While we tend to think of Nike, Adidas, Puma and other brands popular in the UK as being distinct from each other, with very different styles and certainly very different logo designs and corporate brands, they are all supplied by the same Chinese conglomerate company—one that has recently been accused by Greenpeace UK of releasing toxic chemicals into China’s environment. As we saw in the BP Gulf Oil Spill, environmental disaster can be brand disaster as well.
Greenpeace has also pointed to textile plants supplying fashion brands Lacoste and H&M as environmentally destructive to Chinese waterways such as the Yangtze, Fenghua and Pearl Rivers.
These brands stand to be harmed by these accusations because, like BP, they have been cultivating environmentally and socially responsible brands that appeal to people in the UK. Few people associate the popular Lacoste logo design with ecological destruction, but they just might if Greenpeace can back up their accusations.
There have been several well-documented scandals with Chinese suppliers regarding pollution, low environmental standards and political corruption. Environmental advocates are quick to point out the hypocrisy inherent in claiming to have high standards for your brand while sourcing your production lines to notoriously negligent companies. China has notably lax regulations regarding the environmental impact of businesses and factories, so any supply chain that begins in this country is suspect. Unfortunately, many of your favourite UK products may have begun their life in China.
Greenpeace UK conducted a one year investigation into China’s huge textile industry. Samples from the discharges released from key Youngor factories were sent for analysis to laboratories at Exeter University and other European sites. The samples were found to have large amounts of pollutants and toxic chemicals that have the potential to further devastate the largely unprotected Chinese environment. The chemicals found included endocrine disruptors, perfluorinated chemicals, and other toxins. While these contaminants were found in low amounts, they do not break down and thus can build up quickly, devastating plant and animal life. These chemicals are banned in the EU but legal in China.
Youngor is China’s largest textile supplier and has clients including all of the brands listed above. This could be devastating for brands attempting to reach out to the ecologically conscious UK market. The brands that stand accused are claiming that they only use ecologically safe products from Chinese suppliers, but both Greenpeace and the UK public are sceptical.
Greenpeace UK is calling for European and North American brands to insist on high environmental standards from their foreign suppliers. This certainly will make their progressive claims a little less hypocritical while encourages UK consumers to buy from them.
If you are trying to build a UK brand, logo design and other visual elements are simply not enough. If you are not very careful about the ecological and social impact of your supply chain, it will almost certainly haunt you in the future. Take care to ensure that environmental disaster and branding disaster do not happen to your UK business.