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Greenpeace dance for river detox

At 5pm on July 23, at Beijing’s famous fashion shopping centre Sci-tech Premium Outlet Mall, more than 30 Greenpeace volunteers took part in a flash mob event.

Two young men pulled a box through an entrance at the side of the main plaza and suddenly music started to play. Volunteers strolling around the mall quickly lined up in the centre and began to dance, simultaneously taking off their brand-name T-shirts to reveal fresh garments underneath, daubed with the words “No toxins is cooler”.  Dancing mainly in front of an Adidas discount store, the group were there to campaign for an end to the use of hazardous substances in clothing production.

Greenpeace anti-pollution campaigner Zhang Kai told chinadialogue that four-minute flash mobs took place simultaneously in 36 cities across 14 countries, including China, Spain, Germany, France, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Argentina, Thailand and the Philippines, and involving more than 2,000 participants. The flash mobs have entered the Guinness Book of World Records for being the flash mob with the “the largest amount of public participation”.

The stunt was aimed at Adidas, Nike and another well-known clothing brand, Li Ning, as part of Greenpeace’s “Detox” campaign, which calls for these companies to phase out all toxic and hazardous substances in their production processes. It comes a week after Greenpeace released its report “Dirty Laundry: Unravelling the corporate connections to toxic water pollution in China”, and is part of the strategy to publicise the work.

Zhang Kai explained: “In textiles, big brand companies play a leading role in the clothing industry, like Nike, Adidas, Li Ning and other industry giants, and they are fully capable of improving their supply chains to contribute to driving toxic and hazardous substances out of the textile industry.”

China is the world’s biggest textiles exporter, and water pollution caused by the textile industry is a very serious problem. Nonylphenol, perfluorooctane sulfonate and other toxic substances are representative of chemicals still in widespread use in the industry. In developed countries, EU laws and international conventions have conducted controls of these substances. Ranked second for textile exports is the European Union, which has banned nonylphenol and perfluorooctane sulfonate and found alternatives to these chemicals. In the United States, perfluoroocatane sulfonate is also strictly prohibited. The Chinese government in January 2011 also included nonylphenol on its list of toxic chemicals for “strictly limited import and export”. It is against this background that Greenpeace launched its “Dirty Laundry” report and called for appropriate action, said Zhang Kai.

“So far, we have contacted several brands, including these three major sports brands, and hope that they can pronounce a precise timetable for phasing out toxic and harmful substances,” said Zhang Kai. But following publication of the report, only Nike issued a statement, on July 18, saying: “Nike stresses to Greenpeace that we are committed to a non-toxic future and we share that goal and we believe we have the opportunity to co-develop in order to reduce waste and eliminate hazardous chemicals and non-renewable energy consumption.”

However, the statement insisted that Nike’s suppliers mentioned in the Greenpeace report were only involved in cutting and sewing processes. It made no commitments on toxic and hazardous chemicals and Greenpeace is not expecting initiatives relating to a chemical phase-out schedule. Other brands have remained silent, but on their websites and in-business reports, environmental protection and clean production were mentioned as part of their codes of conduct.

“We will always make brands live up to their promises.” Zhang Kai said. Greenpeace spent more than a year in total preparing this report, most of the time spent sampling water and surveying the industry chain. Zhang Kai was personally involved in the data collection and has a firm grasp of all aspects of the work, including sewage-outlet issues at Well Dyeing Factory, one of the suppliers pinpointed by the report.

After the report was released, local government responded by saying the factory’s sewage emissions did not violate standards, as confirmed by monitoring done by the Environmental Protection Agency. Zhang Kai stressed that the “Dirty Laundry” report did not claim that the two emitters of sewage were in breach of national standards – “This is a gap in the national standards,” he said, frustrated.

In fact, China has emission standards for both the printing and dyeing industries, and the authorities have been actively stepping up legislation on toxic and hazardous chemicals in the past two years. Internationally, perfluorooctane sulfonate has been included in the “Stockholm Convention”, of which China is a signatory. And, in China, nonylphenol controls have been implemented, showing the government does understand the dangers these chemicals pose. But emission standards have not yet been developed. Currently, Greenpeace is working with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, calling for further restrictions of toxic and hazardous chemicals. The Ministry’s report has been sent and is awaiting a response.

In addition to the flash mobs, Greenpeace’s “Detox” internet activity is in full swing, with 3,000 microbloggers joining the action. Greenpeace invites more consumers to support their environmental goals by using microblogs to directly appeal to the brands to make changes.

Picture courtesy of Greenpeace. 

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