Is China’s sustainable viscose ‘roadmap’ greenwash?

brett mathews | 27th November 2018

LONDON – A new report claims Chinese viscose factories which have signed up to a high-profile industry sustainability initiative are continuing to violate government regulations. The Changing Markets Foundation argues there are significant gaps in the Collaboration for Sustainable Development of Viscose (CV) which was launched with much fanfare earlier this year.

Dirty Fashion: Spotlight on China suggests the initiative is “short on ambition and will not meet NGO requirements on responsible viscose, which have been endorsed by leading fashion brands.”

The CV is a three-year Roadmap which claims to provide a way for Chinese viscose producers to achieve sustainable supply chains. It was launched amid growing concerns around the unsustainable nature of viscose production, a majority of which takes place in China. Moreover, production rates are increasing as viscose fibres are viewed by many as a better environmental alternative to cotton and polyester.

However, Changing Markets claims the CV Roadmap allows members to “pick and choose between different standards and lacks ambition and transparency.”

Changing Markets also told Apparel Insider that following an investigation by its team last year which uncovered pollution issues in Chinese viscose factories, there have been multiple further reports of violations of national and local regulations and pollution incidents at sites operated by CV members. These include:

  • For improperly managing hazardous waste and sewage treatment (Sateri, in 2018) ,
  • For discharging wastewater that exceeded national emissions standards (Sateri Jiujiang and Shandong Yamei Technology, in 2017)
  • For improperly stacking coal and leading to dust pollution in the area (Jilin Chemical Fiber Refco Group Ltd, in 2017)

Urska Trunk, campaign adviser at Changing Markets, said: “At a time when major fashion brands such as Next and Inditex are sending a clear message to their suppliers to commit to responsible production of viscose, it is hugely disappointing to see such shortcomings in the CV Roadmap. It is a weak attempt to clean up the Chinese viscose industry and much more needs to be done to ensure that Chinese producers are aiming for the same level of ambition as other industry players. In its current format, brands and retailers should not consider membership of the CV initiative and commitment to the CV Roadmap as proof of good environmental performance.”

China has 63 per cent share of the global viscose market. The new report also highlights that Chinese viscose factories – including sites operated by the members of the CV initiative – continue to violate government regulations.

The report also claims many viscose manufacturers have yet to adopt responsible production methods and sustainable wood sourcing practices.

To date, eight major brands and retailers – Inditex, ASOS, H&M, Tesco, Marks & Spencer (M&S), Esprit, C&A and Next – have publicly pledged to integrate Changing Market’s own Roadmap towards responsible viscose and modal fibre manufacturing into their sustainability policies. The Changing Markets Roadmap sets the viscose industry on a pathway to closed-loop manufacturing in line with what are currently the most ambitious guidelines for cleaner viscose manufacturing: EU Best Available Techniques (BAT).