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Levi Strauss pledges to cut all use of toxic chemicals

February 2013

Jeans maker Levi Strauss has committed itself to removing all hazardous chemicals from its entire clothing manufacturing processes by 2020, in a growing list of successes for environment campaign group Greenpeace.

And the company said it will attempt to spread best practice by investing ‘in moving industry, government, science and technology to deliver on systemic change’ across the sector.

The move came just weeks after Greenpeace published two reports in December – Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up and Toxic Threads: Under Wraps – which claimed that clothes from major brands like Levi Strauss and Calvin Klein contained high levels of nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) and phthalates. Both chemicals are ‘endocrine disrupters’ and are hazardous to human and, particularly, aquatic life.

NPEs are used mainly as cleaning agents and detergents, and are often added to plastics and rubbers, as well as pesticides, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paints and coatings, and chemicals used in paper making. Phthalates have been linked with liver cancer, testicular atrophy, reduced sperm count and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems.

The Greenpeace research sought to discover whether a range of fashion products – among them jeans, slacks, t-shirts, dresses and underwear – were harmful to human health. It tested 141 items from 20 global fashion brands across 29 countries, all made via international supply chains from artificial and natural materials.

The researchers found high levels of phthalates in four garments, while nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) were found in 89 garments.

Levi’s said it supports the elimination of hazardous chemicals released into the environment, as reflected in the Joint Roadmap Toward Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals. As such, it is not the first clothing brand to make such a pledge – fashion retailer Zara has also committed to go toxic-free – but with net revenues of $4.7bn (£3.0bn, e3.5bn) in 2011, it is by the largest to make such a commitment.

In statement, Levi’s said: “The scale and complexity of this endeavour make this a very challenging task, but we will continue to work with other brands committed to the Joint Roadmap, material suppliers, the broader chemical industry, NGOs and other stakeholders to achieve this goal.

“If we are to deliver lasting solutions, our actions need to be guided by collaboration, transparency, fact-based decision-making” on applying “value-chain as well as life-cycle thinking and innovation toward the development of integrated chemicals management”.

“To achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020, mechanisms for disclosure and transparency are important and ... we will drive toward innovative solutions for transparency in chemical management disclosure.”

Levi Strauss | Global | Best Practice

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