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H&M, Zara and other retailers found buying from highly polluting factories in Asia

Major fashion brands like H&M, Zara and Marks & Spencer are buying material produced in factories that devastate people’s health in Indonesia, China and India.

Water supplies have been contaminated by toxic residue from the manufacture of viscose, a fibre used to make clothes that is supposed to be eco-friendly. It has been connected to increased risk of cancer, as the Independent reports.

Viscose is a plant-based fibre, so it is often promoted as an ethical choice for consumers. Despite this, most viscose is produced using a highly chemical-intensive process, according to the Changing Markets Foundation. The group found “clear evidence” that viscose producers are dumping untreated wastewater into local water supplies.


In West Java, Indonesia, locals were found washing viscose products in the river, exposing themselves to the toxic chemicals found in the fibre. Nobody swims in the river, according to investigators. In Jiangxi, China, viscose production had turned the water of the Poyang Lake black, killing fish, shrimps and stunting the growth of the crop.

In Madhya Pradesh, India, the home to a large viscose plant, families were found suffering of cancer and birth deformities after their groundwater and soil was contaminated.

“Cheap production, which is driven by the fast fashion industry, combined with lax enforcement of environmental regulations in China, India and Indonesia, is proving to be a toxic mix,” Changing Markets Foundation noted.

“With water pollution increasingly being recognised as a major business risk, shifting to more sustainable production processes should be high on retailers’ agendas,” Natasha Hurley, campaign manager at Changing Markets, said.

The foundation estimated that 10 companies control around 70% of global viscose production, leaving room for “rapid and transformational change across the sector”. Major brands should only buy viscose made in an eco-friendly way.

Daisy Wilder