Greenpeace is calling for consumer pressure, government action and improved corporate transparency after a new investigation found widespread toxic chemical residue in brand-name clothing from around the world.
Victoria’s Secret, the U.S. lingerie retail giant, is among the brands named in Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up. The Ohio-based chain is labelled a ‘villain’ for not developing environmental sustainability policies that target chemical use.
The report, released today, is a follow-up to Greenpeace’s earlier Detox campaign that examined the connection between worldwide textile production and water pollution. That effort led to consumer boycotts against sports clothing manufacturers like Puma and adidas and prompted some international brands, like Marks & Spencer, to commit to long-term chemical reduction programs.
Victoria’s Secret isn’t the worst offender in Greenpeace’s evaluation of 20 global fashion brands, but it still earned the dubious distinction of being parodied on the report’s cover page (above), which appears to show a dead, dye-stained model wearing a bustier and decorative angel wings.
According to Greenpeace, Toxic Threads is the result of a scientific investigation that saw the group purchase 141 clothing items in 29 countries from authorized retailers, then test the garments for specific hazardous compounds.
The study looked for toxic phthalates, NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) and carcinogenic amines found in certain dyes. The study list gives a black eye to some of the world’s most well-known brands, including Zara, Benetton, Mango, H&M and Calvin Klein.
Of the garments tested, four were from Victoria’s Secret, including two bras and a camisole made in China and a pair of cotton underwear made in Sri Lanka. The VS products showed trace amounts of NPEs and undetectable levels of amine dyes; however, the study found an unacceptable concentration of phthalates in the underwear sample.
Phthalates are a chemical residue from plastisol, the rubbery plastic compound used to create logos and graphics on clothing and are believed to have an effect on the female reproductive system and early childhood development.
“As inherently hazardous substances, any use of NPEs, phthalates, or azo dyes that can release cancer-causing amines, is unacceptable,” the report says.
“As global players, fashion brands have the opportunity to work on global solutions to eliminate the use of hazardous substances throughout their product lines, and to drive a change in practices throughout their supply chains.”
Victoria’s Secret was the only lingerie brand tested in the Toxic Threads study. And while the company’s test results are far less damning than most of the other fast-fashion brands tested, it is singled out for the failure of parent company Limited Brands to commit to proactive sustainability practices in its manufacturing.
Victoria’s Secret “[is] either completely non-transparent to their customers, or irresponsibly show no public awareness of the issue of hazardous chemical use in their products and their supply chain,” the report says.
Limited Brands’ corporate website includes a section under the title ‘Responsibility’ that discusses its environmental commitments, community engagement and labor practices.
The environment section includes information about the company’s efforts in sustainable paper sourcing (for its catalogues), reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing energy consumption and reducing the environmental ‘footprint’ of its stores — but there’s no mention of toxic chemicals and dyes used in its offshore manufacturing.
“We believe in doing what is right in our industry, our community and our world,” the company says on its website. “This includes conducting our business in an environmentally responsible way. To this end, we are always looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact.
“We are working to shrink our footprint through better natural resource management. We’re helping to reduce the demands on our forests by promoting sustainable materials in our catalogues. And we’re introducing programs to reduce our energy consumption and reduce or reuse materials whenever we can. Together with our manufacturers, suppliers, partners and customers, we’re helping to support a healthier planet.”
Greenpeace is calling on fashion brands to commit to zero discharge of toxic chemicals in manufacturing by 2020, and is urging governments to work toward a goal of zero discharge within one generation.