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Sanyou Chemical Fibre, Viscose Factories, Hebei, China

Viscose factories may be linked to heavy air and water pollution and damage to marine life, company denies all allegations of pollution.


Viscose (or rayon)  has often been marketed as a more ecologically sustainable alternative to polyester because unlike polyester which is made from petrochemicals, viscose is made from cellulose. It is also praised by some fashion brands because it requires less water to produce compared with cotton. Viscose is found in a huge variety of clothes and is used by almost every major fashion brand to some extent. Although not inherently unsustainable, it is the production process of viscose that presents a very problematic story. Basically, wood pulp is extracted from wood, then turned into viscose staple fibre (VSF) and filament yarn through a highly chemical process using carbon disulphide. Viscose production faces a three pronged issue: the risk of deforestation of ancient forests, occupational hazards of factory workers who are exposed to highly dangerous toxins that have been linked to neurological damage, and heavy contamination that results from poor waste management of viscose factories, not only polluting nearby waters and air, but causing widespread illnesses to villagers in the vicinity of factories. [1][2]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Sanyou Chemical Fibre, Viscose Factories, Hebei, China
State or province:Hebei Province
Location of conflict:Tangshan City
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Chemical industries
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Manufacturing activities
Specific commodities:Viscose
Chemical products
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

The first production line started operating in 1998. The plants produce 500,000 tonnes per year of viscose staple fibre [4].

Project area:61.3
Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:18/05/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Tangshan Sanyou Group Co. Ltd. from China - parent company
Tangshan Sanyou Group Xingda Chemical Fibre Co.Ltd from China - subsidiary of Sanyou group, owner of viscose plant
Tangshan Sanyou Yuanda Fiber Co. Ltd. from China - Sub-company of Tangshan Sanyou Group Xingda Chemical Fibre Co. Ltd.
Relevant government actors:Nanbao Environmental Protection Bureau
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsExposure to toxic pollutants
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The company denies any allegations of environmental wrongdoings. Some fishermen have received small compensations for loss of livelihood but the pollution issue is not being dealt with properly.
Sources and Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Blanc, P.D. 2016, Fake silk: the lethal history of viscose rayon, Yale University Press, Cumberland.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[3] Sina 2012, “Sanyou Chemical Industries Pollution: Sanyou Denies any Water Pollution Activities and Bohai Sea Environment Protection Has Stepped in”
[click to view]

[4] Sanyou Group homepage
[click to view]

[1] Changing Markets Foundation 2017, Dirty Fashion: How pollution in the global textiles supply chain is making viscose toxic
[click to view]

Other documents

blackened water from Sanyou factories credit: Weibo user
[click to view]

credit: Changing Markets
[click to view]

black water coming out of waste pipe near Sanyou factory Credit: Weibo user
[click to view]

Other comments:This sheet mostly draws from the report by Changing Markets Foundation 2017, "Dirty Fashion: How pollution in the global textiles supply chain is making viscose toxic"
Meta information
Contributor:Mariko Takedomi Karlsson, research intern @ EnvJustice, [email protected]
Last update27/02/2018
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