This should come across as good news to one and all – Adidas has joined Nike and Puma in committing publicly to eliminate all discharges of hazardous chemicals throughout their supply chain and across the entire lifecycle of their products by 2020.
The move from Adidas comes after a relentless detox campaign waged by environmental organisation Greenpeace on the issue since July this year.
Adidas acknowledged that Greenpeace had directed its campaign towards sporting goods companies in the belief that they can act as a catalyst for change for the whole industry. Why?
The sporting major itself had the reason why Greenpeace had been targeting the brand. “That’s because sporting goods companies, such as the Adidas Group, are already widely recognised for their leadership when it comes to environmental sustainability. The Adidas Group has one of the most stringent restricted substances policies of any consumer goods company operating in the apparel sector. We have been working successfully on the reduction and progressive elimination of hazardous chemicals in our supply chain for more than 15 years.”
Adidas accepted the fact that Greenpeace’s Detox campaign had been characterised as a competition among brands. In fact, it went on to say, “The simple truth, however, is that there can be no ‘winners’ unless the industry acts together. With that objective in mind, the Adidas Group has together with other brands been working tirelessly in recent weeks to bring the industry together in a forum (planned for end-September in Amsterdam) to develop a roadmap that will address the “zero discharge” challenge that Greenpeace has posed.”
The ‘Greenpeace effect’ was stood stark in the company statement, which addressed the environmental organisation specifically. The sporting major went on to promise, Within seven weeks, we will develop a roadmap specifically for the Adidas Group and our entire supply chain, which will include programmes and actions that we commit to, including actions concerning disclosure. In addition, we will develop and disclose a joint roadmap to detail specific programmes and actions that we can take collectively with other brands to drive our industry towards the goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals.”
The Adidas move is significant. For one, it joins rivals Nike and Puma in accepting Greenpeace’s campaign demands. Second, it shows that activist groups grounded in scientific facts can indeed make corporates see environmental reasoning.
The Greenpeace campaign went live after an investigation uncovered links between a number of major clothing brands and textile factories in China that were releasing hazardous chemicals into the environment. This was coupled with the fact that according to UN estimates industry is responsible for dumping 300–500 tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other waste into our waters globally each year.
Leading sportswear brands such as Nike, Adidas and Puma were all been linked to facilities that were discharging hazardous chemicals into critical waterways in China. The pollution coming from these facilities – which was uncovered during Greenpeace’s investigations – provided a snapshot of the kind of toxic water pollution that is endangering the health of people and threatening critical waterways in China and elsewhere across the globe.
Greenpeace backed this up with statistics:
• While developing countries produce nearly 75% of the world's clothing exports, the majority of major clothing brands are based in the Global North.
• China has been the world’s leading exporter of textiles and clothing since 1995.
• Virtually all production of Nike products occurs in the developing world Nike Inc., “Corporate Responsibility Report FY 07-09 Nike,” 12.”
• 136 factories in China make Nike products, “3.11 Interactive Map - NIKE, Inc”
• More than 90% of Puma’s suppliers are located in Asia, “Puma AG. 2010. Annual report 2009”
• 54% of adidas’ sales came from Europe and North America, “Adidas Group Inncome Statement 2009”
• 74% of adidas’ production was located in Asia in 2009, “Adidas Group 2010, Annual Report 2009”
With just two weeks into the campaign, Puma responded. It pledged to draw up an Action Plan within eight weeks. Puma did not want to wait. “This means taking preventive action before waiting for conclusive scientific proof regarding cause and effect between the substance (or activity) and the damage. It is based on the assumption that some hazardous substances cannot be rendered harmless by the receiving environment and that prevention of potentially serious or irreversible damage is required, even in the absence of full scientific certainty.”
Nike followed, with a similar timeframe. It said, “Within eight weeks, NIKE, Inc. will announce its action plan for the goal of eliminating hazardous chemicals within our supply chain addressing transparency, chemical management, including how we will address the need for industry disclosure in line with right to know principles9 and a timeline for the elimination of the highest priority hazardous chemicals. Due to the highly complex and shared nature of supply chains, we invite others in our industry to co-create a broader action plan for the industry, as collaboration is critical to drive progress.”
Given the fact that these three brands together account for a substantial portion of the global sportswear market, the world can indeed be a cleaner place if they stick to their promises. Sooner or later, most of the lesser players will have to follow suit.
Also see Greenpeace's Dirty Laundry report.