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Primark Signs Greenpeace Pledge to Eliminate Hazardous Chemicals

Greenpeace has notched another victory in its quest for more environmentally responsible supply chains in the apparel industry. Primark, an Irish clothing retailer, is the most recent company to commit to eliminating hazardous chemicals from all its products.

Ilze Smit, Greenpeace’s detox campaigner, said, “This commitment is great news for Primark’s customers, its workers and the local communities affected by toxic-water pollution.”

In early January, a controversial report issued by Greenpeace alleged that hazardous chemicals were detected in children’s clothing and footwear distributed by several major brands. The apparel examined included fast fashion, sportswear and luxury brands as well.

Greenpeace agents purchased a wide variety of children’s textile products, eighty-two samples in total, in May and June of 2013. The apparel was found in twenty-five different countries and manufactured in twelve more. Then, they were shipped to the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter in the UK and, from there, they were then sent to a variety of laboratories that specialize in hazardous chemical detection. All products were scientifically tested for nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs); some but not all were also assessed for phthalates, organotins, and poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFC). These are chemicals that “can have adverse impacts either on human reproductive, hormonal or immune systems.”

The offending brands included American Apparel, C&A, Disney, GAP, H&M, Primark, and Uniqlo. Sportswear brands found to contain one or more of the chemicals tested for included Adidas, LiNing, Nike, and Puma. Luxury brand Burberry also had some apparel test positive for hazardous chemicals. All of the apparel selected and tested was intended for use by children.

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The worst manufacturing country was China, which accounted for twenty-nine of the products that failed the test.

Chih An Lee, Greenpeace EastAsia campaigner, said, “This is a nightmare for parents everywhere looking to buy clothes for their children that don’t contain hazardous chemicals. These chemical ‘little monsters’ can be found in everything from exclusive luxury designs to budget fashion, polluting our waterways from Beijing to Berlin.”

The investigation and subsequent report are part of the Detox Campaign, an effort that has recruited more than half a million volunteers to advocate for clean water and toxic free fashion. So far, eighteen major fashion retailers have officially joined the campaign: Nike, Adidas, Puma, H&M, M&S, C&A, Li-Ning, Zara, Mango, Esprit, Levi’s, Uniqlo, Benetton, Victoria’s Secret, G-Star Raw, Valentino, Coop, and Canepa. Greenpeace is still trying to sign on The Gap Inc., Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch.

In 2012, Greenpeace hosted a  “toxic fashion show” in Beijing, China to protest the fact that two-thirds of the clothing sold on the street there contained hazardous chemicals. Greenpeace’s ultimate goal is to get all major clothing brands to commit to a “zero discharge of all hazardous materials” by 2020.

Smit said, “It is now up to Primark to ensure these promises are translated into concrete actions.”