Asia: Immersed in fashion

Nowadays, Globalization has been a major factor in driving changes in sectors such as the textile industry. For example, clothing manufacturers have changed their supply chain by decentralizing their manufacturing to countries with low labour wages and strategic ports. Thus, this allows the commercialization to be at low cost and with faster transportation, achieving an increase in profits. Therefore, most garments sold around the world are commonly seen with the famous "Made in China" label.

With the World Trade Organization report, the Asian continent accounted for 59.2% of the world's apparel production in 2019. In specific, China ranked as the top exporter of clothing with $158B, followed by Bangladesh with $33B, Vietnam with $28B, and India with $17B. (, 2020)

As a result of the increase in factories in these countries, the negative impacts on the environment have been growing gradually. The local population finds itself facing problems such as water pollution, air pollution, and resource exploitation. According to official sources from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, China's textile industry was the third-largest source of wastewater in 2015, discharging about 1.840 billion tons of wastewater into the environment.

For instance, as reported by CNN, the countries of China, Bangladesh, and India have completely black rivers due to pollution caused by industries in the cities. The major problem is the disposal of untreated wastewater from textile factories, ending up in rivers full of carcinogenic chemicals, dyes, and heavy metals that contaminate water for human consumption.

A man walking on the shore of a highly polluted lake ¡.
Untreated toxic residues pollute the water of Dhaka´s Hazaribagh

Particularly, the Citarum River, located in Indonesia, is known as the most polluting river in the world. The report by DW states that there are 500 textile factories around the river that discharge their wastewater into the river daily. The "Green Warriors" team not only analyzed the river water, but also the harvested rice and children's hair, whose results were alarming. As a consequence of the high quantity of harmful chemicals found as sulfate, annual mortality numbers of children under 5 years of age reach 147,000 per year.

A man pushes his canoe trough a river full of plastic trash
Sailing in the trash of Citarum River

Asian governments such as China have begun to establish policies to control river pollution. Since 2015, they have established more aggressive laws such as laws promoting transparency of audits, tax law to protect the environment, water pollution control law. However, in some cities such as Madhy, China, there are findings that the local authorities have a close relationship with the managers of factories such as Grasim Industries, thus the violation of laws committed is not penalized. (ChangingMarkers, 2017)

While governments are beginning to generate environmental policies to reduce the impact of these industries in their countries, these are not enough. The high demand from importers means that factories are still working under these conditions and violating the law. Global action needs to be adopted, from large businesses, taking more responsibility for guaranteeing a sustainable supply chain. Likewise, consumers need to become more aware of the materials and place of manufacture of our garments.

References and where to learn more

CNN (2020) Decenas de ríos contaminados en Asia por la industria textil.

HOWMUCH.NET (2019) Mapping Textile Exports by Country

TEXTILES AMERICANOS (2020) Asia: Un Creciente Mercado para Maquinaria Textil

GREENPEACE (2019) Trapos sucios: Contaminación tóxica del agua en China por marcas textiles internacionales.

SGT GROUP (2018) China Environmental Policy and the Textile Industry in 2018

DW DOCUMENTAL (2020) El río más contaminado del mundo

CHANGING MARKETS (2017) Moda Sucia: La contaminación en la cadena de suministros del textil está intoxicando a la viscosa.


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