Toxic pollution shame for UK fashion chains over burning of offcuts

Toxic pollution shame of high street brands over burning of offcuts as Next and Clarks are accused in fashion waste scandal

  • Huge British fashion chains are burning rags for fuel as it is cheaper than wood
  • The offcuts are incinerated in giant plastic bags and emit poisonous fumes
  • It is illegal to burn factory waste at the warehouses in Cambodia
  • The brands have been accused of ‘hypocrisy’ after pledging eco ‘responsibility’ 

Scraps from clothes made for Clarks, Next and River Island are being illegally burnt, creating toxic pollution, an investigation has found.

The British fashion chains are among global brands accused of ‘rank hypocrisy’ after the revelation that their garment offcuts are being incinerated in giant plastic bags, emitting poisonous fumes.

Fabric, labels or scraps belonging to nine major companies were among hundreds of tons of textiles being burnt at warehouses in Cambodia.

A joint investigation by the Daily Mail and Unearthed, Greenpeace’s journalism arm, reveals how warehouses are burning the rags for fuel as it is cheaper than wood. Scraps and labels belonging to Nike, Reebok, H&M, Michael Kors, Diesel, and Ralph Lauren were also found among the mountain of offcuts waiting to be incinerated.

Images show workers amid towering waste while others reveal labourers stoking the flames of the kilns with the fashion offcuts although it is illegal to burn factory waste in Cambodia.

Scraps from clothes made for Clarks, Next and River Island are being illegally burnt, creating toxic pollution. Pictured: A labourer putting a bag in a red-hot kiln

Last night campaigners and MPs urged the brands to take immediate action.

Tory MP Philip Dunne, chairman of the environmental audit committee, said the findings are ‘deeply troubling and pose major questions to some of the UK’s biggest clothing brands’.

Dr Laurie Parsons, of Royal Holloway, University of London, who has previously investigated the issue, claims poor regulation means companies can ‘get the green pound from looking green’ without doing the work.

The garment offcuts are being incinerated in giant plastic bags. Pictured: Workers in Cambodia sort through bags of garment waste at a brick kilm

It comes after the Competition and Markets Authority launched an investigation into potential ‘greenwashing’ – making misleading claims about eco-friendly credentials – by Asos, Boohoo and George at Asda.

To keep costs down, many brands use factories in countries like Cambodia but tens of millions of tons of waste are created before items hit shops.

Cambodia exports 40,000 tons of apparel to the UK each year but its fashion industry generates at least 90,000 tons of waste per year.

Most is dumped in landfill but some is intercepted by middlemen and ends up in kilns which are heated up to 650C to fire bricks for construction.

Nike offcuts (pictured) are being burnt. Others include Clarks, Next, Nike, Reebok, H&M, Michael Kors, Diesel, and Ralph Lauren

The brick industry relies on debt bondage, a form of modern slavery with most labourers trapped for generations paying off loans from the owner. Researchers previously found children working on the kilns.

Among the piles of plastic bags bursting with scraps were offcuts from nine brands which each claim to have far-reaching sustainability schemes.

British shoemaker Clarks this year launched its ‘every move matters’ manifesto to be ‘as sustainable, conscientious, [and] responsible’ as possible.

But insoles emblazoned with the Clarks logo were found among the piles of garment waste. Almost a quarter of Clarks’ production is outsourced to Cambodia, second only to China.

Labels for Next were found amid the piles of debris, despite the brand claiming ‘doing business responsibly is a fundamental cornerstone’.

One brick kiln worker, 21, who wished to remain anonymous, said he began working there aged 15 and suffers severe nosebleeds. His father, also a brick kiln worker, died aged 51.

Clothing commonly contains toxic chemicals including chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, and ammonia. Greenpeace campaigner Viola Wohlgemuth said: ‘It’s sickening to see fashion waste being turned into toxic pollution in kilns employing modern-day slaves.’

She hit out at brands for ‘trumpeting’ their efforts to be green, adding: ‘This is rank hypocrisy.’

Clarks said it is investigating and has strict codes of practice for waste. Next said it has strict guidelines and will investigate the labels found in Cambodia, where it employs ethical teams.

River Island said it only ordered around 1,000 items last year from the country and is looking into a violation of its rules. H&M said it has processes to dispose of waste properly and its local team does monthly site visits. Diesel owner OTB said it has no garments being made in Cambodia and the labels could be from counterfeits.

Michael Kors and Reebok owner ABG said they are investigating the claims. Ralph Lauren and Nike did not respond to requests for comment.

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