Progress and hurdles on the road to Detox

Background - 9 December, 2011
Since 2011, Greenpeace International has conducted four investigations into the use of hazardous chemicals in the textile supply chain. These reports found persistent, hazardous chemicals in the discharges from textile manufacturing facilities in China, Mexico and Indonesia - all suppliers of big sportswear and fashion brands.

Greenpeace International also conducted several investigations into the presence of hazardous chemicals in clothing. After testing garments from international clothing brands made and sold in a number of countries around the world, the presence of a number of these substances was found in the fabric of the clothes.

This body of evidence forms the basis of the Greenpeace "Detox" campaign, directed towards global sportswear and fashion companies, challenging them to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and products. A number of brands – including many of those directly challenged by Greenpeace and hundreds of thousands of people around the world – took up the challenge and made individual commitments to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. In doing so, they publicly committed to eliminating the use and release of such persistent, hormone-disrupting chemicals into our waters via their production processes.

Six of these brands – adidas, C&A, H&M, Nike, Puma and Li-Ning not only took up the challenge and committed to Detox but also started collaborating to develop and implement a 'draft Joint Roadmap towards Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals' which was launched mid-November 2011. This collaboration (set up by the brands and not by Greenpeace) is known as the ZDHC; its Joint Roadmap outlines the steps that the companies aim to take in order to achieve their commitments, and invites other companies to partner in this endeavour. Alongside their individual commitments, at the time, Greenpeace welcomed the fact that these brands were taking ownership of the zero discharge challenge by co-ordinating their collective actions in the form of a Joint Roadmap.

Two years on, the ZDHC’s Roadmap has been updated, with the publication of Version 2 in June 2013. The number of brands that have joined the ZDHC has also increased to 17.

Many of these companies have ambitious individual Detox commitments and have already demonstrated the delivery of concrete outcomes in line with their action plans, to achieve zero discharges of hazardous chemicals throughout their supply chains. However, a small minority of brands have failed to publish an individual action plan and are not taking any individual steps to deliver real change on the ground, only referring to the inadequate joint actions of the ZDHC.  Furthermore, some of the more recent ZDHC signatories such as GAP, have not even made an individual corporate commitment to Detox. Unfortunately, today the ZDHC no longer represents the group of pioneering companies leading the way to Detox it once did.

The ZDHC: Zero Discharges, but only by name

Greenpeace is disappointed to see that the most important elements that would facilitate the elimination of hazardous chemicals via concrete and measurable deliverables are missing from the ZDHC's joint initiative. While the draft Roadmap has the potential to become a real and effective action plan able to engage and change the apparel and textile sector in a transformational way, its latest version fails to deliver on this potential.

After a detailed analysis, Greenpeace has identified three main areas where clear and specific intermediate targets and milestones are still missing. Only by seriously addressing these issues will the brands make their Joint Roadmap a credible plan of action.

Disclosure: This refers to locally accessible, online information on the pollution released from key supplier facilities, the publication of which is a crucial step to making a company's commitments credible. Only publicly accessible information on the actual use and discharge of hazardous chemicals will guarantee that concrete and effective change happens on the ground, where the pollution has been taking place for decades.

Several individual brands, some of which are signatories to the ZDHC, have already ensured the publication of credible data by their suppliers on the discharge of hazardous chemicals from their individual facilities, on the IPE global online platform. However, the Joint Roadmap has not adopted plans to publish this kind of data, focussing instead on another proposal to develop a multi-factor performance rating that may or may not require disclosure of discharges.  The development of tools and pilot studies is no substitute for action. A commitment to disclose credible discharge data needs to be added to the Joint Roadmap and adopted by all the ZDHC member companies, along with details about what information will be released and by when.

Elimination: The Joint Roadmap still lacks ambitious targets in relation to the elimination of the worst (and well known) hazardous chemicals – substances which have already been banned and regulated in other parts of the world.

The 11 priority groups of well-known hazardous chemicals are: 1. Alkylphenols 2. Phthalates 3. Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants 4. Azo dyes 5. Organotin compounds 6. Perfluorinated chemicals 7. Chlorobenzenes 8. Chlorinated solvents 9. Chlorophenols 10. Short chain chlorinated paraffins 11. Heavy metals, cadmium, lead, mercury and chromium (VI).  The ZDHC aims to phase these out by 2015 in only the top 50 per cent of wet processing suppliers. A further two years to reach only a partial elimination is unacceptable for chemicals that are already restricted, especially where less or non-hazardous substitute products have existed for many if not all of their applications (detergents, dyes, lubricants etc) for over a decade.

Timeline to phase in green chemicals: The ZDHC has not delivered on its original plan to identify the 'next steps' as to how the next family of chemicals for phase-out will be chosen. This delays the establishment of a process to identify priority hazardous chemicals until 2015.  No milestones for the introduction of non-hazardous alternatives - 'green chemicals' have been set and the Roadmap fails to clarify how the phase-out programme will roll out in the supply chain and which elements will make the phase-out verifiable for the public.

The ZDHC is undermining the ambitious "Zero Discharges" objective that is enshrined in its name, by falling into the trap of typical industry joint initiatives, where the lowest common denominator prevails. Instead of wasting effort and resources on half measures and delaying tactics, Greenpeace urges the ZDHC to become a true Detox leader.