Textile production and garment manufacturing predominately takes place in developing countries where labour is cheap, unregulated and human rights abuses are endemic. The huge human and environmental toll is often forgotten at the top of the supply chain.
The ILO estimates that there are currently approximately 170 million child labourers in the world, predominately working in the textile and garment manufacturing industries.
HAZARDOUS WORKING CONDITIONS
Unsafe working conditions have resulted in numerous avoidable tragedies over the past decade. In particular 1,100 people were killed and 2,500 injured in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, which housed factories making clothes for 29 global brands. The accident was predicted, and entirely preventable. Since Rana Plaza, many major brands including Gap and Walmart have refused to sign up to the comprehensive and legally binding Bangladesh Safety Accord, which set out to make Bangladesh’s factories safe. Many brands complicit in the tragedy have failed to pay significant compensation to the victims (Clean Clothes Campaign)
Workers and the wider communities where textiles are produced can be exposed to hazardous chemicals which pollute the air and water. According to a report prepared for the FAO, UNEP and WHO, between 25 to 77million agricultural workers suffer poisoning from pesticides each year. Non-organic cotton manufacture uses tens of thousands of acutely toxic chemicals, including heavy metals, formaldehyde and aromatic solvent, many of which are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and have been associated with cancer, birth defects and hormonal and reproductive effects in wildlife and humans (The Soil Association UK)
Irresponsible fabric sourcing has led to land grabs in areas which are resource rich, resulting in the displacement of indigenous peoples, communities and the destruction of forests. In particular in Indonesia and Brazil, wood based fabrics such as rayon, viscose and modal have been linked to land grabs. (Rainforest Action Network)
DEPLETION OF RESOURCES
Conventionally produced cotton and petrochemical based fabrics are massive polluters and consume a significant amount of energy, fuel and produce millions of tons of CO2. The textile industry is one of the major consumers of water and fuel.
GM company Monsanto controls 95% of the cotton seed market in India. Increasingly expensive, pesticides can make up 60% of the costs of cotton production, eating into diminishing returns and pushing farmers into debt (cottonedon.org). Pests exposed to synthetic pesticides build up a resistance to them so that, each year, farmers have to buy and use more pesticides to grow the same amount of cotton.
Organic farming practices create healthy soils which make better use of water inputs and are more resilient in drought conditions. By eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, organic cotton keeps waterways and drinking water safe and clean. The water pollution impact of organic cotton has been shown to be 98% less than non-organic cotton production (The Soil Association UK)
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
Organic cotton farmers are doing their bit to combat climate change. By eliminating the use of manufactured fertilisers and pesticides and reducing nitrogen inputs, organic cotton growing produces up to 94% less greenhouse gas emissions. By maintaining their health, organic practices turn soils into a
carbon ‘sink’, removing CO2 from the atmosphere. (cottonedon.org)
Certified textiles also consider animal welfare and insure animals are not exposed to many of the cruel practices which are par for the course in the fashion industry. Going green means choosing textiles and garments from producers who do not test dyes or inks on animals and who use organic crops that encourage biodiversity and improve the quality of the ecosystems in the natural environment.
In the UK, over 1 million tonnes of textiles are sent to landfill or incinerated every year resulting in increased waste and carbon emissions. Certain synthetic fibres products do not decompose, while natural fibres such as wool decompose but produce methane which contributes to global warming. (BIR.org) Every scrap of fabric can be recycled or reused and given new life – they are either spun into new fibre, or shredded for industrial use such as roofing felt, car insulation, loudspeaker cones etc. (BIR.org)
TRANSPARENT SUPPLY CHAIN
Buying from ethical and sustainable sources ensures a transparent supply