News / Asia

Toxic Chemicals Found in Indonesian-Made Clothing

Models pose on a makeshift catwalk during a fashion show organized by environmental group Greenpeace titled 'Toxic Threads - The Big Fashion Stitch-Up', in Beijing, November 20, 2012.
Models pose on a makeshift catwalk during a fashion show organized by environmental group Greenpeace titled 'Toxic Threads - The Big Fashion Stitch-Up', in Beijing, November 20, 2012.
Kate Lamb
A global investigation by Greenpeace has revealed that clothing from well-known fashion brands produced in Indonesia contain hazardous chemicals, dangerous to both the environment and human health.

Greenpeace says global brands such as Armani, GAP, Marks & Spencer and Esprit are manufacturing potentially toxic clothing in Indonesia. The study titled “Toxic Threads, the Big Fashion Stitch-up” found that garments produced by the high street brands contain Nonylphenol ethoxylates, or NPEs.

NPEs, says Greenpeace Indonesia spokesperson Hilda Meutia, are harmful to both the environment and the human reproductive system.

“NPEs is both damaging for human health and the environment, I mean the water ecosystem but also to human health because research shows that it disrupts the work of our hormones," Meutia explains.

Greenpeace says the chemical is leaked into rivers during the manufacturing process and when the clothes are washed.

Transparency

But Indonesia’s Textile Association Ade Sudrajat dismissed the claims.

He says Indonesian law requires textile producers to be transparent about the types and levels of chemicals used - and that the Greenpeace report warrants further scrutiny.

“The regulation is strong enough for the textile industry in Indonesia and I think if the research is based on the garment industry, mostly in the garment industry the fabrics come from abroad, mostly from China and Korea. That is, the raw material fabrics,” Sudrajat says.

Admitting that Indonesia’s import regulations could be tighter, Sudrajat says Greenpeace should clarify whether the garments tested were cut from imported fabrics.

Textiles are a major export for Indonesia but a recent free trade agreement with China has created a tide of imports and put pressure on the local industry.

The report comes at a time when the Indonesian government is looking at tax breaks to increase competitiveness amid the threat of major job losses.

A decision this week to raise the minimum wage in Jakarta by 44 percent could see more than 100,000 textile workers laid off due to factory closures.

No sweatshops

In addition to the claims of environmental misconduct, Indonesian factories for Nike and Adidas were accused of supporting ‘sweatshop conditions’ this year for failing to pay minimum wages and mistreating workers.

But Fauzi Ichsan, an economist at Standard Chartered, says Indonesia is not a sweatshop economy.

“Indonesia is not third world anymore, not in the sense that labor is being exploited cheaply," notes Ichsan. "If you talk to industrial managers, industrial plants, they would argue that Indonesian labor is not only becoming more costly but the regulations, for example, the recent policy to end outsourcing will make Indonesian labor less competitive.”

Worst offenders

On the environmental front, Indonesia’s textile industry is not the only one under scrutiny.

The Greenpeace study tested garments produced by 20 global fashion houses in 27 countries. Globally, NPEs were found in 89 of the 141 samples examined.

Among the worst offenders were labels such as Calvin Klein, Mango, Marks & Spencer and Zara. Two samples from Zara contained cancer-causing amines from the use of azo dyes.

But Greenpeace’s Hilda Meutia says it is not trying to demonize any one brand.

“We are not targeting one specific brand, there are 20 brands that have this same kind of problem and all these 20 brands need to come up with a good plan to detox," she insists. "The more people power, the voice of the people that join this campaign will help corporations to answer to the detox challenge.  Everyone needs to be aware, not just the people wearing the clothes, because it affects a lot of people.””

A week after the Greenpeace report, the second of its kind, Marks & Spencer has agreed to phase out the use of hazardous chemicals entirely by 2020.

High street fashion brand H&M is also following suit, while ZARA says it will launch its own internal investigation.

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