The impact of the textiles industry on our planet is huge and it involves the whole product life cycle from the raw material supply, textile manufacture, shipping, retail and disposal at the end of life. This includes the use of pesticides in cotton farming,intensive water and energy use during the production of textile, the application of toxic chemicals in dyeing, as well as waste management. Dyeing processes usually involve more than 1600 different chemicals, including formaldehyde, chlorine, lead, and mercury. Treatment and dyeing of textile is accountable for 20% of global industrial water pollution. In fact, the textile industry is the #1 industrial polluter of fresh water on the planet.

Environmental pollution is not the only threat that textile industry is accountable for. There are serious negative social consequences associated with textile industry where 80% of the world’s garment workers are women. Cases of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and abuse have been detected in all countries where clothes are produced. Women of child bearing age are at a particular risk of developing breast cancer after the menopause due to their exposure to man-made fibres, as well as miscarriages or birth defects linked to long hours of work, shifts requiring standing instead of sitting or exposure to toxic chemicals. Suppliers to big chains fail to ensure safe working conditions for factory employees putting workers health at risk.

Wearing synthetic clothing is one more important health hazard directly linked to fashion industry. Reproduction disorders, allergies, skin irritation, respiratory problems is an incomplete list of diseases associated with toxic chemicals that may be found in synthetic clothes, including formaldehyde, brominated flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals.

HEJSupport works intensively on the topic of sustainable textiles. We represent the civil society members of the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles on chemicals related working groups, serve as NGO representatives in the UNEP 10 Year Framwork on Sustainable Consumption and Production, and in the steering committee of the chemicals in products programme of SAICM. HEJSupport published several articles and reports about this topic.

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Written by Heinrich Blank