11 companies control 75% of global viscose production

11 companies control 75% of global viscose production

A number of fashion giants, including Sweden's H&M and Inditex's Zara, are said to be buying viscose from highly polluting factories that are contributing irreparable damage to environmental and human health.

An investigation into the production of viscose by campaign group Changing Markets Foundation links polluting factories in Indonesia, China and India to major European and North American fashion brands. A report released today (13 June) and based on the findings – 'Dirty Fashion: How pollution in the global textiles supply chain is making viscose toxic' – claims to uncover evidence of the impact of dangerous chemicals and noxious gases being generated by polluting factories across Asia.

It says factories producing viscose in Indonesia, China and India – including those operated by operated by Aditya Birla, Lenzing Group, Sateri, Tangshan Sanyou, Shandong Helonare and Grasim Industries – are dumping highly toxic wastewater into local waterways, destroying marine life and exposing workers and local populations to harmful chemicals. And it links brands including Asos, Levi Strauss & Co, Tesco, Benetton, and Marks & Spencer to these facilities too.

Based on information provided directly by fashion brands and retailers, as well as information available on their websites, the report cites H&M as buying directly from seven of the polluting factories investigated, and Zara/Inditex from four of them.

According to Changing Markets, the viscose staple fibre market – which is projected to grow from US$13.45bn in 2016 to $16.78bn per year by 2021 – is highly concentrated, with just 11 companies controlling 75% of global viscose production.

Report authors say that while several brands, including H&M and Zara, have committed to more sustainable sourcing of wood pulp used to produce viscose, the manufacturing of viscose is still largely ignored and receives little oversight from retailers.

"Some of the world's biggest brands are turning a blind eye to questionable practices within their supply chains," says Natasha Hurley, campaign manager at Changing Markets. "With water pollution increasingly being recognised as a major business risk, shifting to more sustainable production processes should be high on retailers' agendas."

In addition to on-the-ground investigations, the report draws on the results of a questionnaire that was jointly issued to clothing brands by Changing Markets and Ethical Consumer magazine in April. Two-thirds of those contacted about their viscose supply chains failed to respond, including brands such as Topshop, Asda and Sainsbury's.

The groups are now calling on retailers and brands to implement a strict zero pollution policy across their supply chains – including raw materials suppliers – with regular audits to ensure it is implemented.

"Profitable companies need to take responsibility for the health of their workers and demonstrate this by being transparent about who they source from," says Rob Harrison, director at Ethical Consumer. "Without this, trends in Europe show that their customers will, in time, find brands which better fit their values."

The report highlights the existence of alternative viscose production methods that do not rely on the abundant use of toxic chemicals and bring manufacturing into a 'closed loop' so that the chemicals used do not escape into the environment.

Ethical Consumer and Changing Markets also emphasise the need for policy makers to mandate transparency across the entire supply chain, and introduce and enforce environmental criteria in supply chain due diligence regulations. They also urge consumers to only buy viscose from brands that have made a clear commitment to sustainable sourcing of wood pulp and clean viscose production.

Other brands cited in the report include Burton, Dockers, Haggar, Next, Debenhams, Matalan and Van Heusen