World Cup 2014: Greenpeace investigation reveals sportswear ‘toxic scandal’

Global sportswear brands Adidas and Nike have been rapped by Greenpeace for producing football merchandise containing high levels of hazardous chemicals ahead of the 2012 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

A recent investigation by the environmental organisation discovered hazardous substances in 33 items purchased across three continents – including boots, goalkeeper gloves and the official ‘Brazuca’ football.

One product – Adidas’ iconic ‘Predator’ football boots – contained very high levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFC), at 14 times the company’s own restriction limits.

“Brands like Adidas may equip some of the world’s greatest players and claim to be championing The Beautiful Game but our investigations have revealed they are playing dirty,” said Greenpeace Germany’s detox campaigner Manfred Santen. “With their profits set to soar during the World Cup, we demand that these brands stop fouling football and clean up their game.”

As well as PFCs, the sampled sportswear was found to contain nonylphenolethoxylates (NPE), phthalates and dimethylformamide (DMF) – some of which can cause cancer, disrupt the hormonal system or be toxic to reproduction, Greenpeace says.

Joint Roadmap

After the Adidas Predator boot, Nike’s ‘Tiempo’ boot contained the highest levels of PFCs at 5,93 micrograms per m2. Phthalates and dimethylformamide (DMF) were also detected in all 21 boots sampled, while the official World Cup ball, manufactured by Adidas, was found to contain high levels of NPEs.

Both Nike and Adidas are members of the Joint Roadmap of Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals – a plan agreed by a group of major clothing and footwear brands and retailers that are committed to help lead the industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020.

Despite their detox commitments, Santen says Nike and adidas are ‘failing to tackle their toxic addiction’.

“On behalf of the players, the fans and the local communities affected by toxic-water pollution, we urge them to come clean by publicly disclosing the release of all hazardous chemicals and publishing a precise PFC phase-out plan,” he added.

Within limits

A Nike spokesperson said: “Nike is committed to the goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. Since we announced this commitment in November 2011, we have made meaningful progress toward our goal.

“The Nike products in the report tested within the limits set by Government agencies and below the levels set in Nike’s own Restricted Substances List (RSL).”

This follows a similar Greenpeace report released earlier this year, which revealed that several clothing companies – including Nike and Adidas – had been using hazardous chemicals in children’s clothes and shoes.

Adidas hit back at that report, with a spokesperson telling edie that the company was concerned with the ‘manipulative reporting of Greenpeace, as they on purpose report about additional chemicals which were not even found in the products’.

At the time of publishing this story, Adidas was unavailable for comment.

View the full Greenpeace report – ‘A Red Card for Sportswear Brands’ – below. 

Luke Nicholls

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie