Which high street fashion brands have committed to clean up their supply chains?

Georgina Wilson-Powell

8 March 2018

Whether you love ethical fashion or not, most of us wouldn’t support fast fashion brands that pollute the environment. But fashion supply chains are complicated. It’s not just about the manufacture, transportation and disposal of clothes - what about the fabric to begin with?

Textile manufacturers are some of the most polluting factories on the planet (see our interview with River Blue, the documentary that shines a light on environmental pollution from textile factories).

A new investigation has revealed a ‘sustainable’ textile manufacturer behind many of the UK’s favourite high street brands, has been dumping toxic waste in rivers near its plants in India and Indonesia.

The toxic pollution stems from the production of viscose, often there isn’t adequate infrastructure to treat waste water or reduce the emissions from the factories after the fibres go through complex chemical procedures. The factory is owned by Aditya Birla Group, who supply a whole range of high street brands and make 20% of the world’s supply of viscose.

The pollution, which has been fatal in places, was uncovered by NGO Changing Markets Foundation.

Fast Fashion Viscose Pollution

Pools of toxic water in Chambal river, 8km downstream of the Birlagram industrial estate in India

So what’s the problem with viscose?

Viscose has the potential to be a largely sustainable fibre, as it is made from plant matter and is biodegradable. However, manufacturing viscose requires hazardous chemicals, which can be deadly for people and ecosystems if managed badly.

But it doesn’t have to be like this - a closed loop model would cut down on pollution.

The NGO, Changing Markets Foundation, has published a ‘roadmap’ to show how the fast fashion industry can move in a more sustainable direction through purchasing of more ethical fibres.

Who’s signed up to make a change?

ASOS, M&S, H&M, Tesco’s and Zara have all signed up to Changing Markets’ Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing, it’s a big step forward in making some of the most popular fast fashion brands more sustainable in their sourcing.

However some fast fashion retailers including ASDA and Next are continuing to source viscose from factories that are toxic polluters.

Want to make sure your shopping is sustainable? Check our handy guide on 10 essential things to look for in an ethical fashion brand.

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