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How Greenpeace “Detoxed” the Fashion Supply Chain

In 2011, Greenpeace threw down the gauntlet at the fashion industry: Could it eliminate hazardous chemicals from its supply chain by 2020?

The challenge stemmed from “Dirty Laundry,” an investigative report that linked some of the world’s biggest brands with factories that were fouling China’s waterways with heavy metals and hormone-disrupting substances.

The naming and shaming worked. Puma was the first to answer Greenpeace’s call, then Nike and later Adidas. Others, including H&M, C&A and Li-Ning, followed as social-media buzz peaked and consumer awareness swelled. In the seven years since it mounted its Detox My Fashion campaign, Greenpeace rallied 80 apparel brands, retailers and suppliers, representing 15 percent of global fashion production, to its cause.

With the 2020 deadline just over the horizon, Greenpeace has released another report, one that assembles together for the first time the collective achievements of the so-called “Detox-committed” businesses in a single place.

“We have made great progress in phasing out hazardous chemicals that pollute our waterways and environment,” said Bunny McDiarmid, executive director of Greenpeace International. “There has been a major paradigm shift in the clothing industry triggered by the Detox campaign, which now takes responsibility for their production instead of just their products.”

All 80 of the Detox-committed companies, for example, are working to eliminate 11 priority groups of hazardous chemicals identified by Greenpeace, regularly reporting on their presence in wastewater from supplier mills. A “large majority” have also started adding more restricted substances to their roadmaps.

Meanwhile, 72 percent of Detox-committed brands are poised to disclose their supplier lists down to Tier 2 and Tier 3 wet processing, where Greenpeace says the greatest use of chemicals—and therefore the most water pollution—occurs. A number of brands are looking to extend this approach to the production of fibers, such as viscose, which are reliant on a raft of chemicals that can impact environmental and human health.

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Equally worthy of celebration is the fact that 72 percent of brands say they’ve achieved the complete elimination of per- and polyfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, from their products. The remaining 28 percent, Greenpeace said, is making “good progress” toward stamping them out. 

It’s taken the better part of a decade but the Detox My Fashion campaign has “changed the chemical-management landscape,” the organization said. The original “Dirty Fashion” report prompted the industry to create the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Foundation, which now offers a toolkit for brands and suppliers looking to improve the quality of their wastewater. 

The campaign’s continued efforts have also helped precipitate new commercial services such as Oeko-Tex’s Detox to Zero audit. NGOs now offer hazard assessments and publicize safer alternatives, and chemical suppliers are collaborating with Detox companies. The clothing sector, as a whole, now focuses on pollution from its supply chain, not just its products, Greenpeace added.

Even so, not everyone has been swayed. Among high-street brands, Gap continues to be a notable holdout in the Detox discourse. And in the luxury sector, only Burberry and Valentino have committed themselves to the 2020 deadline. This must change, said Kirsten Brodde, project lead of the Detox My Fashion campaign in Germany and co-author of the new report.

“While we are extremely happy to see the progress of Detox companies towards cleaning up their supply chains, 85 percent of the textile industry is still not doing enough to eliminate hazardous chemicals and improve factory working conditions,” Brodde said. “This is unacceptable. It is time for policy makers to step in and make Detox a worldwide standard.”