SGS Offers Solutions to Concerns Over VOCs During the Manufacture and Distribution of Shoes

incidents in which workers have been put at risk with symptoms consistent with
exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during the manufacture and
distribution of shoes, stakeholders are being urged to take a holistic approach
to reducing VOCs and safeguarding employees.

recent incidents in Vietnam have highlighted the dangers associated with the
release of toxic gases during the manufacture of shoes. In one case, over 110
workers began vomiting and passing out, and several people were hospitalized.
In the second case was less drastic but involved similar symptoms, with both factories
using the same equipment and shoemaking materials. Both incidents are currently
under examination, but the symptoms are consistent with gaseous poisoning from

Concerns over VOCs do not end with production. In
the Netherlands, it has been reported that shipping containers full of shoes have
been held at ports because the odor and gases contravened local laws. This
caused significant delays while the containers are degassed. If the gases
hadn’t been identified, the effects could have been similar to those in Vietnam.

organic chemical compounds that evaporate under normal indoor atmospheric
conditions. High volatility, a low boiling point means the compounds is more
likely to be emitted from a product or surface into the air. The European Union
(EU) defines VOC as, “any organic compound having
an initial boiling point less than or equal to 250 °C (482 °F)
measured at a standard atmospheric pressure of 101.3 kPa.”

VOCs are regulated in many
markets because of their negative effects, which can include headaches, eye and
throat irritation, nausea, dizziness and drowsiness, and some, such as benzene,
can be carcinogenic. For example, covering VOCs, the EU enforces
Regulation (EU) 1907/2006 (REACH), Directive 1999/13/EC (The VOC Solvents Emissions
Directive) and various regulations and standards for air quality and emissions.
Countries, such as China, that did not previously restrict VOCs are now
introducing regulations that will affect several industries. Globally, these
regulations do and will impact shoes production.

In addition, VOCs also appear on industry restricted substance lists
(RSLs) from organizations like the Apparel and Footwear International RSL
Management Group (AFIRM) or American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA),
and on manufacturing restricted substance list (MRSL), such as Zero Discharge
of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC).

There are three main points at which VOCs are introduced into the
manufacturing process:

  • Material processing e.g. leather tanning – degreasers, synthetic tanning agents and solvent-based leather finishing products – and the manufacturing of synthetic materials such as PU leather and PVC, etc.
  • Assembly – solvent-based glues
  • Finishing – substances used
    during cleaning, marking, polishing and dressing

During this process, shoes may come into contact with a variety of VOCs.
When 490 footwear manufacturing facilities in Zhejiang, China, were studied, they
found an extensive list of VOCs, including methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), toluene,
acetone, cyclohexanone, ethyl acetate, xylene, dichloromethane, cyclohexane,
dimethyl carbonate, vinyl acetate. Other ingredients included benzene,
chloroform, hexane, formaldehyde and acetonitrile.

manufacturers and distributors of shoes, the problem stems from the fact VOC gases
accumulate over time and may not, therefore, be readily identified until it is
too late. For example, when workers became ill in the Vietnamese factory. In
the case of shipping containers, it was when they reached dockside. In both
cases, the human effects were, or could have been, very severe. For the
manufacturers, brands and retailers, the impact on their business was also severe.

global markets, with international supply chains, demand speed and efficiency.
Manufacturing delays or rejection at a border will significantly impact the
supply chain. While companies are not currently able to completely phase out VOCs
in shoe manufacturing, they should ensure their use is controlled and
minimized. If products are rejected or delayed because of VOC application, the
financial impact can be severe.


SGS offers a comprehensive range of solutions to footwear
manufacturing industry. They take a holistic approach to VOCs, helping brands
implement multiple year plans for VOC reduction, undertaking root cause
analysis to identify where VOCs are entering the value chain. In addition, they
can support importers when consignments are held at borders. From processing,
through manufacturing and shipping, SGS has the expertise to help footwear
manufacturers meet their obligations regarding VOCs – delivering safe and
compliant products to markets around the globe. Learn more about SGS VOC

For more information, please contact:

Eric Wang, PhD

Consumer and Retail

Global SL Chemical Services and Innovation

Tel: +86 (0)21 6115 6893



LinkedIn: sgs-consumer-goods-&-retail

About SGS

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 97,000 employees,
SGS operates a network of over 2,600 offices and laboratories around the world.

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