As one of the world’s big polluters, the textile, footwear, and leather industry uses a large amount of chemicals, each year consuming more than 9 million tons of chemicals globally. To break that down even further, 1,900 different chemicals are used in the production of clothing, of which the EU classifies 165 as hazardous to health or the environment.
From farming, where pesticides can be used to grow raw materials like cotton or flax, through to the production line where, among others, dyes, treatments or decorative materials such as denim finishes are employed, chemicals are used right from the beginning of the manufacturing process. Furthermore, these chemicals used along the supply chain can end up in water, soil, and air, harming the planet and its inhabitants.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen positive steps taken to address the issue of the damage to our environment, including the ‘detox commitment’ made by some of the key industry brands. But more needs to be done to achieve a safer and more efficient chemical management system for textile and apparel factories around the world. Because the complexities of chemical management remain largely misunderstood, many small to medium size factories – as well as some brands and retailers – often only react after a chemical-related incident happens. This delayed reaction can lead to supply chain disruptions, sales loss, and negative publicity.
Here, the sustainability experts for textile quality management company SgT, reveal the three best practices for textile, apparel brands, and retailers seeking to adopt a preventive approach towards chemical management in their supply chain.
3 Best Practices to Prevent Chemical Risks in the Textile Supply Chain
1. Knowledge is Key
Training on how to implement an effective chemical management program is essential for suppliers or factories. Basic chemical management training includes the following:
• Brand/retailer’s chemical management policy and procedures
• Chemicals used on-site, their hazardous properties and the impact on the employees / the planet
• Explanations of how to use information in Safety Data Sheet (SDS)
• Procedures for sourcing, handling, using, storing and disposing of hazardous materials
Furthermore, suppliers can opt for Additional Zero Discharge for Chemical Hazards (ZDHC) training, allowing them to gain skills in chemical management, risk assessment, and best practice to reduce their impact on the environment in the control and treatment of waste water discharges via practical examples of the different issues found on-site.
A clear understanding of the necessary compliance documentation as well as open communication with their suppliers is vital for brands and retailers that want to successfully implement a chemical management program.
For those whose chemical management processes are already advanced, a regular discussion around common issues at an operational level is crucial while continuously raising awareness within top management.
2. Upstream Assessment of Chemicals
By identifying risks earlier – before the product is developed – brands can avoid safety or non-compliance issues that might arise later. While most brands and retailers rely on Restricted Substances Lists (RSL) to manage their chemicals, they tend to lack focus on the upstream part of their supply chain.
The Restricted Substances List (RSL) is an essential tool for brands and retailers committed to ensuring they provide merchandise fit for its intended use by detecting the presence of restricted substances in finished products.
However the Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) – established in 2017 by the Zero Discharge for Chemical Hazards (ZDHC) – goes on step further, focusing on preventing the intentional use of certain harmful substances during the manufacturing process by testing at the raw material input stage. This means such substances are identified before they can enter the supply chain. MRSL testing can be carried out as per the ZDHC MRSL or customer-specified MRSL.
Suppliers that assess chemicals upstream can guarantee safe products that comply with market destinations by building a transparent and traceable chemical inventory to be used all along the supply chain.
3. Monitor Changes in the Supply Chain
The complexity of the textile and apparel supply chain – which involves multiple tiers with multiple players within those tiers – opens up the potential risk of having one of those actors modify or substitute materials at any given time. This risk is significant and should not be ignored.
Brands should identify and reduce/suppress the impact of these potential supply chain changes by implementing a transparent process for material procurement and clear communication between sourcing, design and regulatory teams, and the different suppliers.
A further solution is additional training for your key suppliers to raise their awareness of the risks associated with changing materials.
If you are interested to know more about this topic you can contact SgT’s quality experts at www.sgtgroup.net/contact-us
SgT can provide multiple solutions to help brands, retailers and their suppliers better manage the chemicals in their supply chain and ensure they won’t cause harm to people or the planet:
• Assessment of your existing chemical inventory to ensure its completeness or, if your factory doesn’t have one, creation of a comprehensive inventory with all the essential information.
• Implementation of chemical risk assessment and management audits (360° approach to chemical management) to ensure all aspects of chemical management such as safe purchase, handling, use and disposal of chemicals are followed in the factory.
• Expert advice on chemical risk assessment and chemical management to help you maintain compliance with global and local chemical legislation, MRSL, RSL and other requirements.
• Training for suppliers and brands to help them understand the key issues in implementing a chemical management system and best practice in how to overcome operational challenges
• MRSL lab testing and screening results to give a clear and easy-to-understand analysis of chemicals, allowing for focus on key risks.