This video illustrates the connection and consequences between the catwalk and the toxic runoff. According to this Greenpeace video, a significant number of textile factories around the world are treating the Earth’s waters like public sewers.

In Indonesia, certain factories spew out pH14 water or water that has the highest level of alkalinity, says the video. Such wastewater affects the water supply of surrounding communities.

In a separate press statement early this April, Greenpeace International names PT Gistex Group as the main culprit behind the water pollution of Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia. The production facility, which allegedly has ties to Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy, is said to be dumping industrial wastewater tainted with various hazardous chemicals.

Influence brands to act responsibly on behalf of the planet and its people. The need for companies to make the right choices and protect future generations has never been greater than it is today

Greenpeace International

China is no different, the video adds. “Twenty per cent of the groundwater used for drinking water is contaminated, sometimes with carcinogenic chemicals.”

Aside from the drinking water, the effects of such chemicals is detrimental to the environment since these do not break down easily, ending up accumulating in the food chain and affecting organisms and ecosystems.

The campaign for toxic-free fashion demands that manufacturers should have more corporate social responsibility to pursue zero hazardous discharge. 

To spur action, the organisation also launched ‘The Detox Catwalk’. This uses people power – fashionistas, consumers, bloggers and other advocates for ‘clean’ clothing – to influence textile companies and fashion brands to implement Detox commitments, or targets that eliminate the use of toxic substances with concrete plans.

Companies are then categorised as leaders, greenwashers or laggards, depending on the amount and credibility of their actions. Transparency is a key feature of the campaign, according to Greenpeace. They want to keep track of firms with weak commitments and ineffective actions to ensure the 2020 goal is reached.

Thus far, companies like the Benetton Group, Esprit, H&M, Inditex (which owns Zara and Massimo Dutti), Levi’s and Mango are leaders in the industry. They are seriously trying to eliminate toxic chemicals by looking for eco-friendly alternatives, as well as by having information on their supply chain readily available to become more accountable for their operations.

On the other hand, Greenpeace has included the fashion house of Giorgio Armani and firms like Gap and Phillips-Van Heusen (PVH, which owns Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Speedo) as laggards. They are either connected to facilities that persist in polluting the water or their clothes contain chemicals like nonyphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) that are harmful to the environment, or they hide behind claims of sustainability, which is basically greenwashing, said the eco-group.

As a result, the role of consumers is critical, they noted. While the government can call for the adoption of a zero discharge policy or a public register of discharge and emissions data, consumers can collectively influence clothing companies by what they decide to buy.

“Choose to buy fewer new clothing products,” they said. Or, purchase second-hand clothes, re-purpose and reuse old items.

“Influence brands to act responsibly on behalf of the planet and its people. The need for companies to make the right choices and protect future generations has never been greater than it is today,” Greenpeace said.

The Detox Campaign is about believing that “beautiful fashion shouldn’t cost the Earth”, they added.


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