Fashion retailers delivering mixed progress on ‘damaging’ viscose supply chains

High-street retailers New Look and Morrisons have joined the likes of Inditex, ASOS, H&M and Tesco in signing up to a new sustainability roadmap to ensure they are sourcing sustainable viscose that doesn't contribute to environmental pollution, but luxury fashion brands have been named as laggards.

Fashion retailers delivering mixed progress on ‘damaging’ viscose supply chains

The report claims companies to have used CV factories are allowing their manufacturers to deliver viscose-based products with little information on their origin or environmental impact

New Look and Morrisons have today (20 November) signed up to the Changing Markets Foundation’s viscose roadmap. Viscose is the third most commonly used fibre in the world and is considered more sustainability than oil-derived synthetics and water-hungry cotton. However, continuous cases of viscose suppliers and producers disregarding environmental standards has led to calls for end-user retailers to act.

The two firms join Inditex, ASOS, H&M Group, Tesco, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Esprit, C&A and Next – which signed up to the roadmap last year. The 10 firms have publicly committed to permanently ditch dirty viscose production methods by 2023-25.

Changing Markets has today categorised 91 fashion brands on transparency and sustainability in their viscose supply chains. While those signed up to the roadmap score highly, luxury brands such as Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Dior and low-cost retailers such as Walmart, Matalan and Boohoo sit at the bottom of the table for failing to take action on supply chain standards.

Changing Markets Foundation’s campaigns advisor Urska Trunk said: “Sustainability is not just a buzzword but must lead to a fundamental shift in the way companies operate. Our findings show that many brands and retailers are still paying lip service and making lofty promises, rather than actually delivering transformative change.

“With increasing awareness of the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, people expect clothing companies to take responsibility for their supply chains. Brands and retailers can no longer turn a blind eye to this. They need to rise to the challenge and open their supply chains up to external scrutiny to put the industry on a more sustainable footing.”

edie has reached out to the low-scoring brands, but has yet to receive replies, except from Boohoo. 

“We recognise that responsible sourcing and improved supply chain transparency are important parts of our ongoing business strategy,” Boohoo said in a statement. 

“We are pleased to be a signatory to the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan as we support its commitment to reduce carbon, water and waste through more responsible sourcing practices. We are committed to acting ethically and with integrity and transparency and as such recently introduced an industry-leading 14-day payment term for our UK manufacturers to help improve the cash-flow of our UK suppliers. We continue our work with third parties to improve transparency within our supply chain and our ongoing work with Hope for Justice will help safeguard against any form of modern slavery and protect the rights of all workers producing our garments. We are aware that there is always more to do and we are committed to continuous improvement.”

A history of viscose

Previous iterations of the Changing Markets Foundation report have accused Chinese suppliers to have signed up to the Collaboration for Sustainable Development of Viscose (CV) initiative of “picking and choosing” between standards. China notably accounts for 63% of global viscose production.

The report claims companies to have used CV factories are allowing their manufacturers to deliver viscose-based products with little information on their origin or environmental impact. This is due to shortcomings in the CV’s new roadmap for responsible sourcing, the report states.

The report comes after research conducted by the Changing Markets Foundation this summer concluded that several large Chinese viscose producers were dumping toxic wastewater into waterways and fisheries, or allowing it to seep into nearby agricultural land.

Since then, the Chinese government and media have recorded multiple violations of national and local regulations on pollution at sites operated by CV members, the non-profit claims.

The Foundation has found that 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 the Foundation’s 2017 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, through a $100m investment, 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.

Both disclosed to the Changing Markets Foundation that they will aim to bring their sites in line with EU standards by the end of 2022, but the latest report highlights that ABG needs to make a clear commitment to improving its sulphur emissions to air.

Matt Mace

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