Picture of workers in a factory

Chemical hazards in manufacturing -
ZDHC program

Chemical products, from plastic to clothing, including packaging, are at the centre of manufacturing.So how can we reduce the hazards?

Out of 33 million chemical substances, approximately 2000 are regulated. Why? Because they are harmful to people or the environment. Chemical products, from plastic to clothing, including packaging, are at the centre of manufacturing our products.So how can we prevent the risks?Let's take stock.

What is a chemical hazard? 

Chemical pollution is the product of artificial or natural substances that are hazardous to people or their environment (for example, hormone disruptors: bisphenols, pesticides, etc.). They can cause short-term visible reactions, such as allergies. But also have invisible longer-term effects: threatening our hormonal system and leading to illnesses.

The pollution can also be environmental. We find these in nature as a result of industrial chemical waste. Once in the water, the air or the soil, these toxic elements can impact biodiversity and, subsequently, us.

How does product design create a chemical hazard?

A t-shirt can have a colour, have prints, be water repellent... All these features come from chemical treatments. If most of the substances used are safe, it is however imperative to check the integrity at every stage (at the time of production, for the workers, when wastewater is released into the environment, at the time of storage, for Decathlon teams, when the product is being used by customers...).

If a substance has to be removed, it has to be done throughout the value chain.

Picture of a men in a factory

How can we prevent these risks?

At Decathlon, the Quality team is doing a toxic and legal watch to better understand the worldwide chemicals requirements to define the playground for the suppliers. They monitor as well the production of new chemical substances.

Based on this work, they produce chemical specifications also call RSL: Restricted Substances List, that suppliers undertake to comply with. They train them in making best use of them. After which, checks are carried out on location in the factories or directly on the products.

Chemical hazards in manufacturing

DECATHLON’s products are tested in third part laboratories to ensure they do not contain hazardous substances, a strong control is implemented to guarantee the compliance with the RSL.
Moreover, to go further, Decathlon’s provide to suppliers trainings to help them to understand better the requirements on chemicals management.

Helping suppliers manage chemical risk

To harmonise its procedures and establish best practices to manage chemical risk in its value chain, DECATHLON signed the ZDHC (Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals) Foundation initiative in 2022. This organisation supports the collective commitment of signatory brands and their suppliers through the application of the Roadmap to Zero programme and production standards, to reach its objective of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals.

Each year, an external auditing firm evaluates the progress made by each signatory through analysing performance indicators established by ZDHC. Then, based on the results of the report, the companies are ranked into three maturity levels :
- Level 1 for which companies demonstrate their knowledge of ZDHC sustainable chemical management and how to implement ZDHC Solutions in their decision-making for more sustainable chemical management

- Level 2 for which companies must demonstrate continuous improvement and their successful implementation of ZDHC tools in their value chain

- Level 3 equips companies to position themselves as leaders in combating the use of hazardous chemicals DECATHLON reached level 2 of this classification in 2023, one year ahead of its initial goal. This is a reflection of the
work carried out by the company over the past five years to align itself with ZDHC’s vision, notably through its use of the Restricted List of Chemicals (RLC).

DECATHLON aims to reach the top level of excellence offered by ZDHC by 2026.
In 2023, DECATHLON teams also worked hard to get as many concerned suppliers as possible8 involved in the ZDHC approach. So, 317 Rank 1 and Rank 2 production sites began working toward aligning themselves with Roadmap to Zero standards (78%). These production sites connected to the foundation’s platform (ZDHC Gateway) to share their data, reflecting the growing importance attached to the programme by DECATHLON’s supplier network (+30 points compared with 2022).

Results of the Roadmap to Zero programme integration as of 31 December 2023:
- 47% of component production sites reported their chemical stocks (34% in 2022)
- 27% of production sites participated in the chemical risk management training programme (18.6% in 2022)
- 74% of concerned production sites reported their industrial wastewater quality results (26% in 2022)

ZDHC project: zero discharge of hazardous chemical substances

"Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemical" programme is a foundation of 170 contributors: clothing and footwear manufacturers, chemical producers or NGOs. What is the objective? Achieving zero discharge of hazardous chemicals into the environment. In essence, bring about change on the suppliers' side. DECATHLON officially became part of this on the 14th of January 2022.
To achieve the ambition, the program “Roadmap to Zero” helps brands to implement sustainable chemical management best practices such as guidelines, training, platforms and solutions across their whole value chain. For our customers, it's the assurance we are taking action to make the world safer.

The foundation brings us the skills and tools to better manage hazards in production. We also provide our expertise on the subject. For our customers, it's the assurance we are taking action to make the world safer.

Our commitment to ZDHC program

DECATHLON SE commits to support the ZDHC Mission to enable the textile, apparel, leather and footwear industries to implement sustainable chemical management best practice across the value chain. Through collaborative engagement, standard setting, and implementation, ZDHC Foundation will advance towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals (ZDHC Mission). Company commits to support the ZDHC Foundation Vision of the widespread implementation of sustainable chemistry, driving innovations and best practices in textile, apparel, and footwear industries to protect consumers, workers and the environment (ZDHC Vision).

DECATHLON commitment towards ZDHC applies to the whole group (including individual brands within Decathlon) linked with ZDHC scope: Textile, Leather, Apparel and Footwear.
By consequence, all facilities working with DECATHLON involved in the manufacturing of Textile, Leather, Apparel or Footwear are required to implement the “supplier’s requirements” whatever the factory is a component and finished-good producer.
Decathlon adopts the complete ZDHC MRSL & ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines, and fully commits with ZDHC CMS (Chemical Management System), TIG (Technical Industry Guide) & MMCF (Man Made Cellulosic Fibers).

commits to participate and engage in the creation, development, testing, improvement and joint implementation of ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme (ZDHC Programme) , guidelines, tools, solutions and initiatives that advance the ZDHC Mission and ZDHC Vision.

Our roadmap to Zero:

Decathlon must reach the highest level in terms of chemical management by 2026.

Graph of Decathlon roadmap Zero Program

From foundational to progressive: we pass our second Brand to zero assessment

Every year a report based on Kpi and metrics, is produced by a third party assessor (KPMG). The aim is to measure the level of implementation of the ZDHC roadmap inside each brand's supply chain.

We did not think it was possible to level up in one year but we did it!
Progressive level means we successfully implemented ZDHC roadmap (guidelines, trainings, platforms & solutions) in our supply chain and started to achieve minimum performance in each program.

The ZDHC program

The Roadmap to Zero Programme is organized into three focus areas which are interlinked to improve chemical management.

- Input
Chemicals used in the supply chain are constantly checked, and non-verified chemicals are progressively substituted by safer alternatives to ensure ZDHC MRSL conformance.

- Process
Guidelines & trainings guide suppliers to implement the best Chemical Management System in the factory. Suppliers are trained on chemical management in plant, ensuring good procedures and best practices are in place to reduce their environmental impact

- Output
Wastewater, sludges & air are analysed to ensure that any rejects from the factory will not impact the natural environment: clean water, safe air, no soil contamination…

Concrete examples

Picture of a woman on a paddleboard

Inflating 'Toluene-free' stand-up paddles

At DECATHLON, kayak and stand-up paddle manufacturing is toluene-free since 2022. What is it? It is a solvent in the glue used to assemble plastic layers of inflatable products.

What's the issue? Over time this substance can alter men's eyesight and fertility. In factories, compulsory protective eyewear was not always being used by workers. So the gluehad to be improved or withdrawn. The teams in charge of the process, after the approval of toxicologists, suggested a new glue reference to manufacturers. They are free to choose between it or select another product so long as it is guaranteed to be free of carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic substances (CMR).

The project's additional benefit: some manufacturers and competitors review their practices and give it a try. And what if our teams' impetus leads to 100 % of the stand-up paddle market being Toluene free?

Ban Phthalates use in our products

Phthalates encompass many esters of phthalic acid. Phthalates are incorporated into plastics to improve durability, flexibility, and transparency. Phthalates are typically mixed into polymers as an external plasticizer with no chemical bonding. As a result, phthalates may migrate out of the material, resulting in exposure to people or the environment.

For example, inflatable Standup paddles are generally made in PVC and require the use of a plasticiser, such as phthalates, to get a flexible and durable material.
As a matter of health and environment impact, DECATHLON, as AFIRM, bans the use of 24 ortho-Phthalates substances6 from all our articles, at very low concentrations (500 ppm individual substances, 1000 ppm total) to follow regulations, ensure low health risk and ensure no presence in our processes in factories.
Itiwit in collaboration with the Welding Process, has eliminated the 24 ortho-phthalates, including the DINP from all their stand up paddles and kayaks.

LEAD restriction in fishing & hunting products

Lead substance is very hazardous for humans and the environment. Long term risk of exposition to lead induce impact on reproduction and children development. Besides that, it is very toxic for the environment from very low concentrations.

An uncompromising approach to cleaning up wastewater

When "manufacturing pollution" is mentioned, CO2 quickly comes to mind. However, water made unfit for consumption due to chemical pollution can immediately impact humans health and the environment. DECATHLON's Sustainable Development teams have been raising awareness among suppliers and reinforcing checks. Some manufacturing steps make intensive use of chemical products: dyeing, tanning, and paper mills...

Regular tests are therefore required to ensure the treated water discharged from the factory is cleaned up and usable for agriculture. Exceeding the standards, means exposing yourself to suspending production and putting a stop to shipments.

To find out more about production topics

Picture workers in manufacture

Our manufacturing responsabilities

At DECATHLON, we design our products. To this end, we are also at the origin of their production. In other words, we put in place a large-scale manufacturing system to make these products available all over the world and in larger volumes.

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The production and manufacturing of Decathlon products

Issues linked to manufacturing raise plenty of questions, which is entirely normal:we reveal all here.

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Conducting environmental audits - DECATHLON's audit system

Why do we carry out audits of environmental standards? At what type of suppliers do we perform environmental audits?

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Why does it take so much water to make a cloth?

The production of a single T-shirt requires 2,700 litres of water, the equivalent of 70 showers. How do we actually achieve such volumes?