Some of the world's leading fashion retailers have come under fire after toxins were detected on their clothing in tests organized by environmental campaigner Greenpeace.
The group said yesterday it had investigated 20 fashion brands, including industry leaders Armani, Esprit and Gap and Chinese brands such as Metersbonwe and Vancl and found all were selling clothing contaminated with hazardous chemicals.
Of 141 samples, 89 were found to contain hormone-disrupting nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). Products from C&A, Mango, Levi's, Calvin Klein, Zara, Metersbonwe, Jack & Jones, and Marks & Spencer had the highest concentration.
Four items from Giorgio Armani, Victoria's Secret and Tommy Hilfiger tested positive for phthalates, which can harm the reproductive system, and two Zara garments were contaminated with azo dyes releasing cancer-causing amines.
"These are the big potatoes in the fashion industry. Zara alone churns out 850 million clothing items a year. You can imagine the size of the toxic footprint it has left on this planet, particularly in developing countries like China where many of its products are made," said Li Yifang, an official with Greenpeace East Asia.
Greenpeace noted that when NPEs are discharged into the environment, it breaks down to form nonylphenol (NP), an organic compound with toxic, persistent and hormone-disrupting properties.
"NP is known to accumulate in animals, and it can build up in food chains," Li said, adding that even low levels threatened the environment and human health.
The investigation found that almost all problematic pieces with identifiable places of manufacture were made in developing countries, including 21 made in China, the world's biggest textile manufacturer and exporter.
NPEs are banned for textile production in Europe. In 2011, they were placed on China's list of toxic chemicals severely restricted for export and import.
On Greenpeace's official website, Li said an increasing number of consumers were becoming "fashion victims" and contributing to the industry's pollution.
"But it doesn't have to be so. We've already witnessed commitments from sportswear giants such as adidas, Nike and the Chinese brand Li-Ning, to eliminate the use of all hazardous chemicals in the entity of their supply chains," she added.
These brands were among 14 found with NPEs in products last year when Greenpeace launched a campaign to expose links between brands, suppliers and pollution.
Greenpeace said seven major international brands - Puma, Nike, adidas, H&M, M&S, C&A and Li-Ning - had committed to change. Zara, Mango, Victoria's Secret and others were criticized for their lack of effort.
Vancl denied selling toxic clothing, saying their products complied with national standards.
"We always focus on the waste discharge and chemical residues management. Most of our material suppliers are renowned plants which strictly follow both the national and our own standards, If they fail to meet the requirements, we will order them to improve," it said in a response to the National Business Daily.
Other brands haven't commented on the Greenpeace report.