Dirty fashion: Companies criticised over ‘damaging’ viscose use

Luxury fashion brands and high-street retailers have again been linked with the damaging production of viscose textile fibres, despite some of last year's laggards making notable improvements to sourcing practices.

The Changing Markets Foundation released an update to its Dirty Fashion report, which ranks retailers and fashion brands over their use of the viscose textile fibre. According to the non-profit, use of this plant-based fibre has created severe cases of agriculture and fishery destruction as numerous factories in India, China and Indonesia continue to dump toxic chemicals into nearby waterways.

The investigation, which collated more than a year’s worth of data, time and communication, found that luxury brands including Gucci, Prada and Chanel sit alongside retailers, Asda, Lidl and online brands Boohoo and Missguided for a failure to engage on viscose sourcing.

The Changing Markets Foundation has called on brands to sign up to cleaner production for the use of viscose, which is the third most-used textile fibre globally behind polyester and cotton, and some companies listed in the report have made notable improvements.

Inditex, ASOS, Marks & Spencer, H&M, Tesco, Esprit and C&A have all signed up to Changing Markets’ roadmap to engage with suppliers on viscose sourcing. Next is likely to sign in the coming weeks. Of those listed, the likes Tesco and Next were last year criticised for their sourcing practices.

The two firms were sourcing from factories owned by the Aditya Birla Group (ABG), a $50bn, Mumbai-based business that is the world’s largest producer of viscose, claiming a 20% supplier share to major fashion brands. Factories of the Birla Group were criticised in the report for a lack of environmental stewardship and links to illness and death.

Since the publication of last year’s report, ABG and Austrian-based Lenzing, the two largest viscose producers in the world, have committed to ensuring that all sites meet EU Ecolabel requirements by 2020, although the legislation doesn’t yet account for water pollution. China’s 10 largest viscose producers have all formed the Collaboration for the Sustainable Development of Viscose to create a 10-year roadmap for sustainability.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “We understand the complexity of this environmental challenge and recognise that it is not possible for us to tackle it alone. We need to collaborate with our peers, suppliers, NGOs and governments to help transform the textile and clothing industry. Working together, we can make a big difference.”

The red zone

While brands such as Patagonia, Eileen Fisher and Stella McCartney – which commissioned the first ever Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for man-made cellulose fibre (MMCF) used in production – were praised for approaches to viscose sourcing, transparency and production practices, other brands have been heavily criticised.

Asda, Boohoo, Burberry, Ikea, Lidl and Sainsbury’s are among the 23 brands and retailers ranked in the “red zone” for poor performances by the Foundation. edie reached out to all of these brands for comment.

Ikea noted that it was “working towards a goal that all Made Cellulose fibres shall come from responsibly sourced wood” and be “produced having a minimum environmental impact to land, air and water”.

Lidl noted that it planned to convert all own-brand products using viscose to “more environmentally friendly” viscose by the end of 2019.

Some of the brands raised an issue with the Changing Markets Foundation’s rankings, claiming that they had received very few requests or communication from the non-profit. The report claims that some companies have failed to respond to letters from environmental groups to clarify sourcing policies.

In response, the Foundation’s campaign manager, Natasha Hurley, noted that the “utmost effort” had been made to engage with all brands and that the Foundation would welcome any feedback and additional data that could help the brands improve supply chain traceability and practices.

Matt Mace

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