Are global clothing companies checking up on their Chinese supply-chains?

Many global apparel companies are still sourcing clothes from textile dyeing factories in China that violate pollution standards

Environmentalists in China have published a new report ranking 49 international clothing companies according to the environmental impact of their supply-chains. The best performers among those brands were Esquel, H&M, Puma, Adidas and Nike, while Macy’s, Polo, J.C. Penny, Giordano and Carrefour dragged along the bottom of the list.

Published by the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in December, the report says that textile dyeing factories, whose product is eventually bought by the global apparel companies, are violating pollution standards and discharging high levels of pollutants.

The seven NGOs working on the report also found that out of five provinces where the dyeing industry is mostly concentrated, only Zhejiang and Fujian had done anything to enforce the new regulations on water pollution published in January this year. Guangdong, Jiangsu and Shandong had done nothing. 

They also found severe pollution in some areas in these five provinces, with water contamination being a significant factor.

Further concerns highlighted by the report include inconsistencies in the figures used to monitor levels of water pollution. Researchers found that emission figures provided by Fujian and Shandong provinces in particular did not tally with other figures published online.

The report also says that some of the well-known brands, including Uniqlo, Calvin Klein, Carrefour and Youngor, failed to explain the extent of pollution in their supply chain when they were contacted by the environmental groups in April 2012.

In contrast, brands at the top of the list, including Nike, Adidas, Gap and Walmart, told the environmentalists that they were using publicly-available data to identify problems in their supply chains. Some are even using that data to pressure their suppliers into improving standards.

The NGOs initially contacted the 49 companies in 2010, asking them whether they were aware of the environmental performance of the companies they source from, including dyers. So far 33 of these companies have responded.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said that China’s dyeing industry plays a decisive role in the global textiles industry – with many dyeing houses violating water pollution standards. Ma points out that apart from dyeing factories contaminating local environments, there is also a high risk of pollution regulation violations existing in many major clothing brands’ supply chains.