BEIJING - Some of the world's leading clothing brands rely on Chinese suppliers that pollute rivers with toxic, hormone-disrupting chemicals banned in Europe and elsewhere, environment group Greenpeace said in a report on Wednesday.
Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, Lacoste, Abercrombie and Fitch and China's Li Ning were among the global names identified following a year-long investigation that focused on two major Chinese suppliers, the Youngor Textile Complex in Ningbo on the Yangtze River Delta and the Well Dyeing Factory Ltd in the Pearl River Delta near Hong Kong.
All the brands mentioned in the report have confirmed they source products from one of the two Chinese suppliers, Greenpeace said.
Sabrina Cheung, director of corporate communications at Adidas, told Reuters the group had already investigated the claims, adding that its business relationship with Youngor was restricted to the cutting and sewing of garments.
"The Adidas Group does not source fabrics from Youngor Group, which would involve the use of dyestuffs, chemicals and their associated water treatment processes," she said in an email.
In a response published with the report, Nike confirmed that it sourced products from two factories belonging to the Youngor Group but said neither used the dangerous chemicals detected in the wastewater discharges examined by Greenpeace.
For its part, Li Ning said: "We have asked them to investigate their pollutant discharge immediately and report back to us."
Greenpeace's Li Yifang said China has yet to implement a systematic chemicals management policy, but responsibility must also lie with global firms outsourcing to China in an effort to cut costs.
"None of the corporations mentioned in our report have a comprehensive, publicly available policy that ensures that their suppliers are eliminating hazardous chemicals from their supply chain, so we believe they are perpetuating toxic pollution," she told reporters at the report's launch.
She said samples taken from the wastewater discharges from the two facilities revealed the presence of heavy metals as well as hazardous, hormone-disrupting substances such as akylphenols and perfluorinated chemicals, which are restricted across the European Union and the United States.
The chemicals — which can harm immune and endocrinological systems as well as the liver — are non-degradable and cannot be removed by water treatment plants, which is why they have been eliminated elsewhere, she said.
"We take the problem which Greenpeace raised seriously and we will work with Greenpeace to find a solution," Youngor said in a statement provided to the environmental group.
To mark the release of the report, volunteers from the group unveiled banners outside the world's biggest Adidas store in Beijing's fashionable Sanlitun Village shopping area before being quickly ushered away by management staff.
China has identified water as one of its most pressing environmental problems, with many of its major rivers contaminated by toxic run-offs from the country's factories and farms.
China's environment ministry said at the beginning of June that 16.4 percent of China's major rivers did not even meet standards required for irrigating crops.
Following a spate of burst tailings dams and untreated chemical discharges across China, tougher new policies are being drawn up to reduce heavy metal pollution in China's rivers by 15 percent in the next five years.
But China remains far behind the rest of the world, Greenpeace's Li said.
"We think our government should really act fast to develop a policy. China is really lagging behind because this was already a top issue in the developed world in the 1970s, and we are only just beginning to recognize the problem."
(Additional reporting by Tyra Dempster, Editing by Ken Wills)