Did you know that your running shoes contains hazardous chemicals, some that get released every time you go out for a run?
No matter how fancy the shoe, it probably contains three components that don’t biodegrade. The decorative upper of the shoe consists of nylon, plastic or synthetic leather. The sole is more often than not, a synthetic petroleum derivative. The midsole is made of ethylene vinyl acetate. Manufacturing the soles produce byproducts like benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene. These are usually known as the “Big Four” and act as carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and irritants.
Some shoes with air pockets contain ozone-depleting gases. The bits of plastic contain PVC which is a hazard to both the environment and workers. The same goes for the glues that bind the outsole and the midsole. I suppose I don’t even need to talk about the tanning of leather. Now consider the rest of your sportswear…and then the rest of your wardrobe.
All this information is bound to put the latest Greenpeace toxics campaign into perspective. Greenpeace recently released a reported entitled Dirty Laundry which alleged that clothing from top brands like Adidas, Uniqlo, Calvin Klein, H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lacoste, Converse and Ralph Lauren were tainted with various hazardous chemicals. Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) in particular were found which break down to form nonylphenol which has hormone-disrupting properties. NPEs are actually banned in the EU but in Asian countries like China and Vietnam where many global clothing brands have manufacturing centers, lax pollution control methods means that it is still widely employed.
As part of Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign, Puma was the first to promise a toxin free product and also to eliminate toxins from its entire supply chain and entire life-cycle by 2020. Nike then went one step further and announced a “right to know” policy where they would ensure full transparency about the chemicals being released from its suppliers’ factories. This left Adidas running behind, but it appears now that they have caught up with their own ‘toxin-free’ announcement. Adidas announced that it will be working with other brands to ensure a toxin-free product.
According to Marietta Harjono, Greenpeace International Toxic Campaigner: “What we really want from a company like Adidas is to respect the right to know. We are seeking transparency throughout the supply chain and we want them to force their suppliers to disclose their chemical discharges.”
Textile processing is largely outsourced to the ‘developing’ world among these Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, China etc. Often these countries have lax environmental laws and cheap labour – precisely the reasons why they are outsourcing centers in the first place. Big conglomerates are not afraid to take advantage of these gaps in protections and in several instances use CSR policies as a band-aid to cover up the bullet-wound. CSR is not just a means to bring about a greater degree of stakeholder engagement but to actually improve the lives and environment of labourers down the supply chain. Real CSR initiative is seen in the back-end and manufacturing trenches, not in temperature-controlled boardrooms.