Li-Ning is the only Chinese brand listed by Greenpeace that has vowed to remove nonylphenols from its products. (Photo/CFP)
Major international apparel brands such as Armani, Nike, Adidas and Li Ning have been named by Greenpeace for using Chinese suppliers that use a hormone-changing chemical in their manufacturing processes, reports the Chinese-language Economic Observer.
Prior to making the results of its 2011 report public, Greenpeace had already sent letters to 15 well-known apparel brands in China, informing them that tests showed that two of their suppliers in China had been releasing waste materials that contained nonylphenol, a chemical that can affect hormones and harm reproductive systems. Though there is no concrete scientific proof, some experts believe clothing produced with the use of nonylphenol could damage health through contact with the skin.
Of the 15 companies, seven had agreed to "detoxify" their products, though Li Ning was the only Chinese company to take the pledge.
Nonylphenol has already been banned in products for sale by the European Union as it is regarded as a hazard to human and environmental safety, though businesses have continued to produce the chemical for export to countries where the legal restrictions are not as strict, such as China.
Apart from imports, China produces 47,000 tonnes of nonylphenol a year, though more than 50,000 textile factories in China still require more of the chemical for laundry, printing and dyeing processes, according to the Economic Observer. A Guangdong foreign-invested corporation recently applied for 10,000 tonnes of nonylphenol, of which 9,600 tonnes was approved by the Ministry of Environmental Protection for use in the Chinese market.
Last year, a second Greenpeace report revealed that 63% of select products tested contained nonylphenol, including items from apparel giants Zara and H&M. Even some luxury brands are also guilty of utilizing the chemical. Of all products tested from Italian brand Armani, 56% were found to contain nonylphenol.
So far, China does not have a hazardous chemicals list and has not issued an official request for industries to remove nonylphenol from their manufacturing processes.
"Central authorities and local governments are very focused on environmental issues, but this is a supervision problem, a technical problem and a money problem," an anonymous industry insider said.
China's Ministry of Environmental Protection did not establish a chemical management office until 2009 and did not pass its first hazardous chemical management regulations until Oct 2012. In the beginning of this year, China finally introduced its first hazardous chemicals environmental protection plan.