Greenpeace Report Links Western Firms to Chinese River Polluters

Greenpeace has released the results of an investigation into water pollution by Chinese textile plants, and is pressuring Western brands such as Nike and Adidas to push for change. From The Guardian:

In their one-year investigation into China’s textile industry – the world’s largest, with 50,000 mills – Greenpeace campaigners collected samples from factory discharge pipes and sent them for analysis at laboratories at Exeter University and in the Netherlands. They discovered a range of persistent pollutants in the wastewater from two major plants.

The Youngor facility in Ningbo, near Shanghai, was found to have discharged nonylphenol, an endocrine disruptor that builds up in the food chain, perfluorinated chemicals, which can have an adverse effect on the liver and sperm counts, as well as a cocktail of other toxins.

These chemicals were detected in small quantities, but they are hard to break down so they tend to accumulate in nature to dangerous levels. Many were found in fish during an earlier study of toxins in the Yangtze food chain. Although the chemicals are not yet illegal in China, they are banned in the EU and many developed nations ….

Greenpeace says Nike, Adidas, Puma, H&M and Lacoste have confirmed a business relationship with Youngor though all denied making use of the plant’s wet processes, which are likely to be responsible for the pollution discharges into the Fenghua river.

At China Hearsay, Stan Abrams argues that Greenpeace “might be reaching a bit too far”:

Are these companies therefore “off the hook” in your eyes if they only do business with a subsidiary of the polluter or do not actually make use of polluting processes? Alternatively, would you hold them accountable no matter their commercial involvement with these polluters?

I find this a tough case, and I doubt that the companies in question will be able to respond in a way that will mollify Greenpeace, particularly when their competitors are engaged in similar behavior. It would be one thing if they were utilizing goods/services that resulted in the activity in question. But when their commercial arrangements are attenuated from the polluting processes, it’s asking a lot for them to take aggressive action.