Fashion brands fail to take action on ‘dirty’ viscose

22 November 2019

Luxury and high street retailers are failing to take action on supply chain pollution caused by viscose manufacturing, says a report. 

The report by Changing Markets found while retailers are making progress to source viscose responsibly, this is yet to translate into concrete and impactful action.

Over 90 fashion brands were quizzed on transparency and sustainability in their viscose supply chains. The report said there had been a strong increase in the number of brands that either already have a viscose fibre-sourcing policy in place, or had plans to introduce one.

“However, where they exist, viscose-manufacturing policies are often piecemeal or vague, addressing only a portion of the supply chain (through ‘sustainable’ collections) or offering lofty promises of more responsible viscose without evidence of concrete action,” it said. 

The lowest-ranked companies with no viscose-specific policies in place included luxury brands Versace, Prada, Dior, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana, and low-cost retailers Boohoo, Walmart, Matalan, Forever 21 and TK Maxx.

Brands found leading the way were Inditex, ASOS, H&M, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Esprit, C&A, Next, New Look and Morrisons. The 10 retailers have all signed up to Changing Markets’ ‘roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing’, which launched last year. 

The roadmap provides guidance for brands, retailers and producers willing to move towards closed-loop viscose manufacturing, where chemical inputs are captured and reused, instead of being released into the environment.

Viscose is the third most commonly used fibre in the world behind polyester and cotton. But according to Changing Markets, there is evidence of viscose producers dumping untreated wastewater, contaminating waterways and ecosystems, and causing severe health impacts for local communities. 

A toxic chemical used in the viscose manufacturing process has been linked to serious health conditions, from mental illness in factory workers to kidney disease, heart attacks and strokes.  

Urska Trunk, campaigns adviser, Changing Markets Foundation, commented: “Sustainability is not just a buzzword but must lead to a fundamental shift in the way companies operate. Our findings show that many brands and retailers are still paying lip service and making lofty promises, rather than actually delivering transformative change. 

“With increasing awareness of the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, people expect clothing companies to take responsibility for their supply chains. Brands and retailers can no longer turn a blind eye to this. They need to rise to the challenge and open their supply chains up to external scrutiny to put the industry on a more sustainable footing.”

Meanwhile, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said circular business models in textiles need to be scaled up to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, resource use and pressures on nature.

Consumption of clothing, footwear and household textiles in the European Union (EU) uses annually about 1.3 tonnes of raw materials and more than 100 cubic metres of water per person, the EEA said.

This product group is the fourth highest consumption category in the EU for water consumption and the use of primary raw materials, after food, housing and transport. It is also the second highest pressure on land use after food.

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