| Global Times | 2012-10-15 0:45:11
By Yan Shuang
For 10 years, a group of farmers in East China's Zhejiang Province fought against a local textile factory, saying its pollution is poisoning their water and harming residents.
But all their petitions and complaints to local environmental authorities failed to redress their problem.
Hu, a local farmer, said she felt powerless, until a recent report by an NGO revealed last week that the mill has been producing textiles for brand-name companies, including Marks & Spencer and Levi's. The report found that some brands have been lax about pollution control management in their supply chains in China. Residents of Tangtou village, Shaoxing, are pinning their last hopes on this report, entitled "Cleaning up the Fashion Industry."
China's textile exports are facing a difficult time. Overall sales have grown little, or are even falling. Even so, China is still the world's major textile material processor and supplier. It is an intensive process. Some stages of turning raw material like cotton into fabric, such as dyeing, require a large amount of water and energy, and when unregulated can lead to serious pollution.
"The textile factories are emitting foul smoke every day, and sometimes discharging waste into the river," said Hu, mother of a 14-month-old baby. Hu's house is less than 50 meters away from the mill, which is across the river in front of her house.
"Children have bleeding noses, get dizzy and a cough when the noxious odor spreads. We never drink from the river, and can't even use it for growing vegetables. Several villagers have been diagnosed with lung cancer since the factory was established in 2003," she told the Global Times. Some 30 households have been experiencing the worst of the pollution, and some were beaten when they tried to approach the factory for negotiations, she added.
"Large international brands and retailers have been moving their orders away from China in recent years. We see more clothing items from US and European shopping malls have labels showing they're made in Southeast Asia, South Asia and even Africa. However, the decrease in China's textile exports was mainly in the garment processing sector," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), which released the textile industry report jointly with four other NGOs.
Overall textile exports were flat from January to July this year compared with the same period last year, and fell in August, Xia Lingmin, deputy director of the China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC), said at a conference on October 10. Global economic woes, a falling market in China and increasing labor and energy costs have posed challenges to China's textile industry, he said. But even as the overall sector faces trouble, the value of China's printed and dyed textile product exports jumped by 31 percent in 2012 from the year before, according to the CNTAC.
"With lax regulation enforcement and low costs for inputs such as water, the textile companies always don't bother introducing greener production methods, and fail to even abide by environmental laws and regulations," Ma said.
The textile industry ranked fourth in wastewater COD (chemical oxygen demand) emissions among China's 39 major industries, according to the China Environmental Statistical Yearbook 2010.
More than 40 major international apparel brands, including H&M, Nike, Marks & Spencer and Disney, were found to have performed lax environmental management on their supply chains in China, according to the NGO report. Many brand-name companies have textile processors and suppliers in China, but only some have done a good job on controlling pollution at the Chinese textile factories, which are mainly located in places such as Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces, the report said.
The Zhejiang Qingmao Textile Printing and Dyeing Company, which was listed in the report as one of the textile suppliers for brands such as Marks & Spencer, is said to have been polluting the Tangtou village of Shaoxing, where Hu and her children live. Although environmentalists paid several visits and tried to communicate with Marks & Spenser, the UK's biggest retail group, the NGOs failed to get a positive response with possible solutions, said the report.
"The company told us their pollutant emissions are within the standard range. Local environmental officials visited the factory as well, but we did not see changes for the better," said Hu.
Wei Zhiguo, manager with the Zhejiang Qingmao company, told the National Business Daily that they have conducted wastewater processing and the air emissions have been put under control.
Many companies do care about environmental problems in clothes production, but the initial stage of textile printing and dyeing is often overlooked, according to the report. Dyeing and finishing enterprises lower environmental standards in order to win orders, it said, and some companies choose cheaper but polluting ways of textile processing so that their costs are more competitive on the market.
"I'm glad environmental organizations have been making efforts in environmental protection but part of the report isn't necessarily scientific and objective," Li Jinbao, director of the China Dyeing and Printing Association, told China Textile News, an industry newspaper, after NGOs released their first textile industry report in April.
Li says the data in the report is not up-to-date, and the report did not reflect the real problems and situation of China's textile industry regarding its development scale and market demands, resource allocation and distribution. Only a small number of textile companies violate regulations, and the industry is improving on technology and cutting pollution emissions, he said.
"We may have different opinions on some issues, but after all we're making efforts in the same direction," said Ma Jun, adding that some companies have responded to the NGO's requests on pollution control. Brands such as H&M, Nike, Burberry and Gap have established a regular system where they publish pollution records in their supply chain, and Adidas, Nike, Levi's and H&M have begun extending their oversight down to dyeing and finishing suppliers, the report said.
Some 22 brands, including Marks & Spencer, Disney, J.C. Penney, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, on the other hand, either ignored the NGO requests, or decided not to respond to the problem in a satisfactory way, the report said.
Zhu Peng, a student in Beijing, said he and his friends plan to submit a petition to Marks & Spencer by collecting signatures among students in Beijing and Shanghai, in a bid to call for more public attention on environmental problems in the textile industry.
A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said, "We have concerns about the accuracy of the report and are disappointed not to have been given the opportunity to discuss it with IPE and correct the numerous inaccuracies. We take the eco and ethical performance of our supply chain very seriously and have already started a thorough investigation. As a condition of doing business with our suppliers, all dyehouses that supply our suppliers must adhere to our strict environmental standards."
By leaving a comment, you agree to abide by all terms and conditions (See the Comment section).