Chemicals in Clothing

Last updated: December 2015


Greenpeace’s toxics campaign


How Greenpeace’s ‘Detox Fashion’ campaign is now beginning to bring about real change in the clothing sector.


Over the last three years Greenpeace has been campaigning around the use of hazardous chemicals and their use in the clothing industry. The campaign kicked off in 2011 when Greenpeace produced a report, Dirty Laundry, that exposed the use of hazardous chemicals in the sector and since then has gone on to produce a number of follow up reports. In tandem with their investigative work they have been running the ‘Detox Fashion’ campaign to encourage consumers to pressure brands into making commitments to eliminate toxic chemicals in their supply chains.

Over this period a number of companies, under pressure from Greenpeace and its supporters, have begun to phase out the use of many dangerous chemicals and made a commitment to having zero discharge of the most hazardous by 2020. Fourteen major companies have now committed to eliminating the use of toxics in their supply chains. Those featured in this report include M&S, Inditex (Zara), H&M, L Brands (La Senza, Victoria’s Secret), Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) and Benetton.

Pierre Terras of Greenpeace said of the campaign, “we are seeing some major global brands taking concrete steps towards the elimination of hazardous chemicals and more transparency, but a lot remains to be done to achieve toxic free supply chain and products by 2020 and to clean up the whole industry.”

Many of the companies that we have covered in this guide have failed to sign up to the Greenpeace campaign. Some have opted for weaker industry commitments (Primark, Armani and PVH) while others have made commitments to the Greenpeace campaign but have then failed to follow them up (Gap).

Pierre from Greenpeace says, “it is hard to say why some have failed to sign up and gone down a different route. Some companies, particularly greenwashers like Adidas or laggards like Gap are clearly not understanding the emergency of the toxic water pollution issue and the consumer demand for clean and transparent products. We hope that this will change in the near future.”


Hopes for the future

Pierre hopes that more hard hitting investigations that pose a PR risk to companies, together with pressure from other business and consumers, can help get more companies on board: “This movement is global and many consumers around the world are asking for toxic-free fashion. We hope that the brands and the textile sector in general will follow leaders like Mango or Uniqlo and guarantee fashion without pollution.” 

Another reason that many companies are lagging behind is the difficulty in changing processes quickly. Even trail blazer Marks & Spencer has found it a challenge. Despite working hard to achieve all its commitments it has fallen short on one as Daniel Himsworth from the company explains, “It has been more challenging than expected to find suitable alternatives for some chemicals. This is an industry-wide issue and we continue to work with major chemical suppliers to find suitable options.” 

However it is clear that, despite the challenges, the Greenpeace campaign is beginning to see a real shift in the industry’s attitude to toxics. 

Pierre urges all consumers to join the campaign by signing the detox manifesto but he adds “There are of course many other concrete actions you can do on a daily basis in order to consume more responsibly such as visit clothes swap parties.”








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