Chemical Kidswear: A Little Story about the Monsters in your Closet

'Detox Our Future' Mexico

I’ve become increasingly interested and concerned about our daily contact with chemical, toxic substances in our homes and workplaces. Quite simply, we do not know what the long term impacts of such toxic exposure may be. Greenpeace recently published a worrying new report looking at the chemical substances traced in children’s wear. The report ‘A Little Story About the Monsters in Your Closet’ tested 12 well-known clothing brands and found children’s products to be containing hazardous chemicals at each and every company.

Thankfully, awareness of the people making our clothes is gaining traction (not least due to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh where more than 1000 garment workers died in 2013) however, the environmental impact of textile and clothing production often remains hidden. Environmental pollution from the textile industry is a major problem, particularly in China which produces more textiles than any other country. Greenpeace have published a number of reports as part of their ‘Toxic’ campaign, the latest of which found little distinction between the levels of hazardous chemicals in clothing made for children – a group particularly vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals when released into the environment – and adults, when compared to previous studies.

Adidas, American Apparel, Burberry, C&A, Disney, GAP H&M, Li-Ning, Nike, Primark, Puma and Uniqlo were all subject to toxicity tests as part of the investigation. Among the results one adidas swimsuit contained higher levels of PFOAs (can cause adverse impacts on the reproductive system and the immune system) than permitted in their own Restricted Substance List, while printed fabric on a Primark children’s t-shirt contained 11% phthalates. Not only are such chemicals toxic to the environment, both through production and through later waste water seeping back into the environment after laundering, we have very little knowledge of how toxins affect our bodies.

Chih An Lee, Detox Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said “This is a nightmare for parents everywhere looking to buy clothes for their children that don’t contain hazardous chemicals. These chemical ‘little monsters’ can be found in everything from exclusive luxury designs to budget fashion, polluting our waterways from Beijing to Berlin. For the sake of current and future generations brands should stop using these monsters.”

Want to know more?

Watch the video ‘Detox: How People Power is Cleaning Up Fashion’ and check out the Greenpeace Detox reports available online.

Want to take action?

Sign the Detox Manifesto and Tweet the brands directly.

Post to Twitter

Glastonbury Festival 2013: Good, Green Fun

It’s been a couple of weeks since Glastonbury ended but I’m still revelling in the positive energy. It’s just a happy place, like Never-Neverland but without the threat of pirates. It was my forth time at the festival, the first was 2007 – one of the wettest and muddiest on record yet still I had the time of my life. I wouldn’t put up with five days without showering anywhere else, but at Glastonbury I couldn’t care less. At Glastonbury anything goes, and for a few days you can just focus on pure, hedonistic fun.

View of the site on Thursday - slightly overcast

View of the site on Thursday – slightly overcast

As much as I don’t feel a need to justify blogging about such adventures, I will pull it back to the theme of my blog – its eco/green credentials. Clearly when 170,000 people descend on an area normally left as fields, it’s going to have some kind of impact, but Glastonbury has its roots in the free festival movement (some might say hippie) and as such remains committed to limiting negative effects on the environment wherever possible. After lazy campers left behind a bumper crop of tents in 2007 leading to the death of one of Michael Eavis’s cows after it ingested a metal tent-peg left in the soil, the Festival devised its ‘Love the Farm, Leave No Trace’ campaign. The campaign encourages and reminds revellers to respect the environment and clear up after themselves. New initiatives in 2008 included biodegradable tent pegs handed out free to all campers and biotractors running on waste vegetable oil. These new efforts were rewarded with The Greener Festival Award in 2008.

I borrowed my dad's 1987 camper van, not so eco-friendly I'm afraid

I borrowed my dad’s 1987 camper van, not so eco-friendly I’m afraid

This year, the festival organisers pushed hard for visitors to make use of public transport. Those who arrived by bike (as one of our crew did) had their own camping field complete with nice showers. And it wasn’t just the party-goers who were targeted; they also ran Green Trader’s Awards, commending traders for energy efficiency, ethical trade and sustainable food. Greenpeace used their presence at Glastonbury to highlight the plight of the Arctic. Sadly, I missed it but they had an Arctic Dome which offered people the opportunity to disappear through a crack in the ice and take a magical 15-minute trip to the North Pole, where ice towered and the Northern Lights danced, amazing! 4,000 people signed up to the ‘Save the Arctic’ campaign, the same one which had six female activists scale The Shard in London last week.

As always Oxfam had a strong presence at the festival, providing more than 2000 stewards who volunteered their time to help the smooth running of the event. The festival was the charity’s biggest opportunity of the summer to encourage people to show solidarity for the people of Syria who are suffering an unprecedented crisis. Oxfam asked visitors to show their support for the campaign by posing for photos sharing a heart symbol, wearing a badge, having their face painted and, most importantly, signing the charity’s petition. They collected 10,000 signatures over five days. They also had not one, but three Oxfam shops selling on manner of vintage clothes, accessories and fancy dress.

There’s so much to see at Glastonbury, you could never see it all. I had a fantastic time and was really sad to leave, but then I realised real-life is pretty awesome too and although Never-Neverland is great for a visit, I couldn’t live there forever, could I?

Not just about the music, we made candles!

Not just about the music, we made candles!

Me, still looking fairly clean

Me, still looking fairly clean

Post to Twitter

Greenpeace and Textile Industry Pollution: The Dirty Laundry Case

Last week I ventured from the cosy walls of Geography and Environment over to the Management School at the University of Southampton. There, Dr Doris Merkl-Davis from Bangor University, presented a seminar on ‘Rhetoric and Argument in Corporate Social Responsibility Communications: The Dirty Laundry Case’. Merkl-Davis’ paper explored the use of rhetoric and argument between CSR communications using, as a case study, an existing conflict between Greenpeace and six textile organizations in the sportswear/fashion industry over wastewater discharge of hazardous chemicals.

The research is based on the ‘Dirty Laundry’ report published by Greenpeace in 2011. The report profiles the problem of toxic water pollution that results from the release of hazardous chemicals by the textile industry in China. This water pollution poses serious and immediate threats to both our ecosystems and to human health. Honing in on two manufacturing facilities in China, the scientific analysis of the samples found that both facilities were discharging a range of hazardous chemicals into the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas. These facilities, Greenpeace found, supplied a range of major brands, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Bauer Hockey, Calvin Klein, Converse, Cortefiel, H&M, Lacoste, Li Ning, Meters/bonwe, Nike, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation (PVH Corp), Puma and Youngor.

Armed with their evidence, Greenpeace called on these brands to ensure that they do not continue to have commercial relationships with these suppliers. They said, “Brand owners are therefore the best placed to bring about change in the production of textiles and clothing – through their choices of suppliers, the design of their products and the control they can exert over the use of chemicals in the production process and the final product”. Six brands responded publically and all 14 eventually agreed to commit to the cause; Puma were the first to commit to eliminating hazardous chemicals by 2020, followed by Nike, G-Star Raw, Adidas, whilst H&M were last.

What interested me initially to the seminar was the Greenpeace/CSR/fashion story, but Merkl-Davis’ account of communications between the corporations and Greenpeace were equally fascinating. The speaker defined CSR not as ethical trade awareness or ethical engagement but simply as a form of persuasive communication. Using press releases from Greenpeace and six fashion/sportswear brands, Merkl-Davis’ concluded that Greenpeace were the winners, at least for now because they had succeeded in singing up all 14 brands to the cause. Is 2020 a target to be proud of however? And will the brands actually do what they say they will, after all signing up doesn’t necessarily lead to continued participation.

Greenpeace won, according to Merkl-Davis’, because they effectively mobilised their capital, adopted a clever use of language and knew how to mobilise their supporters and the media to the cause. The brands could do nothing less than sign the commitment, or they would look like the ‘bad guys’. Had then, Greenpeace won from the start? And did they only pick a battle they knew they could win? These were the questions we were left to ponder.

What can you do to help?

Legitimacy and accountability became a key topic of discussion in the seminar. The corporate brands, Merkl-Davis believes, are responsible for ethical sourcing. But what about the suppliers? And the Consumers? Even the Government?

Whatever demons you struggle with (or don’t) as a consumer, one simple thing you can do is to sign the Greenpeace Detox Fashion Manifesto
Click here to read the Dirty Laundry Report yourself.

Post to Twitter

Fashion’s Dirty Secrets Exhibition by Ms Wandas

As part of the 2012 E17 Art Trail, Ester Freeman, aka Ms Wandas, curated an exhibition of photography showing the dirty secrets of the fashion industry. I popped along in the week to see the images up close and visit the Ms Wandas pop up shop which was raising money for the non-profit organisations that had donated the photographs. If you missed it, you can still see the ten images online and read the stories behind the pictures.

The images were donated by Greenpeace, Traid, Action Aid and Anti-Slavery International. The river in China is polluted by factory waste so hazardous that it peels off skin. There is the story of a young boy, made to work 12 hour shifts in a cotton mill in Tamil Nadu, India with little food and rest. Images of young women in a Sri Lankan factory referenced with quotes such as “The security men in the factory stopped my parents and brothers from visiting me. When I refused to do over time, I got shouted at. It was worse than prison.” Anagha, 20.

Copyright: Qui Bo/Greenpeace

If you would like to see the exhibition in full, there is still time tomorrow evening to join in the fun at the Rose & Crown pub in Walthamstow. As well as the exhibition they’ll be music, drinks, cakes, raffles and more. See the Art Trail website for more info.

Copyright: Anti-Slavery

See the images online here

Post to Twitter