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BEIJING/BANGALORE (Reuters) - Some of the world's leading clothing brands rely on Chinese suppliers that pollute rivers with toxic, hormone-disrupting chemicals banned in Europe and elsewhere, environment group Greenpeace said on Wednesday.
Adidas, Nike, Puma, Calvin Klein, Lacoste, Abercrombie and Fitch and China's Li Ning were among the global names identified in the Greenpeace report, following a year-long investigation.
The report focused on two major Chinese suppliers, the Youngor Textile Complex in Ningbo on the Yangtze River Delta and the Well Dyeing Factory in the Pearl River Delta near Hong Kong.
All the brands mentioned in the report have confirmed they source products from one of the two Chinese suppliers, Greenpeace said.
Greenpeace's Li Yifang said China had yet to implement a systematic chemicals management policy, but responsibility must also lie with global firms outsourcing to China to cut costs.
"None of the corporations mentioned in our report have a comprehensive, publicly available policy that ensures that their suppliers are eliminating hazardous chemicals from their supply chain. So, we believe they are perpetuating toxic pollution," she told reporters at the report's launch.
To mark the release of the report, volunteers from the group unveiled banners outside the world's biggest Adidas store in Beijing's fashionable Sanlitun Village shopping area before being quickly ushered away by management staff.
In an emailed response to Greenpeace, Abercrombie had said Well Dyeing had not signed up for a social responsibility program that Abercrombie is part of.
The program monitors human rights and environmental compliances between companies and their suppliers.
"At this point, the mill will either sign up for the Apparel, Mills and Sundries program immediately or we will hire third party auditors to assess the situation in Zhongshan, China," Abercrombie said in the email dated June 21.
Greenpeace's Li said samples taken from the wastewater discharges from the two facilities revealed the presence of heavy metals and hazardous, hormone-disrupting substances such as alkylphenols and perfluorinated chemicals.
These chemicals can harm immune and endocrinological systems as well as the liver, are non-degradable and cannot be removed by water treatment plants, which is why they have been restricted across the European Union and the United States.
"We take the problem which Greenpeace raised seriously, and we will work with Greenpeace to find a solution," Youngor said in a statement provided to the environmental group.
Nike, Puma and Adidas said the companies only run cut-and-sew facilities, which does not warrant the use of chemicals.
"To the best of our knowledge, we are not contributing to the pollution of the Yangtze Delta through our factory partners," Simon Wainwright, a Nike spokesman, said.
"Nike currently sources from two factories of the Youngor Group Co ... These factories are cut-and-sew facilities; they do not have manufacturing processes that include use of the chemicals called out by Greenpeace."
Sabrina Cheung, director of corporate communications at Adidas, told Reuters: "The Adidas Group does not source fabrics from Youngor Group, which would involve the use of dyestuffs, chemicals and their associated water treatment processes."
Puma said it only used Youngor Knitting for cutting, sewing and finishing and, as per its information, that unit operates at a different location to the Youngor Group fabric mill.
"Youngor Knitting is also not using any fabrics of the Youngor Group for the production of Puma goods," Puma said.
When asked by Reuters whether they would end their business relationships with one of the Youngor units in order to send a message to the wider group, both Puma and Adidas said no.
"Where factories have issues, it is our practice and policy to work with them to resolve and remedy those problems," a spokeswoman for Adidas in Germany said.
For its part, Li Ning said: "We have asked them to investigate their pollutant discharge immediately and report back to us."
PVH Corp, which owns the Calvin Klein brand, did not respond to requests for comment.
China has identified water as one of its most pressing environmental problems, with many of its major rivers contaminated by toxic run-offs from factories and farms.
China's environment ministry said in June 16.4 percent of its major rivers did not even meet standards required for irrigating crops.
After a spate of burst tailings dams and untreated chemical discharges, tougher policies are being drawn up to cut heavy metal pollution in China's rivers by 15 percent over five years.
But China remains far behind the rest of the world, Greenpeace's Li said.
"We think our government should really act fast to develop a policy. China is really lagging behind because this was already a top issue in the developed world in the 1970s, and we are only just beginning to recognize the problem."
Additional reporting by Alistair Barr in San Francisco, Tyra Dempster and Victoria Bryan in Frankfurt, Editing by Ken Wills, Will Waterman and Joyjeet Das