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Shandong Silver Hawk Chemical Fiber Co., Ltd., Viscose Plant, China


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]. Shandong Silver Hawk Chemical Fibre co. is a large producer of viscose and the viscose plant is located in Silver Hawk Chemical Fibre Industrial Zone [1]. Silver Hawk is the biggest factory in the area, and there are many villages surrounding this industrial zone [1].

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 this case study, although there is an absence of “mobilization” in the form of protests, residents have made official complaints with the use of petitions.

In 2010, local residents complained about the bad smell in the air coming from the Silver Hawk plant and also accused them of discharging untreated wastewater [1]. They stated that the smell always gets worse during the night, which seems to be a common theme across several viscose cases across China, where the factories pollute the most in the dark of the night.

According to Changing Markets, “in 2011, a report pointed out that Weifang Municipal Government invested 105 million RMB (approximately €13.7 million) in the implementation of the company’s carbon disulphide and hydrogen sulphide waste gas treatment project” [1]. However, again according to Changing Market investigators it did not seem that this investment had in any way changed the suffering caused by pollution for the local residents [1]. Some local residents have taken to social media platforms to complain about the pollution they are enduring.

Investigators from Changing Markets visited nearby villages to speak to residents as well as conduct pollution tests. The investigators observed a foul smell near the factory, and local residents told investigators that the smell is much worse at night, and that during summer they cannot even open their windows [1]. They also told investigators that they had been living under these conditions for around 8 years and they had not noticed any improvements [1]. The pollution tests indicated that both levels of hydrogen sulphide and carbon disulfides were higher than the legal limit [1].

Apart from the air, the water in the area is also being polluted with toxic waste from Silver Hawk. Several local residents told Changing Markets investigators that the company secretly discharges untreated wastewater during the night into the Beijiao Xinhe River, the water of which has a pungent smell [1]. Changing Markets investigators found that the level of zinc in the waters around the Silver Hawk factory were about triple the permitted limit [1]. Villagers have petitioned and complained to the local authorities and the government several times but their situation has neither changed nor been dealt with [1]. Villagers told the investigators that they have stopped drinking the well water for fear of groundwater pollution and they have stopped using it for irrigation as well [1].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Shandong Silver Hawk Chemical Fiber Co., Ltd., Viscose Plant, China
State or province:Shandong Province
Location of conflict:Gaomi 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:

Shandong Silver Hawk Chemical Fiber Co., Ltd., produces viscose staple fibres (VSF) at a capacity of 130,000 tonnes per year [3].

Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:01/05/2010
Company names or state enterprises:Shandong Silver Hawk Chemical Fiber Co., Ltd., from China - plant owner
Relevant government actors:Weifang Municipal Government

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of mobilization:Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), 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, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsExposure to high levels of hydrogen sulphide and carbon disulfides (air), and zinc (water bodies)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:unknown
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The local residents have been suffering from pollution for years and at this moment there are no indication that Silver Hawk is attempting to end their polluting activities.

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] Shandong Silver Hawk Chemical Fibre Co., Ltd. Website

Other documents

Blackened water near the Silver Hawk factory credit:

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 update18/12/2017



Blackened water near the Silver Hawk factory


credit: Changing Markets