Shocker: Garment Waste from Nike, Clarks, Others Burnt to Fuel Toxic Kilns in Cambodia

An investigation by the Unearthed team of Greenpeace and Daily Mail newspaper have unravelled a scandal in Cambodia wherein off-cuts from Cambodian clothing factories that supply leading western brands, including Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, are being used to fuel brick-kilns—exposing bonded workers to toxic fumes.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • Unregulated garment waste gets to kilns through a web of middlemen purchasing garment waste directly from factories and selling it to truck drivers who deliver to the kilns.
  • To keep the kilns fired, workers burn fuel—in some instances a mix of garment waste and wood—around the clock.
  • The incineration of garment waste, which commonly contains toxic chemicals, endangers the health of vulnerable kiln workers.
A mother and her children walk past a burning brick kiln fuelled by garment off-cuts.
Dangerous Ground A mother and her children walk past a burning brick kiln fuelled by garment off-cuts. Some of the brands whose labels, fabric, clothing and footwear scraps Unearthed found at the kilns incinerating garment waste have committed to ambitious social and environmental sustainability targets in their operations. They have anti-modern slavery statements and pledges pertaining to eliminating waste and carbon emissions in their supply chain. include intercepting trucks with waste on their way to the landfill. Thomas Cristofoletti / Royal Holloway University of London (Creative Commons 4.0)

Off-cuts from Cambodian factories supplying major brands are being used to fuel brick kilns—exposing workers to toxic fumes. This has come to light following an investigation carried out by Unearthed, Greenpeace UK’s award-winning journalism project, along with Daily Mail.

What was found: The team 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.

The implications: The Unearthed report remarked:

  • To manufacture bricks, workers move dried slabs of clay by hand into the kilns, where they burn for a couple of days in temperatures reaching up to 650°C. To maintain such heat, the kilns need to stay fired, and workers burn fuel—in some instances a mix of garment waste and wood—around the clock.
  • 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. Reported health impacts include coughs, colds, flus, nose bleeds and lung inflammation.

The reactions:

  • Clarks: We are conducting a thorough investigation and believe we have identified the potential source. We believe this incident to be an exceptional occurrence.
  • Michael Kors: 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.
  • Next: 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... it appears this breach could possibly have taken place due to their suppliers in Cambodia not adhering to the policy.
  • OTB Group: The brand is no longer producing garments in Cambodia at the moment... 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.  

Some highlights:

  • A small truck of garment waste, used to kindle the fire, costs US $100. But a large truck of wood costs between $1,000 to $1,500.
  • Industries in Camboda burning solid waste – which includes garment and fabric scraps – can be fined $250. So far no one has been held accountable.
  • Unregulated garment waste gets to kilns through a web of middlemen purchasing garment waste directly from factories and selling it to truck drivers who deliver to the kilns.
  • Some of the brands whose labels, fabric, clothing and footwear scraps Unearthed found at the kilns incinerating garment waste have committed to ambitious social and environmental sustainability targets in their operations. They have anti-modern slavery statements and pledges pertaining to eliminating waste and carbon emissions in their supply chain. include intercepting trucks with waste on their way to the landfill.

The background on which the report was built:

The burning of acrylic garments, especially when combined with plastic bags, hangers, rubber and other waste as occurs in Cambodia, releases plastic microfibres and other toxic chemicals into the immediate environment which compromise the health of workers and neighbours on a short and long term basis. The human impacts, in particular, are substantially worse than burning wood and have been highlighted in a recent UK parliamentary report as a major problem in the industry.

Laurie Parsons
Royal Holloway University

[Parsons co-authored a seminal 2018 report exposing the practice of garment incineration in Cambodian kilns.]

 

 
 
  • Dated posted: August 8, 2022
  • Last modified: August 8, 2022