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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Good News, Bad News for Viscose:
USFIA Joins CanopyStyle; H&M Lands in Hot Water

Viscose continues to dominate the news as brands ramp up efforts to eliminate the destruction of ancient and endangered forests and human rights violations from the viscose supply chain, while others fall behind.

Viscose continues to dominate the news as brands ramp up efforts to eliminate the destruction of ancient and endangered forests and human rights violations from the viscose supply chain, while others fall behind.

The United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) is the latest organization to sign onto the CanopyStyle initiative, joining global brands such as EILEEN FISHER, H&M, Levi’s and VF Corporation in an effort to protect and conserve natural resources. Launched in 2013 by environmental non-profit Canopy, CanopyStyle aims to keep endangered forests out of the fashion supply chain by encouraging brands, designers and retailers to adopt sustainable sourcing policies and produce fabrics and textiles derived from lower-impact fibers.

“The United States Fashion Industry Association is excited to work more closely with Canopy,” said Julia K. Hughes, President of USFIA. “Several of our members are part of the CanopyStyle initiative already and we look forward to propelling Canopy’s positive impact in the rayon and viscose supply chain even further in the US marketplace.”

Canopy will serve as a “Resource Provider on Forest Solutions” for USFIA, which has over 200 members doing business globally. The partnership will provide opportunities for brands, retailers and importers to ensure that rayon and viscose fabrics sourced from controversial sources are no longer part of their supply chains. USFIA and Canopy will also support developing markets to kick-start new products and innovative technologies for closed-loop alternatives such as straw and recycled clothing while advancing conservation solutions in the world’s ancient and endangered forests.

“We are delighted to partner with USFIA to bring CanopyStyle solutions to a broader cross section of the US fashion and apparel sector,” said Nicole Rycroft, Executive Director of Canopy. “USFIA is a powerful association and we’re confident that our work together will drive significant advancements for the world’s forests as well as catalyze the availability of alternative fabrics.”

While USFIA ventures down the sustainability path, a new report has revealed that the world’s largest fashion brands, including H&M and Inditex/Zara are buying viscose from highly polluting factories in Asia.

An investigation by the Changing Markets Foundation has uncovered evidence that viscose factories across China, India and Indonesia are dumping highly toxic wastewater into local waterways, destroying marine and exposing workers and local populations to harmful chemicals.

Dirty Fashion: How Pollution in the Global Textiles Supply Chain Is Making Viscose Toxic, reveals links between the polluting factories and major European and North American fashion brands such as H&M, Inditex, ASOS, Levi’s, Tesco, United Colors of Benetton, Burton, Marks & Spencer, Asda, Dockers, Haggar Next, Debenhams, Matalan and Van Heusen.

While several of the aforementioned brands have played a significant role in leading the industry towards a more sustainable model, the release of Dirty Fashion has the potential to overshadow the gains that these brands have made thus far.

While both H&M and Zara have committed to more sustainable sourcing of wood pulp to produce viscose, the brands have completely overlooked the manufacturing process. According to the report, H&M is buying directly from seven of the polluting factories investigated, and Inditex/Zara from four.

“This report reveals that some of the world’s biggest brands are turning a blind eye to questionable practices within their supply chains,” said Natasha Hurley, campaign manager at Changing Markets Foundation. “With water pollution increasingly being recognized as a major business risk, shifting to more sustainable production processes should be high on retailers’ agendas.”

“Changing markets is calling on retailers and brands to implement a strict zero pollution policy with regular auditing of suppliers to ensure they comply with high production standards.”

In addition to on-the-ground investigations, Dirty Fashion draws on the results of a questionnaire that was jointly issued to clothing brands by Changing Markets and Ethical Consumer in April 2017. Two-thirds of the brands contacted about their viscose supply chains failed to respond, including Topshop, Asda and Sainsbury’s.

“Profitable companies need to take responsibility for the health of their workers and demonstrate this by being transparent about who they source from. Without this, trends in Europe show that their customers will, in time, find brands which better fit their values,” said Rob Harrison, Director at Ethical Consumer.

In some of the areas visited for the investigation, pollution from viscose manufacturing is suspected to be behind the growing incidence of cancer and villagers have stopped drinking the well water for fear of the effect it will have on their family’s health.

At factories in West Java operated by Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla and Austria’s Lenzing Group, Changing Markets found villagers washing viscose products in the Citarum river, directly exposing themselves to toxic chemicals and adding to the river’s already considerable pollution load. Evidence of water and air pollution, worker fatalities and severe health impacts on local residents were also uncovered at Sateri, Tangshan Sanyou and Shandong Helon plants in the Chinese provinces of Hebei, Jiangxi and Shandong.

At a plant operated by Birla subsidiary Grasim Industries in Madhya Pradesh, investigators discovered a close nexus between the local authorities and Grasim management, which meant most violations are going unreported.

The viscose fiber market — which is projected to grow from $13.45 billion in 2016 to $16.78 billion per year by 2021 — is highly concentrated, with 11 companies controlling 75 percent of global viscose production. A concentrated effort on the part of retailers could achieve dramatic change.

The report also highlights that new viscose production methods already exist, which do not rely on the abundant use of toxic chemicals and bring manufacturing into a closed loop so that the chemicals which are used do not escape into the environment. Additionally, Changing Markets has issued a call to action for stakeholders across the viscose value chain:

  • Viscose producers must move towards a closed-loop system of viscose production and stop dumping toxic chemicals in the environment surrounding their factories.
  • Brands must impose a strict zero pollution policy across their supply chain (including raw materials suppliers) and conduct regular audits to ensure it is implemented.
  • Policy makers should mandate transparency across the entire supply chain, and introduce and enforce environmental criteria in supply chain due diligence regulations.
  • Consumers should only buy viscose from brands that have made a clear commitment to sustainable sourcing of wood pulp and clean viscose production.