Toxic Textiles Report Finds Many Top US Apparel Retailers Coming Up Short
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
Washington, D. C. – A new report from national nonprofit Green America provides a company-by-company scorecard on the policy and actions of top US retailers on chemical management, sustainability and transparency. The new Toxic Textiles report reviewing 14 major US-based corporations shows much room for improvement across the sector on transparency, chemical, waste and water management, and workplace conditions.
The report includes a primer on the impacts of clothing throughout the supply chain and examines the social and environmental policies of major American apparel firms. Key findings include:
Above Average: Target, VF (The North Face, JanSport), Nike and Gap (Old Navy, Banana Republic) have better than average corporate practices. None of the major brands were found to be true environmental or social leaders.
Average/Below Average: Ascena Retail (Ann Taylor), Walmart, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Ralph Lauren, The Children’s Place and URBN (Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People) are behind the curve, but were not the worst. These companies tend to claim to have policies in place but fail to provide details.
Fail: Carter’s (OshKosh B’gosh, Skip Hop), J.Crew and Forever 21 indicate little to no corporate policy whatsoever on chemical management, factory transparency, factory safety, water management, alternative resources or waste/recycling.
Token Plans/Brands: Companies throughout the sector often incorporate one policy or brand of clothes to address a single issue in the supply chain and use it to claim overall sustainability.
Greenwashing: Many apparel companies claim to have policies addressing environmental or labor issues but have not followed through with specific plans, goals, metrics or timelines.
Transparency Still Lacking: Only four companies (Target, VF, Nike and Gap) have started to identify and restrict chemicals used in manufacturing and found in the final consumer product. Only six (Target VF, Nike, Gap, Acena, and Abercrombie and Fitch) list their supplier factories.
“Consumers want sustainable clothing, and the market is responding,” said Caroline Chen, Green America’s social justice campaigns manager. “But too often, many of the promises we hear from conventional companies are token sustainability initiatives that are band-aids to one small part of the problem, or empty platitudes without a plan to achieve real change. Sustainability shouldn’t just be a marketing trend.”
“For too long, companies have focused on blaming consumers as the primary driver of environmental and social degradation,” said Todd Larsen, Green America’s executive co-director. “And while it is important for consumers to adjust our shopping habits, it is also important for companies to start taking responsibility of the role they play in these issues, starting with the massive amounts of chemicals used in the industry.”
Key industry impacts include:
Textile production uses an estimated 43 million tons of chemicals every year, not including the pesticides used to grow natural resources, such as cotton.
Approximately 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile manufacturing.
The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.
Legal minimum wages are not high enough to provide workers with a living wage.