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Russian oil linked to western fashion, says report

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Image: Changing Markets Foundation

A new report has linked Russian oil to the clothes made by the world's leading retailers and brands, with hidden supply chains and tier 3 manufacturing contracts, despite the global sanctions in effect.

Of the many brands having exited or paused sales within the Russian market, there is ample proof some are producing collections using Russian oil to make polyester-based products.

Data from the Changing Markets Foundations report “Dressed to Kill: Fashion brands’ hidden links to Russian oil in a time of war” exposes the hidden supply chain links between major global fashion brands and retailers and Russian oil used to make synthetic clothing. The investigation focuses on two of the world’s largest polyester manufactures, Reliance Industries in India and China’s Hengli Group.

“We found evidence that Russia has become the largest oil supplier to Reliance Industries and its polyester manufacturing, and evidence that Hengli Group is also purchasing Russian oil to make its polyester-based products. Polyester from both companies are then sold to garment manufacturers around the world, who in turn produce clothes for many of the world’s largest brands,” said the report.

The Changing Markets Foundation’s 2021 report, Synthetic Anonymous, revealed that most fashion brands refuse to abandon their fast-fashion business models, reliant on cheap synthetic materials produced from oil and gas, and instead resort to greenwashing their collections through quick fixes, such as using polyester from recycled plastic bottles.

How it tracked Russian oil to western wardrobes

Using shipping tracking and supplier lists published by brands the CMF was able to piece together the supply chains of numerous global brands to Reliance Industries and the Hengli Group. While only a handful of brands provide sufficient public disclosure of their supply chain to allow direct links to Hengli or Reliance to be established, many brands included in this investigation are less transparent.

The research linked 78 percent of surveyed brands and parent companies directly or indirectly to the manufacturers, illustrating how widely polyester-based clothing can spread through the global fashion industry. These companies include H&M, adidas, PVH, Asos, Next, Inditex, Boohoo, Zalando, Nike, Uniqlo, G-Star, Benetton, Columbia, VF Corp, M&S and a long list of other retailers and high street brands.

Image: Changing Markets

Polyester is the most used fibre in the fashion industry

Polyester accounts for over half of all textiles produced and has become the driving force behind today’s fast-fashion model. While people are well aware of pervasive plastic pollution and environmental concerns related to plastic packaging, such as plastic bottles, few realise that the same product is also present in our clothing, and yet is practically unrecyclable, causes a significant waste problem, as well as contaminating the body and natural environments with plastic microfibres.

Increase in Russian oil exports

While the west has curbed its oil imports from Russia, imports by India and China, have surged, with data showing between August 2021 and February 2022, the monthly average landed import value of Russian oil by Reliance was 67.4 million euros, increasing nearly tenfold to 663.5 million euros per month from April 2022 onwards.

Brands are opaque about their supply chains for synthetics and certainly do not disclose the source of petrochemical products in their collections. Selective reporting also demonstrates a concerning lack of supply chain visibility from 39 of the 50 fashion companies investigated which linked to manufacturers that use Russian oil.

Clothes with coal origins

Despite the fashion industry’s rhetoric about decarbonisation, the Changing Markets Foundations survey analysis conducted in the fall of 2022 highlights that many prominent global brands have not yet formed a coherent stance on sourcing from suppliers that use coal to produce synthetics such as polyester or have plans to do so in the future. This is highly concerning given that our investigation found that at least 32 clothing companies are at risk of producing clothing from coal in the near future


Companies should establish concrete, mea- surable and time-bound targets to reduce the use of synthetic materials and move away from the unsustainable fast-fashion model, prioritise phasing out of synthetic fibres from children’s clothing and collections for new mothers, as there is emerging scientific evidence that young children’s health is the most vulnerable to microfibre pollution. Changing Markets Foundation calls for a complete phase-out of synthetic fibre use, with the following milestones: A 20 percent reduction set to a 2021 baseline in the use of fossil fuels in materials by 2025 and a 50 percent reduction by 2030.

Article source: Changing Markets Foundations report “Dressed to Kill: Fashion brands’ hidden links to Russian oil in a time of war”

Changing Markets Foundation
Sustainable Fashion