Chemicals can have various known and unknown effects on humans, animals and the environment. The hazard posed by chemicals is not always obvious to the naked eyes which gives urgency about managing chemicals cautiously.
To know about chemical management, MRSL, RSL and our current stand on it, Kazi Farhan Hossain Purba from Textile Today interviewed Mohammad Omar Faruq– Senior Advisor, Chemical and Environmental Management System (EMS), at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH–who has over a decade of experience in chemical management, resource efficiency and cleaner production in textile and manufacturing supply chain.
As a contributor to the GIZ Toolkit on Resource-efficient Management of Chemicals in the textile and leather sector, he shared with us the fundamentals of chemical management and some crucial information to maintain MRSL, RSL. His views shared in the interview can show some pathways towards a sustainable industry that we all are craving.
Textile Today: How important is it to establish and implement a chemical management system in the textile and garment industries?
Mohammad Omar Faruq: In Bangladesh, there is a good number of tier two factories like dyeing, printing, finishing factories which are producing textile finished fabrics by wet processes for tier-one garment factories. During wet processing, the factories are using a significant quantity of chemicals every day. All chemicals are not hazardous at the same level.
Some chemicals have negative impacts on employees and the environment. These hazardous chemicals damage natural resources like water, soil. Hazardous chemicals have negative impacts on the consumers as well.
To ensure a safe working condition and a healthy workforce, we need to manage chemicals. If we do that correctly in a factory, we can comply with local, international legislations, buyers’ code of conduct and societal demands. Moreover, if a factory manages chemicals meticulously, they have higher ground and have the access to new international markets.
Proper chemical management can also lead them to reduce wastage and can optimize the use of the resources which will be cost-effective for the factory while protecting the health of the employees, consumers and the condition of the environment.
So, we can see that chemical management is not costly at all. Rather it is an investment for long-term business and to improve the goodwill of a factory.
Textile Today: How important is it to maintain MRSL and RSL while making garments?
Mohammad Omar Faruq: MRSL is a restricted list of chemical substances which can’t be used intentionally during textile production by producers. The chemicals which are very hazardous to the health, environment and have been scientifically proven that their negative impact is significant are enlisted there. Chemicals that are carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic are enlisted in the MRSL.
These chemicals also have severe impacts on different organs of the human body like the kidney, liver, nervous system and can cause hormonal imbalance in humans and other living beings like animals, fish, etc.
The factories which want to survive in export-oriented business, need to meet certain MRSL lists which usually come from international brands and retailers, business initiatives, legal authorities.
So, if a facility maintains MRSL, it will increase its potential to maintain and access business relationship with buyers, international brands and retailers.
RSL stands for Restricted Substances List. This is connected to the final product. The customers set a list of restricted chemical limits for final products.
The final products need to comply with that RSL and then the product is treated as ready to export. If RSL is not met, the final product cannot be exported and gets rejected. So, it turns into wastage which results in a great loss.
So, maintaining RSL is important to successfully sell the products to their destined markets.
So, MRSL and RSL both are important for the factory to protect the employees, the consumers, the environment and for staying in the business.
Textile Today: How can the MRSL and RSL be maintained?
Mohammad Omar Faruq: If it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed. To maintain MRSL, first of all, the factory needs to know thoroughly about chemicals. It is needed to track the chemicals from purchase to disposal, not only for production chemicals but also for all other chemicals used in the factory premises. The factory needs to communicate with the chemical suppliers according to the MRSL list and ensure that the requirements are fulfilled.
The factory should ask for different kinds of documents like laboratory analytical tests reports, declarations, safety data sheets, etc. it is better to do random tests because chemicals are produced batch-wise. The quality of chemicals can vary from batch to batch.
The chemical producers also collect raw materials from their suppliers. So, there is always a chance of some impurities in those chemical products which can be responsible for MRSL issues.
Not only the chemicals, but the factory also needs to ensure that all the materials and accessories are complying with MRSL requirements.
Likewise, to meet RSL, the factories need to be vigilant about the requirements of RSL from the very first stage of purchasing raw materials and accessories. During the process, the factory needs to ensure the chemicals are being used by following the technical manual, proper parameters like time, temperature, pH, so that chemicals don’t become an issue later for RSL.
At the intermediate stage, the factories can check to ensure that it is complying because imported fiber, yarn, fabric, accessories, etc. can have contaminants. For example, restricted pesticides may be used in the cotton field during cotton production which can be an RSL issue for textile producers later.
So from the beginning, the factory needs to confirm that there is no restricted pesticide or other restricted chemical substances in any raw materials or inputs.
The bottom line is, a factory needs to set up a chemical management system to manage all the above-mentioned aspects to ensure that MRSL and RSL are maintained.
Textile Today: What’s the impact of following MRSL, RSL correctly for the garment industries?
Mohammad Omar Faruq: When the international brands place an order, they follow some criteria where chemical management is one of the most important aspects. If a factory strictly follows MRSL, RSL, it means they are managing the chemicals properly and it is expected that they will get more exposure to the international market. So this is an advantage for the manufacturing factories.
It will help them to maintain their business, at the same time maintain their employees, consumers’ health while protecting the environment. It allows them to comply with local, international legislations, buyers’ code of conduct, promote their goodwill and get recognition internationally with different certifications.
It will enhance their potential to access financial institutes for their goodwill and business profile. So it has a diverse range of benefits for the manufacturing industries.
It creates trust for their consistent performance which increases their credibility in the social market. In that case, several tests for those trusted factories will be optimized and it will result in less cost for the factories.
As a result, those factories can afford those resources for other productive and innovative works. And it will increase the negotiation capacities of those trusted factories with the buyers. If their compliance status is in line with the legislation, international standards and beyond, they can ask for fair prices for all of their efforts. So in the end, It increases the sustainability and profitability of their business at all terms for the people and the planet.
Textile Today: How the variation of MRSL and RSL requirements from customers affects sourcing for textile and garment factories?
Mohammad Omar Faruq: MRSLs are usually generated by the authorities, business initiatives, international brands and retailers according to their business model and mission. So there are some variations in threshold limits for a specific chemical substance in the MRSLs. Still, the MRSLs from different entities are more or less similar. The same goes for RSL.
To manage MRSL and RSL, for instance, if a factory has 10 customers and out of the 10, if they go for the most stringent requirement for a specific chemical of one customer, all the requirements from other customers will be met for that specific chemical for the same production line.
This is one way to manage the variations. And the strategy is also similar for RSL.
The factories and buyers need to know the requirements, understand each of their business models and synergies between them so that the factory or the brand can avoid the duplication of efforts to achieve the same results. Because the goal is common- to protect the employees the consumers and the environment.
Textile Today: The current scenario of MRSL and RSL maintenance in Bangladeshi garment industries
Mohammad Omar Faruq: The Safety Gate rapid alert system for EU/EEA member states, the UK and the European Commission is working to ensure products are free from dangerous substances. Following their reports, it seems that Bangladeshi manufactured garment products’ performance is good regarding RSL maintenance.
MRSL is quite newer compared to RSL. A good number of factories are complying with MRSL at a mature level, a large number at a progressing level and some are in the transitional level.
So, we still have a lot of room to improve.
For further improvement of MRSL, we need further cooperation among chemical producers and MRSL managing entities. We need to have commitment, knowledge, innovation, safer affordable chemicals which is difficult to achieve for one stand-alone factory or a brand or a stakeholder.
So, in terms of MRSL, we need collaborative strategies and actions to improve further.
I’d like to mention that some chemical management projects have been implemented in the textile industry by GIZ, commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, along with business associations like BGMEA, BKMEA, brands like REWE Group, Tchibo GmbH, Orsay GmbH, Lindex, Deltex, Bestseller, H&M, in cooperation with universities like Bangladesh University of Textiles (BUTEX), BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology (BUFT), Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology (AUST) and factories.
The universities can be the knowledge hub for chemical management. In public and private sectors, solution providers need to work together to establish and maintain a sustainable textile industry.