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Many brands that say they are producing sustainable product are in reality greenwashing their textile production in China, according to the latest report from five environmental NGOs in China.

“Sustainable Apparel’s Critical Blind Spot,” which can be found here,  was a follow on from a report I wrote about here released in April that named 49 global fashion brands using polluting factories in China and suggested consumers make a “green choice” when buying clothes.

Led by Ma Jun’s  Institute for Environmental and Public Affairs, “Cleaning up the Fashion Industry”  listed 6,000 water pollution violations by manufacturers of goods ranging from sports apparel to luxury handbags.

Subsequently, 30 brands began conversations with IPE about how to improve the environmental performance of their supply chain, according to Ma Jun.

Clothing brands and retailers such as H&M, Nike, Esquel, Levi’s Adidas, Walmart, Burberry and Gap have all established regular screening mechanisms, are actively identifying pollution violations in their supply chain and have pushed more than 200 textile and leather suppliers to clean up.

Adidas, Nike, Levi’s and H&M have begun to address environmental challenges with their dyeing and finishing suppliers, the report said.

The latest investigation looked deeper into supply chains following a letter sent September 25th by the NGOs to the 49 brands requesting information about pollution management issues at materials suppliers.

Besides IPE, authors of the report were, Friends of Nature, Green Beagle, Envirofriends and Nanjing Greenstone

In all, 22 of the brands receiving the letter, including Marks & Spencer, Disney, J.C. Penney, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger gave limited or no responses to specific questions relative to emissions violation problems in their supply chain. This despite Marks & Spencer, for example, promoting its “Plan A”, which is a sustainable business benchmark for global textile companies and retailers.

Companies promoting sustainability should “not continue to let suppliers pollute the environment and hurt communities whilst using concepts such as ‘zero waste’ and ‘carbon neutral’ to greenwash their performance,” the environmental NGOs wrote in the report.

The report draws attention to the fact that textile exports from China have dropped recently, weighed by higher labor costs in China, trade barriers, the appreciation of the RMB and higher resource costs.

Big brands have moved some of their cut and sew production to South and Southeast Asia.  Nike shut down its only shoe factory in China and recently, Adidas also closed its only factory in China, leading people to believe China is steadily losing its status as the textile factory to the world.

But materials production is still concentrated in China, with exports of these products rising steadily, according to the report. This is the most polluting portion of the apparel supply chain.

In the raw materials processing sector, which includes dyeing and finishing, exports are growing steadily. According to the 2011/2012 China Textile Industry Report, for the six main printing and dyeing product categories, the total amount of exported printed and dyed cloth was 14.412 billion meters which showed a year on year growth of 13.76%.

The value of exported printed and dyed products was US$16.979 billion, which showed a year on year growth of 31.26%. However, at the same time the total value of all exported textile products only increased by 0.49%.

The cut and sew industry provides the most jobs, uses less water and energy and pollution discharge is not a big problem. However, the reverse is true for textile production. Essentially, China has kept the dirty part of the business, while allowing the relatively clean, job-creating cut and sew industry to wane.

The problem is that enforcement of pollution remains weak in China, while the cost of inputs like water and energy are still relatively low. So dyeing and finishing companies often avoid any water or energy savings initiatives and disregard pollution control, ignoring environmental laws and regulations.

Sustainable apparel in particular,  has a ”dangerous blind spot,” according to the report, which means that dyeing and finishing mills and factories lower their environmental standards to cut costs and win orders in a race to the bottom.

Essentially the problem is that most apparel and retail brands still choose not to look into the polluting part of their business – the bottom of the supply chain. Consequently, materials manufacturers are still trying to produce in the cheapest way possible in order to keep costs low for fast fashion.

We as consumers must recognize that we have a choice not to buy the cheapest item on the shelves, to acquire less and from companies that truly care about not doing harm to our planet.

Musahars are among the most discriminated communities in India, a problem I have written about here: https://genascihk.com/2011/04/03/292/. This is a video made for Sister Sudha and the fantastic community of girls she is helping to educate.

Five Chinese environmental groups have named 48 global fashion brands using polluting factories in China and suggested consumers make a “green choice” when buying clothes.

A report  led by Ma Jun and his Institute for Environmental and Public Affairs  and released this week lists 6,000 water pollution violations by manufacturers  of goods that ranged from sports apparel to luxury handbags.

Brands were linked to the factories over seven months of painstaking review of official websites, financial reports, recruitment ads and procurement bids, among other documents, according to IPE.

Over the past eight years the Institute has gathered a database of over 90,000 air and water violations from official government  sources. IPE now works with many brands to make sure they are not using polluting suppliers and to help clean up those that are illegally dumping untreated toxic waste water into rivers.

Between march 22 and March 29  the five environmental groups wrote to the CEOs of each of the 48 brands linked to factories with repeated environmental violations. They asked the brands to ensure their Chinese suppliers would not pollute the environment while manufacturing their products.

While some of the brands named immediately responded to queries from the environmental groups, acknowledged the issues and detailed how they would address the issues, about two-thirds have not yet engaged, Ma Jun said.

Notably, Spanish clothing retailer, Zara, responded by saying that it was not the company’s policy to answer questions about its business model.

Nike, Walmart, Esquel, H&M, Levi’s, Adidas and Burberry were among the companies that responded positively, saying they would work with their Chinese  contractors to improve their environmental performance. Many of these brands were  already working with NGOs to clean their supply chain, IPE said.

Another 32 brands including Marks & Spencer, Esprit, Calvin Klein, Carrefour, Armani and China-based Anta and Youngor have yet to respond, according to the report.

Besides IPE, the other authors of the report, “Cleaning up the Fashion Industry,” were, Friends of Nature, Green Beagle, Envirofriends and Nanjing Greenstone.

China is a global leader in textile manufacturing, responsible for nearly half the world’s fiber and exporting 34 percent of the garments we wear.

This production has contributed significantly to the country’s GDP but has also taken a heavy environmental  toll locally. Ma said that fashion manufacturers discharge 2.5 billion tons of waste water and chemicals into rivers and the ocean, while 80 percent of effluent is generated in fiber dying.

This has a serious impact on the country’s water supplies and is compounded by the fact that the re-use of water in the textile industry lags way behind that of many others, creating a situation where water efficiency is incredibly low, IPE said.

Among the 6,000 violations, a number of factories were given administrative penalties. Many were told to rectify problems such as illegal effluent emissions via secret discharge pipes, directly discharging waste water into waterways, improper use of waste water treatment facilities and pollutant discharges in breach of standards.

Previously, IPE targeted the IT sector, also with information gleaned from the institute’s violations database. We have written about Ma Jun’s efforts here and here.

After five reports looking at the environmental performance of IT sector contractors, most of the brands named had responded to requests for information disclosure and action.

Among the last hold-outs was Apple, which was the focus of the last two reports. The company has since agreed to disclose its connections to suppliers and provide information on contractor environmental performance.

Clearly, Ma Jun and his colleagues hope for a similar response from another industry that is widely credited with some of the worst environmental performance in China.

With IPE and others watching, retailers and brands will no longer be able to hide behind stated ignorance about how a product is manufactured. They will no longer be able to refuse to divulge lists of suppliers or deny responsibility for egregious environmental emissions locally.

Part of the problem for the apparel sector has been the quantity of suppliers used to manufacture just one item of clothing or shoe. This is a problem we have written about here. 

While many brands are getting better at understanding and working with the factories actually putting together the clothes, they tend to know less about the dyers, the spinners and the knitters who cause much of the environmental damage.

yet engaging with polluting contractors in any part of the supply chain has become a serious reputational risk and thus business risk for global brands hoping to squeeze their suppliers on cost.

It is also a wake up call for consumers hooked on cheap product made at huge environmental expense abroad. It’s about time we all made careful choices about how we consume, make sure that brands are using responsible suppliers.

For companies, the argument turns back to fiduciary duty and redefining what that means, something I have written about here.

 

Orangutans inhabiting an Aceh protected peat forest surrounded by oil palm concessions are at risk of being completely wiped out by the end of this year if fires set to clear the land aren’t stopped, according to conservationists in Indonesia.

Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) said that only about 200 of the 3,000 Orangutans living in the Tripa forest in the early 1990s remain. In all, only an estimated 6,600 Sumatran Orangutans are left anywhere in the wild, he said.

This has come as the pace of burning in the Tripa Peat swamps has accelerated in the past few weeks, possibly as palm oil companies take advantage of Aceh’s uncertain current status under an “interim” Governor, conservationists said.

The real concern is that at the current pace of destruction there will be no remaining High Conservation Value Forest and no more protected wildlife in the area by the end of 2012.

Graham Usher of the Foundation for a Sustainable Ecosystem said that only 12,000 of the original 60,000-hectare forest remains. Much of the forest is now highly fragmented, with the largest remaining block measuring less than 8,400 hectares and only one other fragment over 1,000 hectares.

Any orangutans trapped in the remaining small fragments of forest amid the burning are now effectively refugees of forest that no longer exists and are likely to die from starvation if not killed or captured.

Just in recent months, Usher told a Jakarta press conference, at least 100 Orangutans have been killed, while an additional 100 died between 2009 and 2011 in the process of conversion of the palm oil concessions or from starvation.

According to Usher, over 100 fire hot spots were recorded between 19 and 25 March among the area’s palm oil plantations.This is apparently perhaps the worst burning since satellite monitoring of Indonesia’s fire hot spots began in late 2000.

A number of the fire hotspots were coming from an apparently illegal palm oil concession, considered by many in breach of Indonesia’s moratorium on clearing forest.

The PT Kallista Alam concession permit was, according to the conservationists, issued three months after the government’s moratorium map was issued. There is currently an ongoing legal case in Aceh concerning the same concession in which a decision is expected April 3rd.

This suit alleges that the concession was clearly issued inside the Leuser Ecosystem, which is designated a National Strategic Area for Environmental Protection in Indonesia’s National Spatial Plan, established in 2008 under Government regulation 26.

Conservationists also say that forest clearing and drainage canal construction began in the concession even before the permit was issued, that the permit was issued while the concession was clearly shown as off-limits to any new plantations under the President’s official map establishing a moratorium on new permits.

The request was made Thursday for the government immediately to order all oil palm companies with concessions within the Tripa Peat Swamps in the Leuser Ecosystem to immediately cease all land clearing and burning.

In addition, it was suggested that the government of Norway immediately suspend the 2010 bilateral letter of intent that was the basis of the moratorium until the burning has been thoroughly investigated.

By far the most fire hotspots, however, were located in the PT Surya Panen Subur 2 Concession, a 13,000 hectare palm oil concession that formerly belonged to PT Astra Agro Lestari, in which Hong Kong-based Jardines owns a majority stake.

That was purchased by Astra Agro Lestari in 2007 and then sold to Triputra Group, founded by a former CEO of Astra, according to SOCP, in late 2010, following heavy criticism of Jardines connection to the concession in international press reports.

Why would Jardines want any association with a palm oil concession located in a protected area and, indeed, why would the company then turn around and sell that under pressure to a loose associate rather than set it aside for conservation?

By Gary Stokes, Sea Shepherd

That coveted bowl of shark fin soup, those shark cartilage capsules said to bring health benefits, might not only be bad for the oceans but also pose a risk for degenerative brain disease in humans.

A new study from University of Miami researchers shows shark fin contains high concentrations of  a neurotoxin linked to neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease (also Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS).

The findings, published in the journal Marine Drugs, followed the testing of seven species of shark: blacknose, blacktip, bonnethead, bull, great hammerhead, lemon, and nurse sharks for β-N-Methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA.  Samples were collected as fin clips from live shark in South Florida waters.

The study’s co-author, Professor Deborah Mash, director of the University of Miami Brain Endowment Bank, was part of   a 2009 study that showed patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and ALS had unusually high levels of BMAA in their brains of up to 256 ng/mg. By contrast, healthy people, the study showed, had no BMAA, or only trace quantities of the toxin in their bodies.

In this latest study, the team found high BMAA levels of between 144 and 1836 ng/mg in shark fins.

BMAA is produced by cyanobacteria, which are found  in lakes, rivers, estuaries, and marine waters where nutrient loading from agricultural and industrial runoff, sewage, groundwater inflow and atmospheric pollution accelerate bloom growth.

This is then eaten by small aquatic marine animals, which in turn are consumed by sharks, potentially posing a health risk to consumers of shark products.

The study cautioned that, “further studies are needed to confirm this finding and to demonstrate that widespread BMAA detections in sharks may occur outside of South Florida coastal waters.”

High concentrations of BMAA were, however, detected in the fins of some sharks collected in areas with no active cyanobacteria blooms. Sharks are highly migratory, making it likely that they pass in and out of areas where cyanoblooms may have occurred over time, the study says.

Consumers in Asia eat shark fin soup at wedding or official banquets and purchase shark fin cartilage powder or capsules  as dietary supplements, which claim to combat and/or prevent a variety of illnesses.

However, the study points out that, “the benefits of these supplements have not been significantly proven, nor has shark cartilage been reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Let’s hope regular consumers of shark products think carefully about their health before slurping down another bowl of shark fin soup or popping more cartilage capsules.