Some of the world’s leading clothing brands rely on Chinese suppliers that pollute rivers with toxic, hormone-disrupting chemicals banned in Europe and elsewhere, the environment group Greenpeace said on Wednesday.
Adidas, Nike, Puma, Calvin Klein, Lacoste, Abercrombie and Fitch and China’s Li Ning were among the global names identified in the Greenpeace report following a year-long investigation.
The report focused on two major Chinese suppliers, the Youngor Textile Complex in Ningbo on the Yangtze River Delta and the Well Dyeing Factory Ltd in the Pearl River Delta near Hong Kong.
All the brands mentioned in the report have confirmed they source products from one of the two Chinese suppliers, Greenpeace said.
Sabrina Cheung, director of corporate communications at Adidas, told Reuters its relationship with Youngor was restricted to the cutting and sewing of garments.
“The Adidas Group does not source fabrics from Youngor Group, which would involve the use of dyestuffs, chemicals and their associated water treatment processes,” she said.
Puma said it also only used Youngor Knitting for cutting, sewing and finishing and, according to its information, that unit operates at a different location to the Youngor Group fabric mill.
“Youngor Knitting is also not using any fabrics of the Youngor Group for the production of Puma goods,” it said.
When asked by Reuters whether they would end their business relationships with one of the Youngor units in order to send a message to the wider group, both Puma and Adidas said no.
“Where factories have issues, it is our practice and policy to work with them to resolve and remedy those problems,” a spokeswoman for Adidas in Germany said.
In a response published with the report, Nike confirmed that it sourced products from two factories belonging to the Youngor Group, but said neither used the dangerous chemicals detected in the wastewater discharges examined by Greenpeace.
For its part, Li Ning said: “We have asked them to investigate their pollutant discharge immediately and report back to us.”
Greenpeace’s Li Yifang said China had yet to implement a systematic chemicals management policy, but responsibility must also lie with global firms outsourcing to China to cut costs.
“None of the corporations mentioned in our report have a comprehensive, publicly available policy that ensures that their suppliers are eliminating hazardous chemicals from their supply chain, so we believe they are perpetuating toxic pollution,” she told reporters at the report’s launch.
She said samples taken from the wastewater discharges from the two facilities revealed the presence of heavy metals and hazardous, hormone-disrupting substances such as alkyl phenols and per fluorinated chemicals, which are restricted across the European Union and the United States.
The chemicals, which can harm immune and endocrinological systems as well as the liver, are non-degradable and cannot be removed by water treatment plants, which is why they have been eliminated elsewhere, she said.
“We take the problem which Greenpeace raised seriously, and we will work with Greenpeace to find a solution,” Youngor said in a statement provided to the environmental group.
To mark the release of the report, volunteers from the group unveiled banners outside the world’s biggest Adidas store in Beijing’s fashionable Sanlitun Village shopping area before being quickly ushered away by management staff.
China has identified water as one of its most pressing environmental problems, with many of its major rivers contaminated by toxic run-offs from factories and farms.
China’s environment ministry said in June that 16.4 percent of its major rivers did not even meet standards required for irrigating crops.
After a spate of burst tailings dams and untreated chemical discharges, tougher policies are being drawn up to cut heavy metal pollution in China’s rivers by 15 percent over five years.
But China remains far behind the rest of the world, Greenpeace’s Li said.
“We think our government should really act fast to develop a policy. China is really lagging behind because this was already a top issue in the developed world in the 1970s, and we are only just beginning to recognize the problem.”
(Additional reporting by Tyra Dempster and Victoria Bryan in Frankfurt, Editing by Ken Wills and Will Waterman)
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