SINGAPORE — A Greenpeace International report has pinpointed the Indonesian textile industry as a major contributor to pollution in one of the world’s dirtiest rivers while naming one textile plant operated by a company that supplies Western clothing labels as particularly culpable.
According to the report, “Toxic Threads: Polluting Paradise,” laboratory analysis of wastewater released last May by the PT Gistex factory into the Citarum River, located in the Indonesian province of West Java, found that analyzed samples contained several potentially hazardous chemicals. These included tributyl phosphate, a substance the report said is used for dyeing products but can prove toxic to aquamarine life, and nonylphenol, which the report called an “environmental contaminant with hormone disrupting properties.”
The report said that at least half a dozen companies, including Adidas Group, Brooks Brothers, Gap Inc. and H&M, had business ties with PT Gistex, though it isn’t clear whether their garments utilized textiles from the plant named in the Greenpeace report. Adidas’ and H&M’s Web sites name PT Gistex’s subsidiaries as garment suppliers, while Gap Inc. confirmed in an e-mail that it sourced products from PT Gistex but not from the factory named in the Greenpeace report.
“We reiterated to PT Gistex Group the importance of adherence to our Code of Vendor Conduct, including provisions regarding environmental health and safety and chemical restrictions,” said Debbie Mesloh, Gap Inc’s senior director of public affairs.
Multiple attempts to reach executives at PT Gistex, which manufactures textiles and apparel products, for comment were unsuccessful. In a statement on its Web site, PT Gistex said it had hired an external consultant to recycle wastewater from its facilities.
“We strongly believe that water is precious for all mankind…and our confidence is getting stronger…[that] we are doing [what will be a] great success,” the company said.
Greenpeace also said it found traces of hazardous chemicals in Indonesia-made clothing bearing the labels of Armani, Gap, Esprit, Mango and Marks & Spencer. At about the time Greenpeace collected wastewater samples, PT Gistex’s Web site hosted the logos of seven brands, including Gap, Esprit and Guess, all of which have since been removed. Apart from Gap, it isn’t clear if these companies source from PT Gistex, though observers say more than 500 textile factories — or about two-thirds of Indonesia’s textiles industry — are located in the vicinity of the Citarum.
The textile industry has long been fingered as a major contributor to pollution in the 170-mile-long Citarum River. The river, which takes its name from a plant that supplies indigo dye, provides up to 30 million people with water. Access to clean drinking water is an especially sensitive issue in Indonesia, which occasionally suffers from monsoonal floods that lead to convenience store shelves being emptied of bottled water.
“The PT Gistex facility is only one example of what is likely to be a more widespread problem of hazardous substances being released in the effluent of textile manufacturers,” Greenpeace said. “Unless [brands that source from Indonesian suppliers] act with the necessary urgency…eliminating the discharge of hazardous chemical into our precious and life-giving waterways will not progress at the pace required.”
This report follows previous Greenpeace investigations into the impact of textile manufacturing on the environment in China and Mexico. The spotlight on Indonesia, one of the world’s top 10 garment exporters, comes as rising costs in China prompt Asian apparel manufacturers to shift operations to Southeast Asia. WTO data indicate that Indonesia exported $14 billion worth of apparel in 2012, up 79 percent from 2010.