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Some top brand names may be contracting river polluters as suppliers, reports Li Jing in Beijing.
The fashion industry is no longer as glamorous as it may appear and by wearing a pair of jeans you may have contributed to the pollution of China's rivers.
"For ordinary consumers, it's hard to know how many polluting companies there are behind each of the popular fashion brands," said Li Li, the founder and director of EnviroFriends, a Beijing-based environmental organization.
Li made the comment in a recent report called Clean up the Fashion Industry, published by five Chinese grassroots environmental organizations, which alleged that 46 Chinese and international clothing brands are being supplied by textile companies that violate the country's environmental laws.
The brands named in the report include a slew of internationally famous fashion houses such as Levi Strauss, Burberry, Polo Ralph Lauren, Guess and Zara, along with China's 361 Degrees, Anta and Youngor.
The website of Nanjing Zhongtian Yuanteng Textile, headquartered in the capital of Jiangsu province, said the company supplies a range of clothing brands, including Esprit, Guess and C&A.
However, the Nanjing government issued its most serious "red card" warnings against the company in both 2008 and 2009 for failing to adhere to environmental regulations.
Meanwhile in 2010, Nanjing Zhongtian received a "yellow card" for illegally discharging waste water without an official permit.
While it comes as little surprise that the country is registering such high levels of pollution, the findings have prompted renewed concern about whether the high price it is paying, in terms of the environment and health, is worth it, especially now that China is the world's second-largest economy and could provide more funding for environmental protection.
According to statistics from the China Textile Industry Association, the country processed 41.3 million metric tons of fibers in 2010, about 52 percent of the global total. In addition, the total export volume of clothing was worth $212 billion, 34 percent of the global total. However, those heady figures came at a heavy price.
Official figures from China's environmental authorities show that the textile industry discharged 2.5 billion metric tons of sewage in 2010, making the sector the third-biggest water polluter among 39 industries.
Photo illustration by Guillermo Munro / China Daily