Cambodia: Report on brick industry reveals use of garment fabrics to fuel kilns; some companies commit to investigate and take action

The Blood Bricks project looks into  modern slavery and debt bondage in the brick-making industry in Cambodia. In 2018, the labour ministry of Cambodia committed to investigate labour-related issues in the brick-making industry as a response to the report. Our story on the issue of modern slavery and debt bondage is linked here.

The research is ran by Royal Holloway, University of London and is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for International Development (ESRC-DFID) Development Frontiers Research Fund.

The full report is linked below, with excerpts of its discussion of the link between waste management in the garment sector, and the health and environment impacts. 

Because the report also noted that "labels found and photographed among garment fragments on brick kilns that were burning them" included labels of some international brands, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the mentioned companies to respond.

Marks & Spencer and J.Crew conducted investigations. Pull & Bear has commenced an investigation. Walmart & George at ASDA committed to investigate further. Their responses are linked below. Old Navy has not responded yet.

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Company response
12 March 2019

J.Crew's response

Author: J.Crew

J.Crew Group is committed to ensure that products are produced in an responsible and ethical manner to protect workers and the environment.  As such, we do not condone the practice of using garment scraps as a source of energy generation by brick-making factories in Cambodia.

We conducted in review of this matter, but despite our efforts were not able to determine on how our garments may have ended up as fire scrap at these local kilns. Going forward, as part of our monitoring we will not only request but verify that our factories are responsibly disposing of waste and are only working with legitimate waste collectors as assigned by the city and state.  We will do this while continuing to focus our work on areas where we believe we can have the most positive impact in our supply chain.

Company response
23 January 2019

Response by Pull & Bear (part of Inditex)

Author: Pull & Bear (part of Inditex)

Inditex has a longstanding commitment to a sustainable supply chain. We work with our suppliers to guarantee the highest social and environmental standards by requiring them to comply with the stringent requirements stipulated in our Code of Conduct for Manufacturers and Suppliers. Our strict guidelines also contractually oblige suppliers to dispose of items such as labels and materials related to previous orders only through certified waste management companies, to guarantee that they are processed in a responsible way.

 The report indicates that some textile scraps in Cambodia arrive to brick kilns employing workers under unacceptable conditions, and alleges that Pull&Bear labels were amongst this rubbish. We have limited production for Pull&Bear in Cambodia. However, Inditex can confirm that all its suppliers in the country have signed agreements committing them to responsible disposal of such materials.

 In light of this, Inditex has started an investigation among its suppliers to ensure that the correct procedures are adhered to, reminding suppliers to reinforce their processes by preventing middlemen’ from intercepting such waste and of their ethical commitments to the agreed environmental standard.

Article
21 January 2019

Full report: Blood Bricks: Untold Stories of Modern Slavery and Climate Change from Cambodia

Author: Katherine Brickell, et. al, Royal Holloway, University of London

Note from Business & Human Rights Resource Centre: This report is published by Royal Holloway, University of London. Below are excerpts of the report discussing the relationship between problematic waste management in the garment sector in Cambodia and its impact on health and the environment.

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"...In a small number of kilns, owners purchase pre-consumer waste, namely garment offcuts, as fuel for kiln fires. This waste emanates from Phnom Penh’s burgeoning garment industry, a key driver of national growth accounting for 75% of all manufacturing output in 2010, up from 15% in 1995..."

"Garment offcuts, big and small, that are discarded by factories are transported to a large dump on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. En route to this dump, trucks are intercepted by middlemen who purchase the garments, and in some cases, sell them to brick kilns to be used as fuel for kiln fires. As such, pre-consumer waste from the garment sector literally fuels the degradation of bodies in the brick-making sector."

“The gaseous emissions from kilns also have the potential to contribute to climate change. Clothing commonly contains toxic chemicals including chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, and ammonia. Heavy metals, PVC, and resins are also commonly involved in dyeing and printing processes. In light of this, there is a clear need for future research into the specific health and environmental impacts of burning garments; which we plan to pursue. This is particularly needed given that the practice of using garment fragments for kiln fires has also been reported in Bangladesh. The links between garment waste and air pollution are standalone and interwoven problems that extend beyond Cambodia and warrant greater attention.”

Download the full document here

Company response
21 January 2019

Response by Marks & Spencer

Author: Marks & Spencer

We have carrief out a full investigation in relation to the report referred to in your request for a response. 

As an ethical and responsible retailer, our workers conditions are of the utmost importance to us and all suppliers must adhere to our Terms & Conditions of Trade and our Global Sourcing Principles...

...[W]e have very clear guidelines in our "Excess Goods & Second Policy", on the use of these types of garments which applies to all suppliers and they are not disposed of as waste...

Within the report a picture of one of our labels is visible in a pile of rubbish and scraps and we have been informed that waste removal for the garment industry is carried out by one specific provider, which is mandated by the GMAC (Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia).

We understand from several of our factories, that there is an issue of poor waste management practices in the waste industry specifically regarding interception of waste by "middlemen"...resulting in scraps and rubbish being used inappropriately rather than being disposed of responsibly as intended by GMAC...UK legislation requires that waste is trackable from source to disposal via waste transfer notes and licences, the same is not true in Cambodia.

We will support our suppliers who have agreed to engage with GMAC to resolve the issues in the waste management providers processes, offering best practices from our own responsible polices.

Company non-response
20 January 2019

Old Navy did not respond

Author: Old Navy

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the company to respond. It did not.

Company response
20 January 2019

Response by George at Asda

Author: George at Asda

George at Asda care about the  dignity of workers in global supply chains and require high standards from suppliers on both social and environmental issues. Although the allegations in the report do not address measures within our supply chain directly, we are reviewing the report and engaging with organisations in Cambodia to better understand the issues.

Company response
20 January 2019

Response by Walmart

Author: Walmart

Walmart is committed to responsible sourcing and holding our suppliers to standards of conduct consistent with our Statement of Ethics, which can be found at https://www.walmartethics.com/home.aspx. We take your issue seriously and will be sure to elevate it to the appropriate parties. Thank you and feel free to contact us in the future regarding Walmart’s Statement of Ethics.