Part 3: Fashion and controversy

posted by Christy Tennery-Spalding

As the lavish display of Fall Fashion Week gets under way in New York City, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is announcing Out of Fashion: a campaign for forest friendly fabric.

“Out of Fashion” is our latest major effort to preserve the world’s endangered forests and we need your help to win. Add your voice here. With this campaign, RAN is bringing attention to a growing global threat to forests, animals and Indigenous communities — a threat that has been hiding in plain sight for years: dissolving pulp. Dissolving pulp is a highly influential commodity in today’s marketplace. And the increased demand for this product is accelerating deforestation and exacerbating human rights abuses across the globe.  

Big name fashion brands are complicit in the pulping of pristine forests — seizing Indigenous land, driving species loss, and threatening the climate — all to manufacture a product that makes its way into the clothes we wear every day.

Over the last few days, we’ve introduced the campaign and how and where the fiber to produce dissolving pulp comes from in our “Introducing: Out of Fashion” piece. We’ve discussed how and why that dissolving pulp has become attractive to clothing manufacturers in “Part Two: Dissolving Pulp and Fashion.” This, our third of the three part series, outlines what fashion can do about the problem.

Part 3: Fashion and controversy

In our second blog, we talked about how clothing companies are turning forests into fashion. In order to produce rayon, viscose and other textiles, companies source fiber through the destructive and toxic production of dissolving wood pulp, buying from suppliers who have been linked with deforestation and land grabbing. When clothing companies turn a blind eye to the impact that their fabrics have on the environment, they need to know that they are putting themselves at risk. Dissolving wood pulp is responsible for the destruction of rainforests, human rights abuses, land grabbing from Indigenous communities, the loss of habitat for endangered species and large-scale climate pollution — and it’s time for that to stop

What can the fashion industry do about this issue?

It is imperative that the fashion industry take action to clean up its act. There are clear steps that fashion companies (including famous brands like Louis Vuitton and Guess) should take in order to eliminate rainforest destruction and human rights abuses from their clothing lines.

Step One: Map the Complete Supply Chain

The first step is for companies to trace and map their supply chains. Only by clearly mapping supply chains can companies ensure that their parent or affiliated companies, as well as their vendors and suppliers, are not involved in illegal activities, rainforest destruction, and human rights abuses.

Step Two: Get a Global Policy

Companies must develop a global forest footprint policy which contains measurable and time bound targets to eliminate controversial fiber and suppliers from their supply chains. These policies need to include hard requirements for all forest fiber, including fiber they use for bags, reports, printer paper, etc. Companies need to release this policy publicly and share it with all of their supply chain partners.

It is also important to monitor and update these policies regularly ensuring that targets and timelines remain ambitious and in line with best practices. In order to successfully protect rainforests, peatlands, climate, and biodiversity; uphold human and labor rights; and eliminate controversial forest fiber, these policies — and the common sense and environmentally responsible values that they represent —  should take center stage within companies that purchase and use forest-sourced products.

Any policy must include targets to maximize responsible fiber (like recycled content and agricultural waste) and eliminate fiber from controversial sources.

Once the policy is in place, companies need to send a strong message, and educate supply chain partners and parent companies about the controversy associated with dissolving pulp. Apparel companies should ask supply chain partners to develop and implement similar purchasing policies, and communicate with government agencies to strengthen protection for forests and human rights on a policy level.

The last step is to verify the implementation of their policy. In order to demonstrate leadership, companies should release a time bound implementation plan and report on progress on an annual basis.

Are there companies doing the right thing?

There is already momentum for change within the industry. There are some companies who have already taken steps to eliminate controversial sources from their supply chain, and some companies also have commitments to dig into their supply chains. Their initiative on this issue demonstrates that change is possible, but we need your support to push the industry forward as a whole.

Please join us in transforming the fashion industry. It’s possible to move this industry, and with your help we can take on those yet to change. Add your voice and demand that the fashion industry as a whole move beyond rainforest destruction.