An activist pastes a poster reading: 'Make Fashion Without Pollution' onto a Levi's store in central Hong Kong. © Clement Tang / Greenpeace
This was originally posted on Greenpeace International on December 7, 2012.
Wow. We are just over 36 hours into our campaign calling on the world’s largest jeans manufacturer to Detox its products and supply chain, and already Levi’s resolve is unraveling at the seams.
This is all thanks to YOUR help: More than 100,000 people have already joined the campaign calling for fashion without pollution and the brand is clearly feeling the heat.
Buckling under the Pressure
Several hours after we launched the campaign Levi’s responded with a blog that can only be described as a little defensive. It described in great detail all of the work Levi’s is currently doing and reiterated that the levels of hazardous chemicals found in its clothes were “not known to constitute any direct health risk to the wearers”. It spoke of the need for group action and described the issue as “complex”.
Fast forward 24 hours, and as activists in Copenhagen performed a vertical catwalk next to one of their stores, the team at Levi’s was busy publishing, for the first time, what looked like an individual action plan that began to detail how it might move from being a Toxic zero to a Detox hero.
For a first attempt it wasn’t terrible. But sadly for the millions of people around the world affected every day by the pollution caused when making Levi’s famous 501s -- it was simply not good enough.
Activists use reverse graffiti stencils to write "Detox" on the ground outside a Levi's store in central Taipei. © Daniel Ulrich / Greenpeace
Watch and Learn
If Levi’s wants to know what it takes to make a credible and ambitious commitment to Detox, then perhaps it should pay closer attention to some of its competitors. Just today, fast-fashion brand Esprit made an individual commitment to Detox its supply chain and products by 2020. As part of its commitment, the Hong-Kong based retail chain also promised to release pollution data from 30 suppliers in China by the end of 2013 and to ban all PFCs (a particularly nasty group of hazardous chemicals) by the end of 2014. Esprit joins the world’s largest retailer Zara, the Spanish fast-fashion brand Mango (which also committed this week), and Marks and Spencer in taking credible and ambitious action to clean up their toxic habits.
Together these four brands will release supplier data for more than 150 facilities in 2013: which marks the beginning of a genuine transparency revolution in the fashion sector.
How to spot a fake Levi’s commitment
In contrast, the statement put up by Levi’s yesterday seems like a rushed reaction to an escalating situation. While the brand had previously stated that it believed group action was the only solution and had refused for more than six months to discuss how it might create a credible individual commitment and action plan (a position it still held on Wednesday), by Thursday suddenly here was its first attempt.
The problem is their statement and action plan lack any kind of ambititon. The brand’s actions seem to indicate that it is trying to see how little it can get away with until people will leave it alone to get on with its polluting business as usual. Not exactly the actions of a brand that describes itself as a “leader”.
Worse still, it seems the brand has deliberately left out much of the language needed (and used by other leading brands) in order for people to know that Levi’s will actually follow through on its commitment. For example, the brand still fails to accept that the people living near its supplier’s facilities have a right to information regarding the pollution being released into their rivers. This goes beyond failing to be a leader, this is failing to recognize the basic human rights of millions of people around the world, despite actions from ZARA, Mango, M&S and Esprit who are working to change this status quo.
Finally, Levi’s still seems to be interested in “managing” hazardous chemicals, and not eliminating them, while other leading brands have acknowledged that there are simply no environmentally safe levels of toxic, hormone-disrupting and cancer-causing chemicals.
Time for Levi’s to walk the talk
Levi’s (and their advertising agencies) certainly have a way with words.
"Go Forth" its ads proclaim. “Be a pioneer” they tell us. “Apathy is death” they warn.
Inspiring stuff. The trouble is, when you build the image of the world’s largest jeans manufacturer on such lofty proclamations, you have to be willing to follow through on them yourself.
Otherwise they are just hollow words. And as we have seen from the evidence linking Levi’s clothes to toxic water pollution in Mexico and elsewhere, nice words are not enough.
To inspire Levi’s to #GoForth and Detox, I had a quick look at rewriting one of their advertisements to help remind them what a true pioneer looks like.
This moment is perfect
The one key thing Levi’s latest “actions” tell us is that the brand is finally cottoning on to the need to listen to the groundswell of people around the world who are calling for fashion without pollution.
Our campaigners are willing (and raring) to speak to the brand to discuss how to transform it's hollow statement into something Levi’s and its customers can be proud of.
Now is OUR time to tell the brand that we want Levi’s to be a Detox leader, not a green-washer. That we want real actions to match the pretty words. And that we want transparency, not more skeletons in their closet.
Over 100,000 people have already joined. Let’s use this momentum and give Levi's 501 thousand reasons to Detox!
Tommy Crawford is the Strategic Communications Manager on the Detox Campaign. You can follow him on twitter at: @theecowarrior