Detox for our People + Planet

Detox for our People + Planet

Hazardous Chemicals in Fashion Product Life Cycle

Key takeaways:

• Risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals at all stages of product life cycle
• Oeko-Tex provides best ethical standard (hazardous chemicals)
• APEOs and APs impair human and fish fertility
• Integrate global goal UNSDG 6.3 into business strategy
• Greenpeace Detox Campaign provides valuable information to get started

There are thousands of hazardous chemicals that are used within the clothing product lifecycle.
The risk they pose to human, non-human, and environmental health is dependent on the amount
present (in the sample) and the properties of the chemical compounds (how they interact with
other compounds).

Chemicals play a significant role in the manufacturing process from assisting in the fast turn
around of crop production to creating beautiful vibrant and water resistant fabrics. However, if we
are to reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #6 Clean Water and Sanitation
then we must make the next decade, the decade of action.


United Nation Sustainable Development Goal 6.3 states:

“By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of
hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially
increasing recycling and safe reuse globally”

If we are to meet this goal then we must equip ourselves with the knowledge to take action on protecting our People + Planet. This goal can apply to all stages of the product life cycle from the farm to factory to customer care (washing) and end of life. Fashion labels serious about ethics in their supply chain need to incorporate this target into their business strategy.


Pesticides and synthetic fertilisers used in non-organic cotton farming can have trace elements as
the product moves along the life cycle.

To add, denitrification, the chemical process of nitrogen fertiliser where oxygen is removed, consequently turns into nitrous oxide. As this is released into the air it becomes a potent greenhouse gas attributing to global warming. The run off of fertilisers and pesticides into ground water supplies and waterways causes environmental destruction. Unsustainable practices are short sighted. Sure, they can increase crop production but as land becomes desolate year on year, crop yields will fall.


Corethics is a strong advocate for the use of circular wastewater treatment plants due to their
ability to remove hazardous chemicals from reaching the environment (among various other
benefits!). The combination of chemicals used in the yarn processing, dying, and fixing process, if
not properly treated, can have lasting impacts on the local environment and human health.

In 2011, Greenpeace launched their Detox Fashion campaign asking fashion labels to stop hazardous chemicals from polluting waterways. Greenpeace identified 11 priority chemical groups:

  1. Alkylphenols (APs) & Alkylphenolethoxylates APEOs)
  2. Phthalates
  3. Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants
  4. Azo dyes releasing carcinogenic amines through reductive cleavage
  5. Organotin compounds
  6. Poly- and Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)
  7. Chlorobenzenes
  8. Chlorophenols
  9. Short-chain chlorinated paraffins
  10. Heavy metals: cadmium, lead, mercury and chromium (VI)

Take APEOs for example, this chemical is used across a number of products including wetting
agents, spinning oils (yarn and fabric), emulsifier/dispersing agents for dyes and prints,
impregnating agents, degreasing agents for leather hides, dyes and pigment preparations, and
down/feather fillings. APEOs pose little threat as they are weakly estrogenic. It is not until they are
released into the environment and become APs that they begin to bond with other cancer causing
chemical structures

APs have been known to bond with xeno-estrogens. To us humans, xeno-estrogens have
endocrine disrupting effects such as decreased sperm count, and an increase in testicular,
prostate, and breast cancer. To fish, birds, and mammals it is toxic, affecting fertility, decreasing
stocks and ecosystems become impaired.


Research has found that hazardous chemicals present in clothing can be attributed to skin
allergies, carcinogenic causing cancer, and reproductive disruptors. High concentrations of
APEOs have been found in grey water after customers wash their clothing item for the first time.
The importance of tracing, auditing, and ensuring your products are safe cannot be underestimated. Accreditations that look at human health as well as environmental impact provide a wholesome approach to ethics in the fashion supply chain.

Whether you’re a business owner or customer make sure you take a look at OEKO-Tex Standards.

Closed Loop

Australian fashion waste to landfill is amongst the highest in the world. We need brands to rethink
their product life cycle and consider the end of life and how clothing might continue in the cycle.
For those manufacturing offshore in developing countries where waste management facilities may be elementary or absent altogether, questioning how, when, where, and how factory waste is dealt with is important in closing the loop. With all the hazardous chemical effects on human, non-human, and
environmental health we desperately need fashion designers to understand what they are creating
and ensure it is doing good rather than harm.

When we are mindful of hazardous chemicals and detox, we become mindful of water and when
we act with ethics in both – we can create peace for our People + People.

Keen to get started on ethics in your supply chain? Book your first free first 15-minute consult today.

Offshore fashion production

6 Ways to Start Ethics in Your Supply Chain Today

For Fashion Designers manufacturing in Developing Countries

So, you’ve been thinking of how you can become an ethical, sustainable, or eco fashion brand?
There is no hard or fast way to guarantee ethics in your supply chain. And, for those startup or
small labels, a certification may have its financial and human resource barriers. In the meantime,
there are several ways you can get started on ensuring ethics in your supply chain.
Acknowledging that this change process requires patience, perseverance, and your personal
investment will aid in making your journey enjoyable.

Specific to Fashion Designers who choose to manufacture offshore, these 6 considerations will
help you get started on your ethical journey.


Communication is the most crucial element to the success of your efforts. Not everyone is a
strong communicator so, keep this in mind when planning that first conversation with your
suppliers. If communication isn’t your strong point, there are many ways you can improve your
communication skills from a full course to short online programs. A great place to start is to
evaluate your communication effectiveness by asking for feedback from your colleagues, friends,
and family.

Dialogue, a communication process, is characterised by focusing on listening for understanding how the experience of another shapes their beliefs. Be honest and upfront about your intentions and why social and environmental impact is important to you, personally. By using a dialogue approach to discussing ethics in your supply chain you are able to identify differences of opinion (and why that may be so) as well as identify commonalities for which to build upon.

For example, you might discuss something objective like a statistic or a local report on waste, you
then might explore your personal beliefs on waste and what you would like to see change or an
end goal. You might ask what your suppliers opinion is and what they would like to see change.
Try not to rush the process and expect a definitive outcome or action in the first discussions as
this may stunt further dialogue.


Educate yourself on the cultural landscape of your suppliers. A great place to start is SBS Cultural Atlas , a free and easy to use resource. In Indonesia, trust is a key component to a successful business relationship. Cultural guides can assist you in understanding practical ways to build strong cross-cultural relationships in your supply chain. Just bear in mind, culture can also be a complex mix of lived experienced within our globalised society. Fashion, music, language, religion, art, people and non-human species move freely across borders blurring the lines of a nation states culture.

“We are never just members of a nation but perform many identities, too, simultaneously and at different points in our lives”

Social issues

Find out what local issues persist in your place of manufacture before you engage in dialogue with
your suppliers. By understanding the history of and current impacts to human rights you will be in
a better position to discuss, define, and reach your social impact goals.

Take a look at local non government organisations (NGOs) or charities (in Indonesia these are
known as Yayasan) and get to know some of the pressing issues on the ground.

For an overarching framework on human rights check out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its 30 articles.

Environmental issues

Water, land, and waste management are the top three most critical environmental issues for
fashion manufacturing, globally. To better tailor your environmental impact assessment find out
what issues exist in your place of manufacture. Conduct the same enquiry as for social issues
listed above.

Water scarcity is a major global issue, you might consider understanding whether your operations
impede on water sources for local populations. Does your production have an impact on soil
quality? Do you have the necessary technology in place to ensure land is not adversely impacted
by your clothing line?

Local capacity to manage waste will greatly differ across the world. Find out what municipal
services exist, if at all, in order to understand how you might ensure you are not adding to our
global waste problem.

Personal Goals

Why are personal goals important? Your personal social and environmental goals will be the drive
that fuels you throughout this process. Try to be as “blue sky” (brainstorm with no limits) as
possible to reveal what motivates you. This will also assist you by providing personal dialogue
points for your suppliers. Without connecting your personal goals with your professional goals,
over time your plans may derail or may lose sight of why am I doing this? Set yourself up for
success and discover what motivates you.

Professional Goals

Consider integrating your social and environmental goals into your business plan. Ever heard of
the triple bottom line? Measuring your economic, environmental and social impact is a great way
to track your progress. This data need not sit tucked away in your computer file or collect dust on
the shelf. Professional goals can be creatively communicated (content!) with your stakeholders to
show how you are helping achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, your leadership in working collaboratively in a developing country, and your progress toward an ethical supply chain.

If you would like to discuss any of the concepts above or are needing tailored support, contact
Melissa for your first free 15-minute consult. Book via http://www.corethics.net/services

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