I have always been against fur and leather products and have always avoided both. However, some time ago I discovered that the ethical clothing goes far beyond veganism.

Information concerning the substandard working conditions and poor wages suffered by clothes industry workers have been well known for a while. In 2013 a shocking building collapse occurred of the Rana Plaza clothes factory, an eight-floor complex near Dhaka in Bangladesh. 1127 people were killed and about 2,500 were injured, most of the victims were garment workers. The factory manufactured clothes for several brands including Benetton, Monsoon Accessorize, Mango, Primark, Walmart.

In this context, India is currently trying to present itself as a safer alternative to Bangladesh as a clothes manufacturer, however, the Newsweek article appears to disagree with this claim. Their text doesn’t focus on working conditions, but describes the impact that the textile industry has on the environment and the local community.

Newsweek presents the situation in the Indian city of Tirupur known as Knit City, where half a million people are employed in the garment industry and where 90% of India’s clothing exports comes from. Clothing and materials from Tirupur are bought by famous brands such as Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, C & A, Nike, Walmart, Primark, Adidas, Polo Ralph Lauren, Diesel, M & S, H & M, Reebok.

The main environmental concern when relating to the textile industry is water. Firstly, the industry consumes huge amounts of water: manufacturing one pair of jeans requires over seven thousand liters of water, manufacturing a t-shirt – nearly 3,000. Secondly, during the process of dying fabrics polluting waste is produced. It can be either disposed, treated or dumped into the local waters. Unfortunately, the latter is often chosen as a cheaper solution. The textile industry is the largest water polluter after agriculture.

Polluted water is the biggest ecological problem in Tirupur. The Noyyal river is so polluted with chemicals, salts and heavy metals that local farmers petitioned to the Madras High Court to stop irrigation.The small-scale agriculture that was characteristic for the region has “fully collapsed”. 30 000 farmers in lost their livelihood and villages subsequently became ghost towns. Moreover, in 2002-2003 university research was carried out to examine the health effects of the water pollution, which showed that 30% of villagers suffered from waterborne diseases. In Cuddalore (another city in Tamil Nadu, where the textile industry is an important branch of the economy) the risk that an individual would developing a cancer is 2000 times higher than the average.

Newsweek cover with a t-shirt and "toxic fashion" article title The poor state of the Indian regulatory and justice system as well as frequent cases of corruption does not help the environment. The Madras High Court issued a directive to close any dyers who hadn’t brought their liquid discharge down to zero and the government introduced a system of special interest-free loans for the modernisation of factory plants. Still, releasing the wastewater into rivers seemed to be a cheaper solution. The utility company in Tamil Nadu was advised to cut power to Dyers that did not contempt of this order. This actions led to the move of dyers factories to outlying districts. Also, Tirupur Exporters Association made a representation to the Government that stated that export revenues of ₹ 11 billion was lost and because of the closures of dyeing factories, 100 000 people in the region lost their jobs.

The example of Knit City shows that there is no one fit all solution. The interests of farmers, workers and owners of dyeing factories contradict each other. There are also conflicting attitudes of people in Western countries. On one hand, verbally we disagree with the conditions in which clothing is produced, but through our purchases we support companies whose activities may not be judged as ethical.

Sustainable fashion – what can we do?

Since 2011 Greenpeace has been campaigning ‘Detox my Fashion’ which aims to encourage well-known companies to stop discharging toxic waste and also has its own monitoring unit that evaluates whether the brand is environmentally friendly – the Detox Catwalk. While, for example, H&M is one if the winners of the Detox Catwalk, Gap Inc. is one of the biggest losers. The company is seeking to improve its image and introduce more frequent inspections at its factories. Unfortunately, the supply chain in this industry is very fragmented and the auditor at the factory usually does not know where the material was dyed.

Since the production process is so fragmented and because we are dealing with conflicting interests I am concerned about the reliability of rankings on the ethical clothing producers. But I think that they are still a good point of reference and we should still keep track of them. In following posts I shall return to this subject and further investigate which evaluating organisations are trustworthy.

And what about you? do you read about the conditions in which a company produces before purchasing your clothes? Do you have any proven source of information on which companies are human and environmental friendly?

Full article from American Newsweek that was inspiration for this: The Environmental Crisis in Your Closet, by Adam Matthews / AUGUST 13, 2015