Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.
According to a recently released report by Greenpeace, major Western clothing brands — Adidas, Nike, Puma, Calvin Klein, Lacoste and H&M — are among the clients of two major Chinese suppliers polluting the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas with toxic chemicals.
The year-long investigation by Greenpeace revealed that the suppliers, the Youngor Textile Complex in Ningbo on the Yangtze River Delta and the Well Dyeing Factory in the Pearl River Delta, excrete waste-water discharges that are contaminated with heavy metals and hazardous, hormone-disrupting substances, such as alkylphenols and perfluorinated chemicals, which can damage immune and endocrinological systems as well as the liver.
These harmful chemicals also happen to be restricted across the United States and the European Union because they are non-degradable and cannot be removed by water treatment plants. China has yet to implement such restrictive policies.
The hypocrisy cannot be denied, as many of these companies promise high safety and environmental standards in their supply chains.
As Greenpeace’s Li Yifang notes, responsibility lies not only with China’s officials who have not yet implemented a systematic chemicals management policy but also with the global firms outsourcing to China to cut costs.
“None of the corporations mentioned in our report have a comprehensive, publicly available policy that ensures that their suppliers are eliminating hazardous chemicals from their supply chain. So, we believe they are perpetuating toxic pollution,” she told reporters at the report’s launch (Reuters).
In its investigation into the world’s largest textile industry, Greenpeace collected samples from factory discharge pipes and sent them to laboratories in the Netherlands. Although the chemicals were detected in small quantities, they are hard to break down and accumulate to dangerous levels.
This investigation also brings into light the country’s destitute environmental problems, particularly those concerning water. In June, China’s environment ministry said 16.4 percent of its major rivers did not even meet standards required for irrigating crops.
Although officials are currently in talks for tougher policies that would cut metal pollution in the country’s rivers by 15 percent over five years, China is clearly lagging behind the rest of the world.
By Esther Kang
Gallery: Pollution in China’s textile towns