An investigation found that leftover clothing from Clarks, Next and River Island are being unlawfully incinerated, causing pollution

An investigation has found that clothing remnants from brands such as Clarks, Next and River Island are being illegally incinerated, leading to harmful contamination.

The discovery of their clothing scraps being incinerated in giant plastic bags while releasing toxic fumes has led to accusations of “racial hypocrisy” against the British fashion companies and other big international corporations.

Hundreds of tons of textiles were burned in warehouses in Cambodia, including fabrics, labels or fragments from nine major companies.

The Daily Mail and Unearthed, the journalist arm of Greenpeace, collaborated on an investigation to find out how warehouses use the rags for fuel, as it is less expensive than burning wood.

Leftovers and labels from Nike, Reebok, H&M, Michael Kors, Diesel and Ralph Lauren were also among the mountains of rubbish that had to be burned.

Despite the fact that it is against the law to incinerate manufacturing waste in Cambodia, images of workers amid rising debris and additional images of people lighting oven fires with leftover clothing show workers are doing just that.

Activists and MPs last night urged companies to act immediately.

The chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Tory MP Philip Dunne, called the results “very worrying” and “raises fundamental problems for some of the UK’s largest clothing companies”.

according to dr Laurie Parsons of Royal Holloway, University of London, who has previously addressed the matter, bad regulation allows companies to “get the green pound of being green” without actually getting the job done.

It comes after the Competition and Markets Authority launched an investigation into possible Asos, Boohoo and George “greenwashing” at Asda, which involves making false claims about a company’s environmental credentials.

Many companies use facilities in countries like Cambodia to save on prices, but before products reach stores, tens of millions of tons of waste are produced.

Although Cambodia produces at least 90,000 tonnes of rubbish annually, Cambodia exports 40,000 tonnes of clothing to the UK each year.

Most is sent to landfill, but some is confiscated by middlemen and sent to kilns where bricks for construction are fired at temperatures of up to 650ºC.

Debt bondage, a type of contemporary slavery common in the brick business, keeps most workers locked up for decades while paying off debts from the owner.

Children have previously been spotted by researchers working at the kilns.

Offcuts from nine companies, each claiming to have extensive sustainability programs, were scattered among the stacks of plastic bags overflowing with trash.

In an effort to be “so sustainable, conscientious, [and] responsible” the British shoe manufacturer Clarks presented its motto “Every action counts” this year.

However, amidst the heaps of old clothes were insoles with the Clarks insignia on them. Second only to China in the percentage of Clarks’ production that is outsourced to Cambodia.

Despite the brand’s claim that “being ethical is a key cornerstone,” labels for Next have been discovered in the heaps of rubbish.

A 21-year-old brick kiln worker, who asked for anonymity, claimed he started working there when he was 15 and has frequent nosebleeds. His father, who worked in a brick factory, died at the age of 51.

Common harmful compounds found in clothing include ammonia, formaldehyde, and chlorine bleach.

“It’s horrifying to see fashion junk being turned into harmful pollution in kilns that employ modern day slaves,” said Greenpeace activist Viola Wohlgemuth.

She has criticized companies for “trumpeting” their environmental initiatives, saying, “That is blatant hypocrisy.”

Clarks claimed to be looking into the matter and had strict waste management policies. Next said it has strict policies and would investigate labels discovered in Cambodia, where it has hired ethics teams.

River Island said it imported just 1,000 things from the country last year and that it is investigating a possible violation of regulations.

According to H&M, the company has procedures in place to properly dispose of rubbish and an on-site employee regularly inspects the facility.

The owner of Diesel OTB said no clothes are made in Cambodia and the tags may be fake.

ABG, which owns Reebok, and Michael Kors said they are investigating the allegations.

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