Children's clothing

The following is a excerpt from our latest report: A Little Story About a Monstrous Mess

Children that are under and including 14 years of age in China have exceeded 220 million, accounting for 16.6% of the total population. Such a large population has led to a huge market demand for children’s clothing.

Statistics show that the market volume of infants and children’s products in China hit the value of one trillion RMB in 2011. It is estimated in the 12th Five Year Plan period that the children’s clothing market would maintain an annual growth rate of 30%, making it one of the fastest growing sections of the clothing industry. Currently, this industry is in a stage of initial development with medium, small and micro-sized enterprises as key players.

The current use of hazardous chemicals during the manufacture of children’s clothing can leave residues of toxic substances on the final product, posing potential health risks for children through multiple routes of exposure. These substances can be readily released to the environment during the manufacturing stage and also in the process of washing clothes, thereby threatening people’s health.

To address this issue, responsible management from manufacturers is required. From government, the most important step is the adoption of chemical management regulation at the national level to keep hazardous and toxic substances out of children’s lives.

There are approximately seven million different chemicals known in the world, out of which 70,000 are commonly used. In addition, more than 1,000 new chemicals are developed worldwide each year. A large number of hazardous chemicals exist, and may leave residues in the final product, or are directly released into the environment. Compared to adults, children will experience multiple routes of exposure, and can be more sensitive to some effects of certain hazardous chemicals.

Some endocrine disrupting chemicals have the ability to interfere with children’s normal hormone function and affect the development of the genital system, immune system and nervous system. The use of such chemicals in products, including children’s toys, clothing and other products, will increase the release of these chemicals into the environment either during manufacturing or from the products directly. In some instances, there may be the potential risk for additional routes of exposure for children.

Greenpeace recently launched a study called A Little Story About a Monstrous Mess to investigate the hazardous chemical residues present in children’s clothing. A set of 85 clothing items from Zhili Town of Huzhou in Zhejiang Province and Shishi in Fujian Province - two large production bases for children’s clothing in China - were tested for nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), phthalates, antimony and other toxic chemicals.

Key findings

  • 26 samples were tested positive for NPEs with the detection rate reaching more than 50% and the highest concentration hitting 1,800 mg/kg;
  • 2 samples were tested positive for phthalates with a concentration above 1,000 mg/kg, and the highest reached 1,7000 mg/kg;
  • More than 90% of the samples, all of which contained polyester fabric, tested positive for antimony, with the highest concentration reaching 208 mg/kg.

Zhili Town and Shishi City account for approximately 40% of China’s total production of children’s clothing, with the latter having already expanded its sales to overseas markets. The manufacture of children’s clothing deserves special attention, yet there are currently no adequate regulations in place to strictly oversee the use of hazardous substances in these products in China. China needs to improve its chemical management regulations to ensure the elimination of these chemicals at source so as to better protect children.

The problems of Zhili and Shishi are just snapshots of the problem in textile industry. Only by establishing proper chemical management regulations, can hazardous chemicals be completely removed from children’s clothing.

Read the full report: A Little Story About a Monstrous Mess