Nike & Adidas: Detox the world's water

Feature story - July 13, 2011
Game on, Nike and Adidas. Greenpeace is calling you out to see which one of you is stronger on the flats, quicker on the breaks, turns faster and plays harder at a game we're calling 'Detox': Who'll be the first to take action and eliminate hazardous chemical discharges from their supply chain? Who will be the champion of a toxic-free future?

We turned up at your stores in Beijing today with the results of a year-long investigation into toxic water pollution from the textile industry in China. It doesn't look good for you. But we, along with millions of supporters worldwide, are hoping that you two, like any athlete that's had a bad lap or a stumble, are simply going to pick yourself up and try harder -- especially if your fans are cheering you on.

Challenge one: work with your suppliers to eliminate all toxic chemicals

Both of you, along with the Chinese brand Li Ning, turned up as having commercial links to facilities that we found to be discharging a range of hazardous and persistent chemicals with hormone-disrupting properties into the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas.

The Dirt

Our investigations found two textile facilities in China that were discharging a range of hazardous chemicals into the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas.

Alkylphenols (including nonylphenol) were found in waste water samples from both factories, and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) were present in the waste water from the Youngor Textile Complex. This was despite the presence of a modern wastewater treatment plant at the Youngor facility.

The alkylphenols and PFCs found in the samples are a cause for serious concern, as these chemicals are known hormone disruptors and can be hazardous even at very low levels. Both groups of chemicals are man-made substances that persist in the environment and can have potentially devastating effects as they accumulate up the food chain.

...Read more in the Dirty Laundry Report

These chemicals don't play fair with human health or the environment. They mess with human reproduction. They harm development, damage the liver, impact the immune system, disrupt hormones and decrease sperm counts.

And these facilities and chemicals are just the tip of a toxic iceberg. Our investigations give just a snapshot of the kind of toxic chemicals that are being released by the textile industry into waterways all over the world -- every day.

You can be the champions of clean water: show us the vision, commitment and desire to smash the current second-rate policies towards hazardous chemicals out of the park and hit a home-run for a toxic-free future.

In our Hidden Consequences report, we showed with a few case studies how Switzerland, the US, Slovakia, and the Netherlands are still paying for the mistakes of washing toxic chemicals down the drain during their years of rapid industrialization.

Decades of effort have yet to entirely clean up PCBs from the Hudson river, and Dutch deltas are still contaminated with hazardous chemicals from the industrial expansion that followed the Second World War. We don't need to make those mistakes again in China and other parts of the world: safe alternatives exist for many of these chemicals.

Yet while concentrations of some of the chemicals we found have been falling in the US, they've been increasing in China. Developing and rapidly industrialising countries produce nearly 75 percent of the world's clothing exports, and China has been the world's leading exporter of textiles and clothing since 1995.

One of the rules of Detox is that you can't just move your manufacturing out of one country when the ref calls foul and get your game on in one where the ref isn't looking. This is a global problem, and it requires global solutions.

Water and China

  • A recent survey found that water scarcity and water pollution are the two top environmental concerns of the world's population.
  • The UN estimates that industry is responsible for dumping 300–500 tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other waste into our waters globally each year.
  • As much as 70 percent of China’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs are affected by water pollution.
  • One in four people in China do not have access to clean drinking water.
  • Shanghai’s 20 million residents are dependent on the Yangtze for drinking water.
  • This river has around 30 billion tonnes of wastewater dumped into it every year.
  • 20 percent to 30 percent of all of China’s water pollution is a result of manufacturing goods for export.

Why Nike and Adidas?

We wish we could say you're alone on this playing field, but fact is you're not the only brands that are linked to these polluting facilities. There's a full list in the report.

We're calling you out because when it comes to sportswear, you're the front runners, the top dogs, the pace-setters; you have the greatest impact on the supply chain. We think you can take this race to a whole different place, and team-up with your suppliers to eliminate all toxic chemicals from your supply chain and products.

You've got the power to detox our sportswear, detox our water and ultimately, detox our future.

Here's how you can grab the gold medal:

  • COME UP WITH A GAME PLAN: Adopt clear company and supplier policies that drive the shift from toxic to non-hazardous chemicals, with clear and realistic time-lines.
  • LET YOUR ACTIONS DO THE TALKING: Respond to the urgency of the situation by demonstrating real and substantial action on the ground, prioritising the worst chemicals and eliminating these immediately.
  • BE A TEAM-PLAYER: Become more transparent by making data on the elimination of these hazardous chemicals publicly available so that you and your suppliers can be held accountable for your choices and actions.

Second prize: there is no second prize.

And you - yeah, you, the one in the cool sports gear

Whether you're "All in" with Adidas or believe in the Nike motto to "Just do it", you can challenge the brand you wear to win the race to a clean finish. Which competitor is going to deliver the turnaround-jump-shot slam-dunk blitz record-time hole-in-one ace -- in the game of creating a green and toxic-free future?

Here's how you can make your favourite brand a winner:

Winning formula

Over the past years you, our 11 million subscribers and supporters worldwide have been changing the face of earth-destructive industries by challenging their leading brands. You’ve helped reduce toxic chemicals in the computer industry with the successful Green My Apple campaign. You've convinced Coca Cola to remove climate-killing chemicals from their refrigerators. You've stopped a major cause of Amazon forest destruction by challenging the soy purchasing policies of McDonald’s and other fast-food brands. You've battled forest destruction by getting Unilever and Nestle to drop contracts with palm oil suppliers sourcing from deforestation through pressure on their Dove and Kit-Kat brands. You’ve recently convinced Lego to stop using packaging from the habitat of the sumatran tiger.BarbieFacebook, and Volkswagen are all feeling the heat of current corporate campaigns to end deforestation and stop climate change.

You have the power to change Nike and Adidas, and with them, an entire industry. Clean water is not only a basic human right - it is the world's most threatened essential resource. We're asking governments to commit to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals within a generation. But governments are slow -- the real players in changing industry are the global brands and corporate decision-makers who set policies about what they buy and where they buy it. It's time to Detox our world. It's time to demand Nike and Adidas blaze the trail.