The true cost of our clothing

The Yangtze River. Pollution flows into this river from factories making clothes for the West. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.

In July 2011, Greenpeace released a report entitled “Dirty Laundry”,  which examined hazardous water chemical wastes discharged from two large factories in China, the Youngor Textile Complex (Yangtze River Delta), and Well Dyeing Factory Limited (Pearl River Delta).

Chemicals found in the water discharged from these factories included both:

  • Alkylphenols (including nonylphenol), which are organic chemicals used in detergents, fuels and lubricants amongst other things. They are banned in the European Union due to their toxicity, persistence and ability to bioaccumulate
  • And, perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) which are persistent organic pollutants, which do not naturally degrade.

A Chinese problem you think? Well these two companies which I (and I am assuming you too) have never heard of are in fact suppliers to a number of major international brands (which I have heard of). These include:

  • Abercrombie & Fitch
  • Adidas
  • Calvin Klein,
  • Converse
  • H&M,
  • Lacoste
  • Nike
  • Puma

While these companies claim to only use the cutting and sewing faculties at these polluting plants, I would argue that by giving them their business there is a degree of irresponsibility to their actions.

 Researching this post, I discovered the term “Pollution Haven”, a theory that foreign investors are attracted to locating their company in a country with the lowest environmental standards. It seems fairly obvious to me, but I am amazed by the amount of study that has been done on this subject, a quick Google scholar search found me 139, 000 results! It’s a fascinating topic and I urge anyone who is interested in this to look further.

 I acknowledge that this report is not from an unbiased source, Greenpeace are an extreme and vocal environmental organization, and certainly not without their own faults. I am also aware that this is such a large issue, it is impossible to fully discuss in such a short post, however my aim is to introduce this topic, and give you something to think about.

 I do not aim to lambast these particular brands, only to establish a point, which is that these (and other) multibillion dollar companies have the power and ability to insist upon environmental responsibility in their supply chains. I believe that this is what we, as the consumer should demand of them.

 My suggestions? Buy locally made goods, goods produced by companies with good environmental policies, or products made in countries with strict pollution laws. We have a lot of power as consumers, and if companies do not listen to condemnation by environmental groups, they certainly will listen to the sound (or lack thereof) of declining sales.



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3 responses to “The true cost of our clothing

  1. SFH

    Great post! I always try to purchase things made in NZ or the USA if I can, not only for environmental reasons, but to protest against the horrible working conditions that overseas garment workers face.

  2. Felila

    In encouraging the masses to buy locally made goods you take jobs away from very poor people in the 3rd world. I’m all for naming and shaming those brands responsible for funding such insane, buck-passing practices. Pretty sure Cotton On doesn’t have an organic section.

  3. edward

    By encouraging people to buy locally you reduce the chance of us becoming a third world country in these times of the uncertain export market as our dollar is so high. Not only would it be environmentally friendly it would help to sustain our own country. We should sort our own problems out before we help others.

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