Greenpeace exposes hazardous chemicals in clothes sold by Zara, and other leading fashion brands

Press release - 2012-11-20
November 20, 2012, Beijing – Clothing from the world’s largest fashion retailer Zara tested positive for hormone-disrupting chemicals and dyes that release cancer-causing substances, according to a Greenpeace report. The environmental group investigated a total of 20 world leading fashion brands, including industry leaders Zara, Levi’s and Calvin Klein, and local brand Metersbonwe [1], and found that all were selling clothing contaminated with chemicals harmful to the environment and human health.

“These are the big potatoes in the fashion industry – Zara alone churns out 850 million clothing items a year. You can imagine the size of the toxic footprint it has left on this planet, particularly in developing countries like China where many of its products are made,” said Li Yifang, Toxics Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. 

In 2012, Greenpeace purchased more than one hundred garments sold in 29 countries and regions by 20 global fast fashion brands, and had them tested for several hazardous chemicals. Samples included jeans, trousers, t-shirts, dresses and underwear. All items were tested for hormone disrupting NPEs; some were also tested for Phthalates, which are toxic to the reproductive system, and cancer-causing amines from azo dyes. 

The testing results show that all the brands had at least several items containing hazardous chemicals. About two thirds of the 141 samples contained NPEs, four samples had high levels of toxic phthalates, and traces of cancer-causing amines from the use of azo dyes were detected in two products from Zara. 

NPEs are banned for textile production in Europe due to concerns over its negative impact on the aquatic environment, but in much of the Global South, including China, their manufacture, use and release are not regulated. In addition, the EU has set phase-out dates for four types of commonly used phthalates. The investigation found that almost all problematic pieces with identifiable places of manufacture were made in the Global South, including 21 made in China, the world’s biggest textile manufacturer and exporter.

"The testing results reveal how much toxic chemicals these brands are dumping in China and other developing nations where products are made and regulations are loose. As the world’s biggest fashion retailers, the likes of Zara have no choice but to change their practices, not only for its consumers but also for the communities affected by its irresponsible suppliers,” Li continued.

“The worst part is, as fashion gets faster and more globalized, more and more consumers worldwide are becoming fashion’s victims while contributing to the industry’s pollution. But it doesn’t have to be so. We’ve already witnissed commitments from sportswear giants such as Adidas, Nike and the Chinese brand Li-Ning, to elliminating the use of all hazardous chemicals in the entiety of their supply chains,” said Li. 

Greenpeace demands fashion brands commit to zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals by 2020 and require their suppliers to disclose all releases of toxic chemicals from their facilities to communities at the site of water pollution. 

Download the report.

Media Contact:

Tang Damin
Greenpeace East Asia Media Officer
Mobile: +86 13911526274
Tel: +86 65546931-185


[1] The clothes were sold by the leading fashion companies Benetton, Jack & Jones, Only, Vero Moda, Blažek, C&A, Diesel, Esprit, Gap, Armani, H&M, Zara, Levi’s, Victoria’s Secret, Mango, Marks & Spencer, Metersbonwe, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Vancl.

[2] Amines are used in the manufacture of azo dyes and can be released when they are chemically broken down. Some amines can break down into cancer-causing chemicals. 

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