Robert Swan, the first person to walk to both North and South poles, once said, ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it’. Vietnam has taken up the onus to at least ensure that the garment and textile factories do not become the cause of polluting the country’s environment – an effort that is worth every applause.
The local authorities in Vietnam have, lately, expressed strong concerns over some of the latest apparel and textile projects, especially those pertaining to dyeing ones. While validating on the same, Truong Van Cam, Vice President and Secretary General, Vietnam Textile and Garment Association (VITAS), averred, “Due to the constant risk of polluting the environment, the local authorities are extremely cautious over taking up any garment and textile projects.”
The initiatives and measures undertaken by the Government are noteworthy here. In fact, there are several areas and provinces in the country which have vehemently refused to take up any project that has an investment of US $ 100 million or more to avoid any kind of damage to the environment. Among the major cities that have rejected textile investments projects in recent times are Hanoi, Da Nang and Dong Nai.
The Hong Kong-based TAL Group also could not escape the strict provincial regulations. The globally leading garment manufacturer is yet to procure a licence to set up its much-ambitious textile and dyeing unit that is worth US $ 350 million. This is despite receiving consent from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.
In 2016, when TAL Group had first thought of setting up this dyeing plant in Vietnam’s Ba Thien 2 Industrial Park, it estimated that out of 12,000 cubic metres of water it would use daily, 11,840 cubic metres of water would be emitted as wastewater. This is in addition to the use of 5,17,000 kg chemicals annually – reason enough to give any Government a painful sting. The fear of wastewater polluting the populated areas of Vietnam has widened the gap between the Government and the company.
Sometime back,even the provincial authorities of Da Nang city had similarly refused to approve a US $ 200 million worth textile and dyeing project by a Hong Kong investor. The rejection was entirely owing to the project’s increasing probability of causing environmental hazards. Dong Nai and Ba Ria-Vung Tau provinces have distinctly listed out that no investment will be encouraged in anything related to textiles and dyeing sector.
Few years back, Hai Duong, a northern province, too stopped providing license to projects in six business fields that also included textiles and dyeing. It might be recalled that last year, protesting camps were set by villagers to block the entrance of Hong Kong’s Pacific Crystal Textiles in their province. The villagers accused the company of polluting the water in Hai Duong province, which lay on the outskirts of Hanoi.
Reportedly, the company was fined US $ 30,000 for causing pollution. Water was found to have breached limits of acidity and alkalinity balance, colour, total suspended solids, chemical oxygen demand and biochemical oxygen demand. Though Eugene Cheng, Head, Corporate Social Responsibility, Pacific Textiles, had said that necessary steps have been taken to stop the discharge of wastewater, the unconvinced villagers continued their protest.
Any textile facility that is today not following sustainable norms is even facing the threat of vacating its place and getting relocated. There are also now plans to relocate the Dong Xuan Textile Factory located in a residential area in Hanoi that employs a large number of people and fetches good business results. This happened recently when the people living in the neighbouring area of the factory complained of the troubles they were facing due to the emission of smoke from the factory. “We should not exchange the environment for economic value, so we are in favour of relocation of the company,” said Do Thang Hai, Vietnam Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade. Recently, Sri Lanka-based Fashion Garments too had to move its washing unit from Bien Hoa, Dong Nai to Tan Phu in Dong Nai.
It is important to note here that around 117 factories spread over 12 districts (in Hanoi) plan to be relocated by 2020. According to the regulations, land evacuated by pollution-emitting factories will be used for social utilities. The Government of Vietnam has allocated special zones such as Binh Chanh Industrial Park and Long An Industrial Park for setting up textile units. Besides, lands are being made available to investors – at cheaper prices – in such industrial parks so as to lure them into shifting or setting up pollution emitting units away from cities. The Government is also imposing heavy penalties on all factories and units that are not complying with environmental laws and regulations.
The current scenario testifies that the Government agencies in the country are extremely unwilling to support or license any textile or dyeing project. Statistics clearly show that over 90 per cent of foreign direct investment (FDI) in textile sector is today restricted to only apparel-only production projects (8.3 per cent of capital is used for textile and dyeing factories). With lack of adequate capacity and resources to handle dyeing projects, apparel-only projects are the ones that are getting green signal.If Provincial Government continues refusing textile and dyeing projects, Vietnam will have to keep outsourcing dyeing projects for foreign partners, because it does not have fibre and fabric for export.
Nevertheless, Vietnam is one of those few countries which has quickly learned the growing dangers of the industry – and there is no better learning experience than learning from the troubles China has gone through. The world has seen how much China is struggling even today to handle the pollution mess created by its garment and textile industry. Therefore, the strategies adopted and executed by the Government of Vietnam to combat the threats holds relevance. The project recently initiated by VITAS and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to focus on bettering energy sustainability and wastewater management is one such appreciable effort that signals ‘green’ days ahead for Vietnam’s garment and textile industry.