A lot can change in a year.
Having found links between H&M and its suppliers in China releasing a cocktail of hazardous chemicals. Just 12 short months ago we were busy campaigning and challenging H&M to Detox its supply chain and products.
We were doing actions on H&M stores and thousands of supporters from around the world were posting on its Facebook wall and leading Twitter petitions to convince the company to clean-up its act. I even had a blog exchange with their Head of Sustainability.
Fast forward one year and things look a little different. First, H&M committed to Zero discharge and published their individual action plan. Then, it became one of the founding companies of the Joint Roadmap, an industry initiative aimed at eliminating all hazardous chemicals from the fashion industry.
But they didn't stop there. Like any leader, it did not want to be simply part of the pack. The management team saw the need to act faster and with greater conviction.
In April this year, as a part of its Sustainability report, H&M announced a tightening of their ban on Alkylphenols, as well as plan to act on the issue of perflourinated chemicals (PFCs) in-line with our demands.
This week it acted. From 1 January 2013, its products will be no longer be made with these nasty, hormone-disrupting chemicals. This is very good news for the environment, and very good news for the people living near the brand's suppliers and sharing the same water supply.
A strong message
But don't get me wrong, H&M is far from perfect. There are still things they need to work on and areas where we would disagree. But one has to recognize when certain brands do more than others, and when certain brands show real leadership. This is one of those cases.
As one of the largest apparel retailers in the world, the ban is even more significant, because when the largest can do it, then there is no room for excuses from the others citing complex supply chains and matters "out of their control".
Following H&M's landmark commitment, we expect all other clothing brands that care about their customers' safety and the environment to respond with equal ambition and urgency and immediately ban all uses of PFCs.
This news also sends a clear signal to textile suppliers: if you make PFC-based water or stain repellent clothing, then you better move to producing PFC-free alternatives. Or others will take your business, because the market is clearly moving in this direction.
The black list of 11 hazardous chemicals that we asked brands to eliminate first is just the beginning. Work needs to be done checking all chemicals used in textile manufacturing, identifying hazardous ones and substituting them with safer alternatives, so their releases into the environment stop. This is a big task even with a deadline of 2020.
The urgency of the situation is dire. H&M's example shows that actions can be taken fast. There are no excuses left for others not to do the same.
Martin Hojsik is the Detox Campaign Coordinator for Greenpeace International