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Jun 13

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13/06/2017 14:04  RssIcon

New report 'Dirty Fashion' exposes the environmental and social impact of viscose production

Around 7% of clothes are made from viscose which is also sometimes referred to as Rayon.  This means that you are likely to have some in your own wardrobe - either pure or blended in with other fibres like cotton.

Viscose is made by chemically treating wood pulp – usually from trees or sometimes from bamboo.  And because plants are the source material, viscose garments are sometimes referred to as ‘eco’ or ‘natural’.


Image: Viscose bags

It has long been known that one of the chemicals used in viscose production (carbon disulphide) has been linked to severe health effects including Parkinsonism, heart attack, stroke and even insanity in factory workers.  

While it is possible to produce viscose without this problematic chemical, new research out in June 2017 has revealed that the bulk of Europe’s high street brands – in their hunger for cheap, fast fashion – use older, more dangerous methods in factories in Indonesia, China and India.

Dirty Fashion report

The new report by research group Changing Markets in collaboration with Ethical Consumer asked more than 40 high street brands about the viscose factories in their supply chains.  

Two thirds didn’t even bother to reply which suggested to us that they didn’t actually know which factories they used.  Non respondents included some of the biggest players including Topshop, Asda and Sainsbury’s.


Image: Changing Markets Report


The companies which did reply, mostly those with better ethical reputations like H&M and Inditex, listed factories found to be problematic in the research.  According to Rob Harrison from Ethical Consumer:

“This suggests to us that toxic pollution, damaging to both workers and local communities, is endemic in the production of viscose globally.”


Consumer action

The report calls on consumers to “only buy viscose from brands that have made a clear commitment to sustainable sourcing of wood pulp and clean viscose production”.  

The main production method that does not release carbon disulphide is the lyocell process, largely either branded Tencel® (for wood-based fibres) and Monocel® (for bamboo-based fibres).  So if you see viscose clothing products claiming to be green or eco – look out for one or other of these names on the label.

For more information download the full report “Dirty Fashion – how pollution in the global textile supply chain is making viscose toxic”.



Impact of viscose production

At factories in West Java operated by Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla and Austria’s Lenzing Group, Changing Markets found villagers washing viscose products in the Citarum river, directly exposing themselves to toxic chemicals and adding to the river’s already considerable pollution load. 

At production plants in the Chinese provinces of Hebei, Jiangxi and Shandong, operated by viscose manufacturing giants including Sateri, Tangshan Sanyou and Shandong Helon, investigators found evidence of water and air pollution, worker fatalities and severe health impacts on local residents. 

At a plant operated by Birla subsidiary Grasim Industries in Madhya Pradesh, investigators discovered a close nexus between the local authorities and Grasim management which meant most violations, including incidences of water pollution impacting the Ganges, are going unreported.


Further reading: See our ethical shopping guide to Clothes Shops.  









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