High-street fashion giants urge viscose suppliers to bolster sustainability

A group of big-name fashion retailers including H&M, ASOS and Inditex are urging their suppliers to take ambitious action to make their viscose processing methods more sustainable, after an investigation found that many were dumping toxic wastewater in waterways and fisheries.

Published today (27 November) by the Changing Markets Foundation, the report accuses 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.

“At a time when major fashion brands such as Next and Inditex are sending a clear message to their suppliers to commit to responsible production of viscose, it is hugely disappointing to see such shortcomings in the CV Roadmap,” the Changing Markets Foundation’s campaign advisor Urska Trunk said.

“It is a weak attempt to clean up the Chinese viscose industry and much more needs to be done to ensure that Chinese producers are aiming for the same level of ambition as other industry players.”

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 onto 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.

Responding to the report’, H&M, ASOS, Next and Inditex said their companies would urge suppliers to adopt the Changing Markets Foundation’s roadmap instead of the CV Roadmap. 

“Committing to the ambitions of the Changing Markets’ Roadmap towards responsible viscose is crucial,” Inditex’s chief sustainability officer Felix Poza Peña said.

“By working together towards these goals, we are able to align our expectations of viscose manufacturers and build the critical mass necessary to accelerate positive change across the industry.”

Esprit’s head of environmental sustainability Sara Bermudez Cotto, meanwhile, said her company would work to develop the Changing Markets Roadmap further. 

“We are engaged in working on the Changing Markets Roadmap towards more responsible viscose & modal fibre production,” she said. “Achieving this ambitious roadmap is only possible by a joint approach of all stakeholders in the different areas of the viscose industry.”

Spotlight on viscose

Due to the rising use of textile blends among fashion retailers, viscose is now the third most commonly used fibre in the world. As a biodegradable fibre, green innovators believe it has the potential to be a sustainable alternative to oil-derived synthetic fabrics and water-hungry cotton.

However, the Changing Markets Foundation claims that many of the world’s largest viscose manufacturers have not yet adopted responsible production methods and sustainable wood sourcing practices.

In response to the viscose challenge, luxury brand Stella McCartney last year commissioned the first ever Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for man-made cellulose fibre (MMCF) in a bid to map the environmental impacts of its raw materials more accurately.

Seven other big-name brands, meanwhile, have collectively funded the development of a new online tool that allows businesses, investors and customers to track the origin of paper, wood and viscose sourced by corporates. 

Elsewhere, Ikea is working towards a goal of sourcing all Made Cellulose fibres from responsibly sourced wood by 2030, while Lidl has pledged to convert all own-brand products using viscose to “more environmentally friendly” viscose by the end of 2019.

Sarah George

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