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After a year-long investigation of China's giant textile industry, Greenpeace has found that hormone-disrupting chemicals and other toxins are being discharged into the country's major water systems from major plants that supply big sports brands like Nike, Adidas and Puma, as well as international fashion brands like Lacoste, H&M;, Calvin Klein and Converse.
Despite claims of efforts to improve environmental practices from several of the companies, these plants have been polluting the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas with chemicals that are banned in Europe and other developed nations.
Two major plants are the focus of the Greenpeace report, called Dirty Laundry. One was found discharging perfluorinated chemicals, which can harm the liver, and nonylphenol, an endocrine disruptor that accumulates in the food chain. The other, says Greenpeace, has been discharging heavy metals, including chromium and copper, as well as alkylphenols, nonylphenols and other persistant organic pollutants.
Many of the companies denied using the problematic wet process, but the report explains that doesn't necessarily mean much:
When confirming their commercial relationship with the Youngor Group, Bauer Hockey, Converse, Cortefiel, H&M;, Nike and Puma informed Greenpeace that they make no use of the wet processes of the Youngor Group for the production of their garments. However, regardless of what they use these facilities for, none of the brands found to have commercial links with these two facilities have in place comprehensive chemicals management policies that would allow them to have a complete overview of the hazardous chemicals used and released across their entire supply chain, and to act on this information.
The Telegraph quotes Li Yifang, Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace, talking about the distance that companies try to put between the manufacturing process and the final product in order to shift responsibility: "Such policies essentially give suppliers the green light to discharge hazardous waste water as long as the chemicals are not found in the products."
Greenpeace is pushing for the companies to eliminate toxic chemicals from the entire supply chain, not just the final product, so that the health of workers is not jeopardized and the environmental effects that consumers never see are minimized.
Greenpeace noted the factory released hazardous effluent into the Shiji River at night - a common practice by factories in China that want to avoid scrutiny from governmental inspectors.
Many other factories are likely to be guilty of even worse pollution but their activities go undetected because they bury their discharge pipes or mix their emissions with the effluent from other industrial plants. Greenpeace says it has approached both Chinese firms with its findings. Youngor has reportedly agreed to work with the environmental group to eliminate toxic chemicals, while Well Dyeing has denied it has a problem.
Looking Toward a Solution
On a positive note, Greenpeace points to the investigation as an opportunity for companies to clean up their act and take the Detox Challenge.
According to the Guardian, Yifang said, "We are not accusing them of being evil, we are challenging them to take the lead on eliminating toxins."
He added: "There is no safety limit for these chemicals because they accumulate. So we ask Nike and the others to help phase them out over a reasonable time frame. That would send a signal to the whole industry."
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