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Industry Talk

Mixed progress towards cleaner viscose production

The report finds that despite bold leadership from some brands, a large part of the industry has still not signed up to cleaner production.

14th August 2018

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Utrecht

Sustainable, Clothing/​Footwear

Luxury brands including Gucci, Prada and Chanel sit alongside low-cost retailers, such as Asda, Lidl and online brands Boohoo and Missguided with a complete lack of engagement on a critical sustainability issue, according to the report findings. “This may come as a shock to UK shoppers, 30% of whom consider luxury brands to be sustainable, compared to only 13% for low-cost brands, according to new research,” the organisation reports.

Sustainability is important

The research reveals that sustainability is an important consideration when it comes to fashion. 60% of shoppers would stop buying clothes from a fashion brand if they found out that they were using materials that could damage the environment or impact communities. Viscose is the third most commonly used textile fibre in the world and has the potential to be a sustainable fibre. However, if not produced responsibly, viscose can have a devastating impact.

Changing Markets’ investigations found that companies supplying viscose to global fashion brands were dumping toxic wastewater in lakes and waterways, destroying subsistence agriculture and fisheries. Communities living near some of the plants spoke of a lack of access to clean drinking water, sickening smells that were making life unbearable and higher incidence of serious diseases such as cancer.

In light of this evidence, seven retail brands have committed to cleaning up their viscose supply chain. Inditex, ASOS, Marks & Spencer, H&M, Tesco, Esprit and C&A have all signed up to Changing Markets’ Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing and started engaging with their suppliers. Next is also set to sign up in the coming weeks.

Desire for more transparency

However, brands from both ends of the fashion industry have failed to respond to letters sent by a group of environmental and consumer NGOs and there is scant detail about their environmental policies online. While other leading retailers, such as Arcadia Group (owner of Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins), have engaged with the campaign, they still do not have any policies relating to viscose, nor provide any transparency about their supply chain.

“After many years of complacency from fashion brands and producers with regard to the environmental impacts of viscose manufacturing, the tide is finally beginning to turn towards more responsible production methods. But the unlikely bedfellows of luxury brands and discount retailers continue to ignore an issue that is blighting people’s lives and the environment,” said Natasha Hurley, Campaign Manager at Changing Markets Foundation.

“What’s more, most luxury fashion brands are failing to publicly disclose supply chain information. This is unacceptable. It’s time for them to wake up to consumers’ desire for more transparency and more sustainable fashion.”

Progress on sustainability

Viscose manufacturers are also making progress on sustainability. The two largest viscose producers in the world have both committed to making all their sites meet EU Ecolabel requirements for viscose production by 2022.

Yet more needs to be done: the report reveals that the EU Ecolabel currently does not cover water pollution and is therefore not sufficient to show compliance with Changing Markets’ Roadmap. In addition, manufacturers need to translate initial commitments into detailed implementation plans, concrete investments and the transparent reporting of their performance, including of complaints and grievances.

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