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Pollution blind spot in Chinese garment sector
09
Oct '12
On October 8th 2012, five environmental NGOs, Friends of Nature, The Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE), Green Beagle, Envirofriends and Nanjing Green Stone have jointly released, in Beijing, the Phase II Cleaning up the Fashion Industry Report.

The report highlights serious deficiencies in the environmental management of supply chains in China by a number of large scale apparel brands and it calls on consumers in China, and abroad, to use their voice to push brands to live up to their environmental responsibilities.

In recent years, we have started to see more reports of large scale international brands and retailers moving orders away from China. More and more items of clothing in U.S. and European shopping malls have labels showing that they have been made in countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and even Africa.

However, when we looked in detail into this problem we found that the decrease in share of textile exports was mainly concentrated in the garment processing sector. In the raw material processing sectors like dyeing and finishing, China still held the major position globally and exports are still rising steadily.

Because China still has many advantages in fabric manufacturing over other textile exporting countries we predict that in the future China will remain the textile material processing and manufacturing factory to the world.

Merely looking at this from an economic perspective China can be seen to have had both losses and gains in this new round of global distribution of labor. However, from the environmental and social perspective, the re-distribution of industries across countries is more worrying. China is losing the labor intensive garment manufacturing cut and sew sector of the textile industry.

This sector was able to provide a large amount of jobs, and what’s more, water consumption, energy consumption and pollution discharge were all minimal. The sector of the textile industry that China has retained is the resource intensive dyeing and finishing sector. This sector is not able to provide large amounts of jobs and water consumption, energy consumption and pollution discharge are all very large.

China’s current air and water pollution problems are extremely serious, and so to alleviate the harmful effect that this new spread of industrial developments could have on China’s environment, the discharge of pollution needs to be strictly controlled.

However, enforcement is not strict and the cost of resources like water is also very low. This means that dyeing and finishing companies commonly skip implementing water or energy savings, make no effort to reduce pollutant discharge and fail to even consistently abide by environmental laws and regulations.

The reduction of pollution discharge from the textile industry has become a focus for society. The central and local governments, as well as the general public and textile industry associations are all working hard to strengthen environmental management and push textile companies to reduce energy consumption and pollution discharge. A large number of apparel brands and retailers have also come out with their own sustainable procurement policies.

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