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17 Aug 2022

Jean-Philipp Baeck,
Marta Kasztelan, Sam Quashie-Idun, Unearthed

Cambodia: Greenpeace investigation reveals garment production waste from major clothing brands used to illegally fuel brick kilns; incl. co comments

"Revealed: Garment waste from Nike, Clarks and other leading brands burned to fuel toxic kilns in Cambodia" 08 August 2022

An Unearthed investigation has revealed how off-cuts from Cambodian factories supplying major brands are being used to fuel brick kilns – exposing workers to toxic fumes. 

Our investigation found tags, labels, footwear, fabric and garment scraps from Nike, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Reebok, Next, Diesel, and Clarks at five different kilns alongside evidence that kilns were using garment waste in their fires. [...]

Often associated with plumes of black, choking smoke, the incineration of garment waste,  which commonly contains toxic chemicals, endangers the health of vulnerable kiln workers. [...]

It is also exacerbating the carbon footprint of clothes destined for Europe and the US, despite commitments to cut emissions from clothing manufacturers. [...]

Major brands said that burning garment waste in this way would be against their protocols, that the claims would be investigated and that they expected their partners and suppliers to comply with strict codes of practice.

A Clarks spokesperson stated “we are conducting a thorough investigation and believe we have identified the potential source. We believe this incident to be an exceptional occurrence. Our ongoing investigation has led us to believe that in accordance with our code of practice for suppliers, waste from the relevant Cambodian factories was provided to a government-approved waste services company.”

A Michael Kors spokesperson added “we strive to produce our products in an environmentally responsible manner, and to partner with suppliers to reduce emissions, waste and other environmental impacts of our products” and “will reiterate to our suppliers our expectations around proper collection and disposal of garment waste.”

When communicating with Next – we asked how and why their products ended up in a local brick kiln. A Next spokesperson answered “under clause 8.5 of the Next Standard Terms and Conditions of Purchase, suppliers cannot dispose of rejected, seconds, excess, samples or cancelled stock unless stock is sold through the Next clearance routes” and that “it appears this breach could possibly have taken place due to their suppliers in Cambodia not adhering to the policy.”

OTB Group, the parent organisation for Diesel, explained that “OTB constantly monitors the supply chain” and “the brand is no longer producing garments in Cambodia at the moment.” They added, “no evidence has emerged on the subject from the recent internal review we carried out with our former and only supplier active in the Country in 2020/2021.” [...]

Officially, apparel and footwear factories supplying some of the world’s beloved brands predominantly dispose of their garment and textile waste at a landfill or elsewhere through licensed waste disposal companies. However, a thriving unregulated garment waste industry means that some of it ends up at the kilns. [...]

Nike, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Reebok, Next, Clarks and Diesel also have supplier codes of conduct, which at the very minimum require factories in Cambodia to respect local environmental laws and dispose of waste in line with applicable regulations. [...]

We reached out to Nike and Ralph Lauren but they didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. 

[More detailed company comments are available on Unearthed's website]