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Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fiber Co. Ltd. Viscose Plant, China


Background: 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]

China currently produces over 65% of the world’s viscose fibre; its 21 viscose manufacturers produced 3.511 million tonnes in 2016 and this amount is expected to continue to increase [1]. As is the case with India and Indonesia who are the other two major producers of viscose fibre, the combination of government support, cheap labour and lax regulations is what has pulled viscose production away from Europe and into China [1][2].

The Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fiber Co. plant is located in Gutang town, close to Poyang lake, China’s largest freshwater lake [1]. As in many cases, Gutang was just a small town before industries started establishing themselves in the area. Today the town’s economy is heavily dependent on these industries, but it also suffers from the pollution caused by the industrial activity such as viscose production.

Mobilisation and Resistance: It shall be noted that in the case of industrial pollution in China, often times it is very difficult for local communities to mobilise or protest. Polluting industries bring economic activity and employment to local towns, so villagers are most of the time highly dependent on the industrial activity. Furthermore, it is not uncommon that companies hire security in order to ensure that journalists and investigators cannot report on any wrongdoings of the factories. Corruption and support from secretive governments is another reason that makes it very difficult for residents to stand up for their rights.

In 2011 it was observed that Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fibre Co. was still discharging untreated wastewater into Poyang lake, even though they had been constructing a treatment plant which was meant to be finished[4]. In January 2015, local residents filed complaints about untreated waste water being discharged into Poyang lake, affecting their drinking water and farmland [3]. A number of people from a newspaper went to Poyang lake with local residents and documented a terrible stench as they approached the lake [3]. Upon questioning, Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fiber Co. argued that they had received no complaints from villagers. Newspaper reporters spoke to villagers who said they were afraid of the diseases they might endure due to the toxic waste being discharged into Poyang lake [3]. Such accounts disprove the idea that villagers in industrial areas of China do not take their health seriously.

Over the course of four years between 2011 and 2016 there were several incidents at Jinyuan Chemical co. where the plant was both fined and forced to shut down due to noncompliance and them discharging untreated wastewater into Poyang lake [1]. In 2015, it was discovered that Jinyuan Chemical co. was emitting hydrogen sulphide, which is a highly toxic chemical, and the following year they were fined due to exceeding safe limits of hydrogen sulphide emissions [1].

Environmental and Health Impacts: Viscose production has for a long time been linked to severe occupational health hazards [2]. In this specific case, a factory worker died from chemical poisoning caused by an accident at the factory in October of 2016 [1]. The Changing Markets report also states that this worker also fell ill a year earlier in 2015 from hydrogen sulphide poisoning; the chemical that the factory is still emitting too much of today [1]. Changing Markets investigators tested the wastewater coming from the viscose plant and observed “excessive concentrations of the heavy metal zinc, which suggests the [viscose staple fibre] line has been operating secretly.” [1]. Tests also concluded that water that was being discharged straight into Poyang lake was both acidic and had a 10 times too high concentration of zinc in the water [1]. Local residents in Gutang town claim that the air is always heavily polluted and that a thick black smoke can be seen coming from the factory at night [3].

Although industries bring money to local communities, they also destroy other activities which were there before such as farming and fishing. According to local residents that Changing Market investigators spoke to, people have stopped coming there to fish in Poyang lake because it is too polluted and most of the marine animals cannot survive the acidity and poison in the lake [1]. It is safe to say that any of the potential catch from Poyang lake would be far too dangerous for humans to consume.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fiber Co. Ltd. Viscose Plant, China
State or province:Jiangxi Province
Location of conflict:Gutang Town
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 (rayon)
Chemical products
Industrial waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:01/04/2011
Company names or state enterprises:Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fiber Co., Ltd. from China - Owner of plant

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Local government/political parties
Forms of mobilization:Official complaint letters and petitions

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Groundwater pollution or depletion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Soil erosion
Other Environmental impactshydrogen sulphide pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts, Deaths
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsexposure to hydrogen sulphide
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The factory has been forced to shut down several times and has been fined, yet they seem to continue their polluting and toxic activities as before.

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

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

[3] Consumer Daily, "Villagers of Gutang Village, Lushan District, Jiujiang City Complain about Underlying Sewage Discharge by Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fibre and Jiangxi Datang Chemical to Poyang River", 13 January 2015

[4] Huanqiu, "Enterprises Directly Discharge Sewage into Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province, Treatment Plant Completion Date Remains Unknown", 9 April 2011

Other documents

Waste water near viscose factory credit: Changing Markets

Dead sheep near Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fiber viscose plant credit: Changing Markets

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



Waste water near viscose factory

credit: Changing Markets

Dead sheep near Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fiber viscose plant

credit: Changing Markets