Magazine / July 2013

[Investigate] Behind the Scenes of our Detox Campaign

With the help of the residents, we successfully located the sewage draining and learn about the draining pattern. Often we made dozens of trips to investigate a single factory, sometimes overnight and sometimes for hours and hours before we got the eviden

With the help of the residents, we successfully located the sewage draining and learn about the draining pattern. Often we made dozens of trips to investigate a single factory, sometimes overnight and sometimes for hours and hours before we got the eviden

Greenpeace’s Detox Fashion campaign pushed clothing makers to move towards clean production by showing evidence of how they were polluting our waters during the production process. Here’s Toxics campaigner Li Yifang to explain the battle of wits we fought with the polluters.

Do you know that commonplace objects that we all have in home may be polluting our lives? In modern society, we often misuse man-made chemicals. In fact, many of them can easily be replaced by safe and reliable alternatives. Last year, we investigated issues on water pollution.

Behind the Scenes of our Detox Campaign

How serious is the situation?

We were shocked last year at the sheer scope of the pollution. For example, hidden in the middle of the Qiantang River (in eastern China) we found two enormous discharge pipes. We estimated that every day one million tons of effluent was pumped out from these pipes. The water had become a giant black whirlpool which you can see clearly from Google Earth. 

Was it difficult to investigate the factories?

Many factories put a lot of effort into hiding evidence of their pollution. For example, they made their discharge pipe dozens of kilometers long, they buried pipes in the river bed, or waited until nightfall or heavy rains to discharge their waste. Factory security has become much tighter. It was also difficult to determine which sewage outflow belonged to which factory in some industrial complexes.

How did you solve these problems?

We relied on clues and the help of locals to locate discharge pipes. Often we made dozens of trips to investigate a single factory, sometimes overnight and sometimes for hours and hours before we got the evidence we needed. We combined these results with laboratory tests we made on clothing items manufactured by global brands.

Last year was the second year of our DETOX campaign. Is it part of your tactics to focus only on the fashion industry?

Yes. Fashion labels pay a lot of attention to their customers and public opinion and so they are more willing to adopt clean production in order to win back their customers’ trust. However, another key reason is that textile industry is China’s third largest source of pollution. Globally 80 billion garments are produced a year. The Fast Fashion industry has been pressuring their suppliers to cut corners to be ever faster and cheaper and thus sacrifice the environment by reducing environment protection costs.

What breakthroughs did the DETOX campaign make last year?

Overall we made three major breakthroughs last year.

The biggest one of course is that we pushed many top fashion labels to commit to clean production. The world’s biggest clothing retailer, ZARA, was the first one to commit  just nine days after we published our report. Followed by Mango, Esprit, Levi’s and UNIQLO, we now have 17 leading labels committed. Their suppliers are equivalent to  30% of the global fashion factories.

The second breakthrough is that the scope of our DETOX campaign has continued to widen.  And the commitments we have been receiving from the fashion brands have also grown stronger in terms of setting deadlines and phasing out PFCs (which can affect reproduction). Levi’s and UNIQLO also promised to lead the industry in finding safe alternatives.

Even more important is that we have raised the issue of the consumer and public right to know. These brands have all committed to make public a fix number or percentage of their suppliers’ discharge data by the year’s end.  This is crucial for us to be able to keep tabs on whether these companies are honoring their promises or not.

What is the connection between China’s water pollution problem and Hong Kong?

Water pollution is a regional problem. Hong Kong is located at the mouth of the Pearl River, which is the main source of downstream pollution. The Pearl River Delta pollution directly affects our water quality here in Hong Kong. Furthermore, most of our food comes from the mainland and they may be contaminated by river water.

Pollution is such a serious problem. We have only persuaded a few individual fashion labels to change. Really, how much impact will that have?

We are using the textile industry as a breakthrough point to show other industries and the Chinese government that eliminating toxic chemicals is not only necessary but also feasible. So long as we can eradicate the pollution at source, we can solve the problem. We are relying on people like you, all our supporters, to keep supporting us. Thank you.

Inspiring and Moving Stories of the Victims

A key part of our DETOX campaign is telling the stories of victims of pollution. Their stores are motivating, inspiring and moving. They encourage us to campaign even harder to solve this terrible pollution crisis, and to help these people change their lives.

A Decade of Fighting Against Factories

The Shao’s are a married couple living in Wuli village in Hangzhou. There are dozens of chemical factories and printing and dyeing plants in the village. The Shao’s were the first to realize that many factories were simply pumping their waste straight into the Qiantong River and sometimes straight into the fields, killing their rice and causing the groundwater to change color. The Shao’s are fisherfolk and they realized their fish was also contaminated.

Although they complained to the local environmental bureau, the factories simple hid their pollution from the officials. So the couple started taking photos as evidence, recording the location and the time. But the factories still denied any wrongdoing, saying the photographs were not evidence that they had violated pollution laws. The couple then started collecting water samples in bottles and jars.

Over the past decade, the couple have taken more than 1,000 photographs and collected a small mountain of bottles filled with samples.

The Shaos have been intimidated by opponents – their windows have been smashed, and fellow villagers have tried to persuade them to give up. But the couple says: “We just want something to hand over to our children, a clean piece of land where they can live.”

No match for pollution

Cixi in Ningbo is a traditional fishing village. They collect crabs on the muddy beaches or raise clams. When the fishermen come back from collecting seafood they are covered in mud. Their life is very hard, and in one day they only make about 120 HK dollars.

In recent years a number of printing and dyeing plants have sprung up near the coast. And pollution has become a serious problem. The seafood is dying off and life is much more difficult for the fishermen.  They have noticed large amounts of red-green pollution pumped out of the waste pipes of the factories.

Fish farms and pollution share the same body of water. This is very common along the east coast of China. The fishermen cannot cope with the losses they have to endure.

But both the villagers and fishermen believe that as long as they persevere finally they will be able to make change.

Working with Local Government is the first step

By investigating the pollution and recording the stories of pollution victims we have gained the attention of local governments. Local environmental bureau have gone to collect their own samples, and have directly contacted us, and we are now working together to research the solutions.