Textile and Clothing Chemical Safety Criteria in Asian Countries - When East meets West

The expectation that Asia would become a global market in the 21st century is now gradually being realized. Global apparel brands can now be found in malls in Shanghai, New Delhi, Seoul, and Doha. Where is your next selling destination?

Chemical regulations throughout Asia

Aside from the long established Japan Law 112 which restricts the formaldehyde content in apparel, the earliest textile chemical regulation in an Asian country was launched by India in 1997. That regulation was banning certain Azo dyes from textile and apparel products. It was followed by the GB18401-2003 regulation from China which was launched in 2005 and includes restrictions on azo dyes, formaldehyde, pH value plus some color fastness tests in order to address chemical and dyestuff safety as well as safety in wet processing.

Following the lead of the EU and USA for safety and restricted substances regulation, many Asian countries have become very responsive and have drafted or established their own consumer safety regulation for textiles and clothing. These new regulations require brands and retailers to seek out information and take great care when expanding their market in Asia. South Korea in 2010, Taiwan in 2011 and Egypt in 2012 have launched sophisticated official control systems for imported apparel that must be followed by all retailers and brands selling products in those countries.

Below are the common chemicals restricted by China, Egypt, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Banned Azo Dyes

Azo dyes are dyes which contain at least one azo bond (-N=N-) within the molecule. In textiles and apparel, azo dyes are commonly used as colorants. Certain azo dyes, when in a basic chemical environment or under certain enzyme conditions, might release harmful aromatic amines. Some of these aromatic amines are classified as carcinogens and are therefore banned.

Cadmium Compounds

Cadmium is a naturally occurring and abundant metal. In textiles and apparel, cadmium is usually used in plastics, dyes (usually red, orange, yellow and green) and metal accessories. Cadmium also is a well known stabilizer used in the manufacturing of polymers like PVC. As cadmium is relatively hard to oxidize, it is often used as a coating agent. Nevertheless, cadmium and its derivatives are often suspected to be carcinogens.

Flame Retardants

Two classes of flame retardants involving halocarbons are commonly regulated. These include brominated flame retardants such as polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDEs), which can be further broken down into pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE), octabromodiphenyl ether (octaBDE), or decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE). Another class of flame retardants are organophosphate flame retardants such as tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (TRIS), bis(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate, tris(1-aziridinyl)-phosphine oxide (TEPA). 

Because of their stability and heat resistance, Brominated flame retardants are used in a wide range of products like automobiles, electronics and textiles. PBBs and PBBEs/PBDEs are as toxic as PCBs and DDT. These compounds are suspected to be carcinogenic, and their stability also makes them dangerous to wildlife. They persist once they enter the environment and food chain, and are likely to pass up the food chain. TRIS and TEPA, the organophosphate-based flame retardants, also are suspected carcinogens.


Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound whose chemical properties make it suitable to be used as an anticreasing and anti-shrinking agent. It can even be blended with phenol and urea to form polymeric resins. In textiles and apparel, formaldehyde may be found in stiffened and permanent press fabric. Recently, pigment prints have been identified as a high risk material for formaldehyde failures. Despite its multifunction properties, formaldehyde is a highly toxic chemical which can induce irritation to mucous membranes and even cause cancer.

Lead Compounds

Lead is a metal which can be found naturally in some ores. In textiles and apparel, lead is associated with plastics, paints, dyes and metal accessories. Lead and its derivatives are suspected carcinogens and lead itself can adversely affect the human central nervous system, kidneys and immune system.

Organotin Compounds

Organotins are those compounds containing at least one tin-carbon bond. The major commercial applications of organotin compounds are as plastic stabilizers, catalytic agents, industrial biocides, antifouling paints, glass coatings, and pesticides.

Organotin compounds are environmental pollutants and particularly harmful to aquatic environments. Organotins are very toxic to marine and freshwater organisms even in very low concentrations. Seafood is the primary source of human exposure to organotin compounds, and the most common harmful effect is immunological impairment. Among these compounds, tributyltin (TBT) and triphenyltin (TPhT) are the most commonly used in the textiles and apparel industries since DBT is still used as stabilizer in many PVC applications and plastisol prints.


Phthalates are a ubiquitous class of compounds used most commonly as a softener for products made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The term “phthalate” refers to the di-ester derivatives of phthalic acid and thus represents a group of different, though structurally related compounds.

Phthalates have diverse uses in modern commerce. One of their primary uses is as a plasticizer in flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products such as blood bags and children’s toys, etc. They are also used as fixatives, detergents, lubricating oils, and solvents. As a result of these diverse uses, phthalates are found in many consumer products, such as textiles, footwear, and cosmetics, thus inevitably creating opportunities for human exposure. Phthalates are very often found in plastisol prints on garments and in PVC based materials used for coating, soles in shoes and many PVC based accessories used in the garment and footwear industry. Recently, it has been demonstrated that exposure to phthalates can alter the estrogen level in human and animal hormonal systems, resulting in serious health problems such as cancers and reproductive and developmental impairments.

Over the years, these chemical hazards have been communicated to the public. It is not just an issue to manage country regulations to get your merchandise through the border. Executing chemical safety control in your supply chain shows social responsibility and protects your brand image.

Karen E. Kyllo, Ph.D.
Deputy Vice President, Global Softlines
SGS North America Inc.
t: +1 973 461 7934


SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 70,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,350 offices and laboratories around the world.