Viscose pollution: Fashion brands warned of damage done by leading Chinese textiles producers

27 November 2018 (Last Updated November 27th, 2018 14:39)

A new report by campaign group Changing Markets has warned fashion retailers that much viscose produced in China is having a toxic impact on the environment.

Viscose pollution: Fashion brands warned of damage done by leading Chinese textiles producers
Chinese textile industries fail to follow guidance on sustainable viscose production. Credit: Changing Markets

A new report by campaign group Changing Markets has warned fashion retailers that much viscose produced in China is having a toxic impact on the environment.

And it has warned that a “roadmap” put together by leading viscose producers aiming at making them more sustainable has major gaps in it.

The Dirty Fashion: Spotlight on China report, which was launched today, has criticised the Chinese Collaboration for Sustainable Development of Viscose (CV), a self-regulatory group involving ten Chinese companies who together claim to produce 50% of the world’s viscose.

Viscose is a plant-based semi-synthetic fibre widely used in clothing which is seen as more sustainable than cotton and synthetic fabrics.

The report also found that the sustainability initiative from Chinese viscose producers will not meet NGO requirements on responsible viscose, which have been endorsed by leading fashion brands.

Brands endorsing the sustainability initiative

Brands that have so far pledged to integrate the CV roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing into their sustainable policies include Inditex, ASOS, H&M, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Esprit, C&A and Next.

An ASOS spokesperson said: “ASOS is committed to more responsible viscose production so welcomes initiatives to improve the viscose industry. Only by aligning with a higher level of ambition can viscose producers minimise the impact on the environment, workers and local communities.”

A H&M Spokesperson: “H&M group is committed to the Changing Market roadmap and will continue to monitor the progress of the viscose industry through cooperation within the industry and different stakeholders towards our shared goal of responsible viscose.”

Esprit Head of Product Safety and Environmental Sustainability Sara Bermudez Couto said: “We are engaged in working on the Changing Markets Roadmap towards more responsible viscose & modal fibre production. Achieving this ambitious roadmap is only possible by a joint approach of all stakeholders in the different areas of the viscose industry. We are looking forward to be part of this work and move the viscose manufacturing forward towards a more sustainable industry.”

Chinese viscose pollution

According to Changing Markets, viscose is the third most commonly-used fibre in the world. However, many viscose manufacturers have still not adapted responsible production methods and sustainable wood sourcing practices.

According to the Changing Markets report, Chinese viscose factories continue to violate government regulations, leading the textile industry to fast become one of the biggest threats to the country’s environment. Currently, China’s textile industry holds a 63% share in the global viscose market.

Changing Markets has found that companies supplying viscose to global brands are dumping toxic wastewater in lakes and waterways, destroying subsistence agriculture and fisheries at multiple sites across India, Indonesia and China.

Changing Markets Campaign Adviser Urska Trunk said: “At a time when major fashion brands such as Next and Inditex are sending a clear message to their suppliers to commit to responsible production of viscose, it is hugely disappointing to see such shortcomings in the CV Roadmap.

“It is a weak attempt to clean up the Chinese viscose industry and much more needs to be done to ensure that Chinese producers are aiming for the same level of ambition as other industry players.

“In its current format, brands and retailers should not consider membership of the CV initiative and commitment to the CV Roadmap as proof of good environmental performance.”