International fast-fashion retailer C&A today joined with China’s biggest sportswear company, Li-Ning, and Adidas, Nike, Puma and H&M to launch a Joint Roadmap to begin tackling the fashion industry’s toxic pollution problem.

This year our Detox campaign exposed the direct link between global clothing brands, their suppliers, and toxic water pollution around the world. The Joint Roadmap is an important step forward, and a reminder of what public pressure can achieve.

The Roadmap is accompanied by individual commitments to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and products by 2020 from Li-Ning and C&A, making their participation in the Joint Roadmap credible, and cementing their promise to achieve zero discharges of all toxic, persistent and hormone-disrupting chemicals from their production processes regardless of the actions of the other brands.

Li-Ning’s inclusion is particularly important, as the first Chinese brand to commit to “Detox” following months of public campaigning by Greenpeace supporters in East Asia and elsewhere. They set the bar for all other Chinese brands.

Li-Ning store rebranded with huge "DETOX" sticker

Both C&A and Li-Ning still have areas to improve upon in their respective commitments, notably around how transparent they are being in terms of tracking their progress towards zero discharges, and with regard to setting stricter and more ambitious targets for eliminating some of the most dangerous chemicals. That said, the commitment by Li-Ning to release its first Restricted Substance List online by the end of 2011 and C&A’s target to begin releasing pollution data by the end of 2012 are important steps in the right direction, and our campaigners will be keeping a close eye on the brands to make sure they are living up to their promises.

A Roadmap to change

The collaboration of the six brands to create the Joint Roadmap is also encouraging, as by acting together they will strengthen their negotiating position when working with their suppliers to revolutionise and effectively detoxify the way our clothes are made. The Roadmap provides an outline of how the companies will deliver against their ‘Detox’ commitments, including the development of tools to monitor the release of hazardous chemicals, green chemistry initiatives, and pilot projects for the elimination of certain chemicals.

However, while the Joint Roadmap is an important step forward, there is still a long way for the brands to go before they will have completely cleaned-up their acts. The symptoms of the issue of toxic water pollution are already manifesting themselves in the water that millions of people in China, Thailand and elsewhere rely on every day, and these companies have a responsibility to their consumers and to these affected communities to respond to the urgency of the situation.

They can do this by moving beyond monitoring and pilot projects as soon as possible towards the elimination of these chemicals, and the publication of open-sourced, peer-reviewable pollution data to enable people like you and me to quickly and easily monitor the brands’ progress. After all, both the brands’ customers who are demanding toxic-free clothing, and the people affected by this pollution have the right to know what chemicals are being released into waterways around the world in order to make these garments.

Watch this space

The publication of the Joint Roadmap from the brands marks an important step down the catwalk towards a toxic-free future.

Whilst there is still a long way to go, thanks to days like today and your ongoing support in pushing these brands to champion clean and sustainable production, we are starting to see what that toxic-free future might just look like.