• Viscose is the third most commonly used textile fibre in the world.
  • Yet, companies supplying viscose to global fashion brands have been found dumping toxic wastewater in lakes and waterways, destroying subsistence agriculture and fisheries.
The report identifies the brands who have committed to sourcing viscose sustainably and the retailers really lagging behind on transparency

The report identifies the brands who have committed to sourcing viscose sustainably and the retailers really lagging behind on transparency

Despite bold leadership from some fashion brands on cleaning up the viscose supply chain, the majority of luxury players and low-cost retailers are yet to sign up to cleaner production, a new report has found.

Viscose is the third most commonly used textile fibre in the world and if not produced responsibly can have a devastating impact on local communities and the environment near factories in India, China and Indonesia, according to the latest Changing Markets report.

Based on over one year's worth of investigations and research, the report 'Dirty Fashion: on track for transformation' identifies the brands who have committed to sourcing viscose sustainably and the retailers really lagging behind on transparency.

The investigations found that companies supplying viscose to global fashion brands were dumping toxic wastewater in lakes and waterways, destroying subsistence agriculture and fisheries. Communities living near some of the plants spoke of a lack of access to clean drinking water, sickening smells that were making life unbearable and a higher incidence of serious diseases such as cancer.

In light of this evidence, seven retail brands have committed to cleaning up their viscose supply chain. Inditex, Asos, Marks & Spencer, H&M, Tesco, Esprit and C&A have all signed up to Changing Markets' 'Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing' and started engaging with their suppliers. Next is also set to sign up in the coming weeks.

However, brands from both ends of the fashion industry have failed to respond to letters sent by a group of environmental and consumer NGOs and there is scant detail about their environmental policies online, the report says.

These include luxury brands including Gucci, Prada and Chanel, alongside low-cost retailers, such as Asda, Lidl and online brands Boohoo and Missguided.

Yet the report points out that while other leading retailers, such as Arcadia Group, the owner of Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins, have engaged with the campaign, they still do not have any policies relating to viscose, nor provide any transparency about their supply chain.

The research revealed that sustainability is an important consideration when it comes to fashion. Around 60% of shoppers say they would stop buying clothes from a fashion brand if they found out they were using materials that could damage the environment or impact communities.

"After many years of complacency from fashion brands and producers with regard to the environmental impacts of viscose manufacturing, the tide is finally beginning to turn towards more responsible production methods," says Natasha Hurley, campaign manager at Changing Markets Foundation. "But the unlikely bedfellows of luxury brands and discount retailers continue to ignore an issue that is blighting people's lives and the environment.

"What's more, most luxury fashion brands are failing to publicly disclose supply chain information. This is unacceptable. It's time for them to wake up to consumers' desire for more transparency and more sustainable fashion."

UK supermarket retailer Tesco says that while it understands the complexity of this environmental challenge, it also recognises that it is not possible for the company to tackle it alone.

"We need to collaborate with our peers, suppliers, NGOs and governments to help transform the textile and clothing industry. Working together, we can make a big difference."

Viscose manufacturers are making progress on sustainability. The two largest producers in the world have both committed to making all their sites meet EU Ecolabel requirements for viscose production by 2022.

But as Hurley says, more needs to be done. The report reveals that the EU Ecolabel currently does not cover water pollution, and is therefore not sufficient to show compliance with Changing Markets' Roadmap.

In addition, manufacturers need to translate initial commitments into detailed implementation plans, concrete investments and the transparent reporting of their performance, including of complaints and grievances.

"With this commitment, clothing brands and retailers are sending a clear message to viscose manufacturers that they expect the industry to move towards closed-loop production by 2023-25," the report says.