Photo: Rezza Estily/Greenpeace

Fashion System

Fast Fashion

Introduction to the fashion system

The fashion industry has an enormous environmental impact and opens up many ethical issues related to the workers of the sector.

Since it came the mass production, starting from the twentieth century, everything has changed. Industries have started to produce faster and faster, and today our consumption is at waste level. We waste food, clothes maybe just worn once, and the same we do with all the products we buy, because of our compulsive ephemeral needs. Today the fashion system, with its clothing and textile sectors, has an important role in the economy, employing worldwide over a billion people, 2.7 million just in the EU.1 Year after year the sale of clothes increases more and more, and we throw away clothes after a few uses only and with no regrets, because we paid them very little. It is estimated that the consumption of clothes, from 62 million tons in 2017, will increase to 102 million tons in 2030, with an increase of 63%.2 As we can imagine, these global fashion industries have a big environmental impact on our planet, in particular when we take into account the way fibres are grown, dyeing processes, garment manufacturing, transportation through lands and oceans, wastage. Then, there are all the complicated ethical issues at each stage of the production process, to add.

The fashion industry accounts for 8% of global emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, contributing directly to climate change.3 In particular, the processes that require more energy for the production of a garment, such as the dyeing phase, represent 36% of the CO2 emissions of textile garments.4
Fashion is one of the biggest polluting industries in the entire world.

Some data

workers in the fashion industry
workers of the fashion system in Europe
clothing consumption in 2017
clothing consumption in 2030

Textile factory in China, Lu Guang/Greenpeace</em

Child labor in China, Lu Guang/Greenpeace

Denim factory in China, Lu Guang/Greenpeace

Fast Fashion

What is fast fashion? Fast fashion is a system that makes possible to bring to the market, very quickly and with a continuous turnover, garments that express the latest fashion trends, making them attractive and at very low prices.

In Europe, fast fashion has been a successful way of doing fashion since the 1990s: new cheap items always in line with the newest trends. It is a vicious cycle: consumers always in search for the lower price and brands searching for new countries with lower production costs, to satisfy their consumers before and better than their competitors. Bigger is the demand of products and higher will be the pressure in the supply chains, so the conditions there, far away from our eyes, will become worst and worst.

What is happening in the last 20 years or so, with the fast fashion and the geographical separation of production from consumption, is a direct result of the change of an international trade agreement.

In fact, on January 2005, the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA) and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) came to end. Before 2005 individual markets were protected from competing cheap imports, but now cheaper goods can enter markets and the competition is really high.

So here we are: developing countries entered the garment manufacturing trade. Now are these emerging countries which produce the biggest quantities of textile and clothing to be exported. In 2010 China, Macedonia and India rose their exportations towards USA and Europe respectively of 73%, 56% and 45%, followed by Cambodia, Indonesia and Bangladesh.5 Turkey, instead, plays an important role in the international production of textile: from the Turkish export, big names of fashion take advantage.

Tannaries wastewater discharges pollute Buriganga River in Bangladesh
Buriganga River pollution, Bangladesh, GMB Akash/Panos

In this situation the supply chains started to become longer, and longer the supply chains are, more blurred is the overview and the control over it. That’s why the fashion system is based on images and dreams more than on the real production process.

The fast fashion growth has been facilitated by the increasingly massive use of polyester, which today represents the 60% of the clothes produced.6 This fabric has become widespread; pure or mixed with other fibres, polyester production generates large amounts of carbon dioxide and leaves behind non-biodegradable waste.
In addition, polyester pollutes rivers and seas even while you are using it: a garment made of polyester washed in the washing machine releases up to 1 million micro plastic fibres.7

The fashion world created its own visual language, the important thing was to be there, to be strong and let consumers dream and desire them. And so, all the fashion communications, from ads with top models to videos, put the material dimension of a product in the background.

All this imaginary created by fashion is working amazingly, because people are focusing just on the brand, and on the values brought to them by the purchase, instead of thinking to the real product, and to what’s behind that. We know that fashion has a powerful hold over people: clothes are important.

Polyester pollutes rivers and seas even while you are using it: a garment made of polyester washed in the washing machine releases up to 1 million micro plastic fibres.

But how does it work with fast fashion?

Multinational companies use the sub-contract formula. In this way, they can overcome any legal risks due to production, and they are not responsible for the workers’ conditions. In particular, companies are in search of the so called “free zones”, because of convenient conditions like the free use of buildings and lands, no taxes and duty-free, no limitations for the respect of the environment, low costs of labor force and police services guaranteed.

According to the International Labour Organization, there are 850 free zones in the world, which are involving 27 million of workers. These zones are concentrated most in Asia and in Centre and South America.
Economy is led by multinationals. On a population of 7 billion, just the 35% have a lot of money to spend.8 So multinationals are competing between them in a limited market, and the result is a competition based on the cut of production costs.
But companies are clever, they mask themselves to give us the idea that they are careful about our needs, sensible to people’s rights, respectful towards the environment. But in reality, most of them use workers as slaves, they contaminate our water, our air and put hazardous chemicals in our clothes, they support oppressive regimes, and put farmers into deep poverty.
Furthermore, what is really tragic is that they commit their abuses thanks to our complicity, thanks to us that buy, without even thinking about it.

Young workers in a textile factory in China, Lu Guang/Greenpeace

Discover the other topics of the Fashion System

fast fashion
Fast fashion
Pesticides and cotton
Intoxicated cotton
Workers conditions fashion supply chain
Workers conditions inside factories
Hazardous chemicals in clothes
Hazardous chemicals of the fashion industry
Fur farms
A cruel industry

or keep reading

Intoxicated cotton

A pesticide-based production

Cotton represents the 80% of the global production of natural fibers. For this reason, it is important to know how it’s grown and processed into fabric.

The 99% of the cotton producers live and work in developing countries in the South of the world, in poverty, and they produce the 75% of the global amount of cotton.9 We have been cultivating cotton for more than 5,000 years, all over the world. Now the biggest producer of cotton is China, followed by the US and India. Cotton is grown in more than 100 countries, covering 2.4% of the cultivated land.10

Although cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in the world, there’s another terrible aspect of this issue: every year 2 billion of dollars of chemicals pesticides are reversed on the cotton fields.11 This chemical represents the 16% of the world’s insecticides and the 6% of the world’s pesticides.12 The consequences are catastrophic, workers are constantly poisoned, the land is no more fertile and the aquifers are contaminated.

Just one drop of Aldicarb (a chemical pesticide) on the skin is enough to make a human die,13 although today less toxic products are used. Workers do not have adequate protection while working, and they source water from the nearest contaminated lake for their essential needs. And poorer the soil, higher the amount of chemicals used will be. Aldicarb, put on the market with the name Temik, is still commonly used in the production of cotton in 26 countries.14

Remember that when we talk about workers, it could mean also a 10 years old child, it’s not rare in countries like India or Pakistan.
Here everything starts with the usurers. When a poor family without any portion of land doesn’t know how to keep going for a living, they ask for a loan to the big landowner, which has also the role of banker/usurer. The landowner gives the money, but in exchange he wants a member of that family to work for him. Most of the time, they will work for their entire life for the landowner, because the interests are too much high. Sometimes this condition of slavery pass on through generations.

Who is gonna buy this bloody cotton?
The 45% of the global production of cotton is bought by the US and Europe.15
When we buy a 100% cotton t-shirt, if we are not informed, how can we imagine that for just that one t-shirt 150 grams of pesticides and fertilizers are used and that each kilogram of cotton requires between 20,000 and 40,000 liters of water?16

Aral Sea, Uzbekistan, NASA

Uzbekistan cotton and the consequent draining of the Aral Sea

Uzbekistan is the world’s fifth biggest producer of cotton. The environmental and social impact of cotton can be recapped in the draining of the Aral Sea, in the region of Karakalpakstan, draining largely due to the irrigation needs of cotton growing. Once the fourth largest inland sea in the world, the Aral Sea is now shrunk to 10% of its actual volume, with consequent destruction of the ecosystem and causing “environmental refugees”.

This has been considered “one of the most staggering disasters of the twentieth century” by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Every year a big amount of water is needed for the production of cotton: just to give an idea, like 16 times more than the annual water usage of the UK.17 But it has been estimated that 60% of water diverted into canals and pipelines never reaches the fields because of damages and water loss in the pipes.18

Drying of the Aral Sea 1989 – 2014, NASA

Aral Sea, Pascal Mannaerts

Extensive extraction of water means that the declining water levels increased salinity, which brought to death several native fishes. Also, the surrounding forests reduced their area, remaining just 10% of the former one, with consequences on wildlife losing their habitat.

Once released, salt goes down in the soil with a negative effect on the soil fertility. For 2,000 years Karakalpaks lived on the shores of the Aral Sea, fishing and working in fishers industries. As a direct result of the draining of their sea, 50-70% of Karakalpaks have been pushed in poverty, and a lot of diseases started to come among them because of toxic dust storms made of salt and pesticides.

The decline of the Aral Sea started during the Soviet Union and still continue today. By the mid 1970s a quarter of the world’s cotton was produced by Soviets. The Government of Soviet Union saw it as “white gold”, so they were promoting intensive cotton production.

Since the period of the Soviet Union until today, the state has sponsored forced child labor. Each year, schools are closing for 2-3 months and children (10-11 years old) are taken to the cotton fields. Here they have to pick a certain amount of cotton, otherwise they will receive physical abuses. Most of the time they are not even paid and they have to walk for about two kilometers to reach the field and then come back. Also teachers are obliged to pick cotton, and also doctors, soldiers, and every person and worker in the area: everyone is sent to the fields; police blocks roads, so no vehicles are allowed to move in the streets.

Uzbekistan cotton has been and still is the focus of a lot of different international campaigns, because of the forced child labor. The water issue is a really complicated one too, and it deserves attention. Luckily, due to pressure from international organizations, some brands like H&M, Levi’s and Puma (and many others) will make no more use of this cotton.

Child labor in Uzbekistan, Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights

Discover the other topics of the Fashion System

fast fashion
Fast fashion
Pesticides and cotton
Intoxicated cotton
Workers conditions fashion supply chain
Workers conditions inside factories
Hazardous chemicals in clothes
Hazardous chemicals of the fashion industry
Fur farms
A cruel industry

or keep reading

Workers conditions inside factories

Who makes our clothes?

Usually the minimum wage for a textile worker is less than 3% of the final product price, guaranteeing high profits for the brands: four times the price of the production costs.

We may all have heard once in our life facts about conditions inside factories in the South of the world, but it is important to be well aware of it.

Everyday in some part of the world something bad happens. As reported by F. Gesualdi in his book “Manuale per un consumo responsabile” (Manual for a responsible consumption), on 19 November 1993, 87 girls died carbonized by a fire burst inside a toys factory in Kuiyong, a small city near Hong Kong.19 More than forty were injured and some of them were so burnt to be disabled for the rest of their life.

The name of the factory-dormitory was Zhili, property of a society in Hong Kong which was producing toys for a famous Italian children brand.

Always this publication20 tells the case of the factory Fang Tay in Taiwan, producing for a leading international sportswear brand. In this factory, the work is about eleven hours a day, for 7 days. Vacations don’t exist, overtime work is not paid, if you are sick and so not present at work you are fired, minimum wage is not respected, there’s no industrial insurance and workers are continuously insulted.

We may think that behind a big famous brand, or a luxury brand, conditions inside the supply chains must be acceptable or even good, due to the expensive prices of products inside those brand shops. But reality is different and every company seems to follow the same strategy, that is always to cut costs.

Usually the minimum wage for a textile worker is less than 3% of the final product price, guaranteeing high profits for the brands: four times the price of the production costs.21

Sandblasting in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Clean Clothes Campaign

The trend of bleached and aged jeans

The technique used to obtain bleached and aged jeans is sandblasting, in which a powder made of silicon crystals is thrown against the jeans. The long exposition to these substances is really dangerous for the workers’ health, as they can contract silicosis. This form of illness makes workers die within a period of six months to two years after the contraction. In 2010, 550 workers were affected by this illness, but we expect more than 5,000 victims in this sector, which involves between five and ten thousand workers unaware of their destiny.22

Other techniques can be used on jeans to achieve the same result, like stone-washing or laser, but these are more expensive and so not convenient for the companies.

The use of silicon has been forbidden in Europe since the1960s, that’s why companies have moved their production to other countries.

Spinning mills in south India*

*According to the report “Flawed Fabrics” by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN).

Everything here starts with recruiters convincing poor families of the rural areas to send their daughters to spinning mills with promises of comfortable accommodations, a well-paid job, free food, opportunities for training and schooling and a lamp sum payment after three years of work.

That seems a good offer to poor families which can’t afford to provide a nice living for their sons and daughters, so why not get the opportunity while it is going? Among the workers, coming from the lowest social ranks of Indian society, 60% are underage when they join the mill and most of them are female, because less inclined than man to join trade union and fight for their rights. Furthermore, many of them are not informed about their legal rights under Indian law, and so rarely they sign a contract for their employment.

Textile workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2008, Taslima Akhter

11 garment workers sharing the same room to survive, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Taslima Akhter

From the moment they enter the mill, they will be no more allowed to leave it, if not twice a year (in some factories they can leave twice a month, but never alone, always with the hostel warden). Wardens are always present to ensure that no workers go out, trying to escape, and no outsiders enter the factory.

Workers can’t even use mobile phones, and so to contact their parents they can use just the hostel phone, of course under surveillance. The supervisor always checks if the workers are calling their families, because they are allowed to speak just with them.

The accommodations are hostels located in the ground floor of the factories, where you can find more than 30 girls sharing a room and even more sharing a bathroom. Staying in these hostels is mandatory for the workers coming from other villages. It could happen that beds are not even provided, so workers have to bring their own mats.

The monthly salaries go from €20 to €52, most of that money is sent home, to support families, so workers will not have money left to save. Moreover, in some factories food is not free of charge, so the money spent for food will be subtracted from the salary.

Working inside those factories is really exhausting: machines are running 24 hours a day and the atmosphere is hot with high humidity (because cotton needs to be kept humidified to stop it from breaking).

The atmosphere is also unsafe, because workers keep inhaling cotton dust, which is released into the air as a result of the processing of cotton into fabrics. A short-term exposure to cotton dust can cause coughing, chills, fever and breathing problems; a long-term exposure instead leads to permanent breathing difficulties like acute bronchitis.

Clothing production facilities in Keraniganji, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Claudio Montesano Casillas

Indian women, Sudhanshu Malhotra/Greenpeace

Workers can’t even go to the bathroom to refresh themselves, because they have prefixed 10 minutes toilet breaks from one to maximum three times a day.

Workers have to reach every day the production target, if they don’t succeed in doing this, they have to work extra hours, without being paid.

Production workers are all young girls, instead the supervisors employed are all male. Supervisors are in charge to control if the production is running right with the time; they always show a very authoritative and abusive behavior towards workers.

Long hours of work in a bad place deep affect the mental health of workers. That’s why some of them commit suicide.

Bangladesh and the Rana Plaza disaster

Bangladesh is the country with the lowest wage per hour in the world. Because of very low production costs, the volume of orders in this country has exploded. As a consequence, workers are more and more exploited, trying to produce all the amount of volume of garments in a shorter time, inside buildings most of the time unsafe. It is normal to find out buildings with more floors than they should have, and so bearing a too heavy weight.
In Bangladesh, between 2006 and 2009, 213 fires took place inside garment factories.23 The 80% of the fires happening inside all factories in Bangladesh are caused by faulty wiring.24
On 24 November 2012, a fire broke out at the Tazreen Fashions Limited factory, in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. From that day, further 28 factory fires have been reported.25

The 80% of the fires happening inside all factories in Bangladesh are caused by faulty wiring.

Tazreen Fashion Limited

The fire at the Tazreen Fashions Limited factory started at 6:30pm, killing at least 112 workers (most of them female) with a range of 100-300 injured.26 The factory was a six floors building and the fire began on the ground level, where fabrics and yarns were stored. Even though the fire alarm started to ring, the supervisors of every floor ordered workers to keep working, saying that nothing was happening. After 30 minutes the emergency call was sent and in about other 20 minutes the fire units arrived. By then, at 7:20pm the fire had reached almost the fifth floor of the factory. The cause of fire is still not clear, as well as the number of death and injured. It’s insane thinking about situations, in which even with a fire destroying everything, workers have to keep doing their jobs.

A fire inside a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mahmud Hossain Opu

Who is responsible for what happened, and still happens today, in apparel factories all over the world?

The guilt goes not only to the owners of the factories, not only to the buyers, not only to the brands, but also to us, with our consumption.

We, the consumers, are the one who go in shops and buy several t-shirts every week because they are cheap.

Accidents occur continuously, sometimes without information arriving in Western countries: who has ever heard of the collapse of Rana Plaza, which happened in Dhaka in 2013?

Rana Plaza

Everything started the 24 of April 2013. We are in Bangladesh, in Dhaka, the most congested city in one of the most overcrowded and populated countries on Earth. In this place, the rhythm of life is dictated by the rhythm of production, as it was inside the Rana Plaza building. The building was a big factory of eight floors, where workers were constantly under pressure with big orders to fill. If an order was delivered late, buyers would subtract a percentage for every week of delay. The clothes produced were sent to be sold in western high street stores.

The day before, the 23 of April, three cracks were found in the pillars supporting the building. Almost no one knew about the original construction of the building and the illegal extension from five to eight floors, erected six years before.

That day engineers came and declared the building unsafe, so everyone was sent home. But during the night things changed, because the building was inspected once more and after all it was seen as safe. Workers were out of the building afraid and worried, but at the end everybody went back inside the building.

The next morning the Rana Plaza building collapsed killing more than 1,138 people with over 2,000 injured.27

The day after the collapse there were demonstrations and strikes, with garment workers in the streets asking for better conditions. But within a week everything was back to normal.

The collapse of Rana Plaza has been the worst accident in the history of garment factories. Many famous brands were involved directly with the factory of Rana Plaza, but just some of them have given contributions.

Rana Plaza building collapsed killing textile workers
Rana Plaza disaster Dhaka Bangladesh 2013

Photos: Taslima Akhter

Discover the other topics of the Fashion System

fast fashion
Fast fashion
Pesticides and cotton
Intoxicated cotton
Workers conditions fashion supply chain
Workers conditions inside factories
Hazardous chemicals in clothes
Hazardous chemicals of the fashion industry
Fur farms
A cruel industry

or keep reading

Hazardous chemicals of the fashion system

Polluted water

Water is essential for humanity, but it’s one of the most contaminated substances in the world.

Again fashion, with its factories, has an important role in it and it’s not behaving well: rivers are used by the fashion industry as a personal sewer.

Textile industries use different hazardous chemicals in the various production phases, from the dying to the washing of clothes to their finishing. As it is not enough to poison the water, they also poison the clothes we are wearing.

The effects that each of those hazardous chemicals can cause are often irreversible and may not become evident until later in life.

Fashion brands have the power to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals from their clothes and drive the change, but the way is too long. But remember, as consumers we can use our influence to make things change.

Contaminated water, Indonesia, Andri Tambunan/Greenpeace

Which kind of hazardous chemicals are present in the clothes we wear? 28

PFCs are chemicals used by textile industries to make clothes waterproof and resistant to oil, ice and even fire. This substance can enter human blood and the liver, they interfere with hormones which regulate our reproduction, and can potentially promote tumors.

Phthalates have been created to soften plastic, especially PVC. These chemicals can go into the environment and enter through human skin: we usually ingest them, as well as animals do. Some Phthalates can interfere with hormones and especially they can cause deformation in male reproductive organs.

NPs are more dangerous than the other two chemicals seen until now. These man-made chemicals don’t break down easily in the environment, and so they cause damages for a long-time period. They proliferate in water, in air, and then enter in aquatic and terrestrial animals, as well inside our skin and build up in the food chain. These persistent and bio-accumulative chemicals once entered in our blood, can cause damages in every part of our body; in particular, they can imitate the female hormone estrogen and disturb the balance of hormones inside organisms.

NPEs are used by the fashion industry to join together water and dyes during the manufacturing process. These man-made chemicals stitch on clothes which are then spread worldwide. Once we put those clothes inside our domestic washing machine, these chemicals enter our public wastewater system and then they spread in every waterway. When this happens, the NPEs breakdown into the hazardous NPs. There have been restrictions for the use of NPs and NPEs in Europe since 2005, with similar restriction also in the US and in Canada; but there aren’t any EU regulations about the restriction of sale of clothing containing trace of these chemicals.

Cadmium is used to create dyes and colorful pigments for the textiles. This chemical is really dangerous even at low concentration: it can cause irreversible damages, once entered in our body, to bones and our liver. Also, it’s able to survive inside organisms and in the environment for a long time.

Wastewater discharged from a denim factory in Xintang, China, Lu Guang/Greenpeace

Detox campaign by Greenpeace

In 2011 Greenpeace International launched the “Detox” campaign, asking brands to detox our rivers and our clothes. One year later the organization conducted an investigation to find these toxic chemicals, analyzing 141 clothes of well-known brands, coming from 29 different countries (complete results are available in the Greenpeace report “Toxic Threads. The Big Fashion Stitch-Up”).

The clothing were bought in the shops of: Benetton, Jack & Jones, Only, Vero Moda, C&A, Diesel, Esprit, Gap, Giorgio Armani, H&M, Zara, Levi’s, Victoria’s Secret, Mango, Marks & Spencer, Metersbonwe, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Vancl and Blazek. For every item purchased Greenpeace find out hazardous chemicals: NPEs were the most detected substances.

Worker at a denim washing factory in Xintang, China, Lu Guang/Greenpeace

Dye factory in Shaoxing, China, Lu Guang/Greenpeace

A UK study29 found out that the 99% of NPE residues inside the clothes are washed away just with two domestic washes. Also, other chemicals as phthalates will keep enter into the environment, when clothes are discarded and send to landfill.

Greenpeace found a very high concentration of phthalates in four samples (the levels of the chemicals were up to 37.6% by weight, when the maximum acceptable is 0.5%): a Made in Bangladesh Tommy Hilfiger’s t-shirt sold in Australia, a Made in Philippines again Tommy Hilfiger’s t-shirt sold in USA, a Made in Turkey Giorgio Armani’s t-shirt sold in Italy, and a Made in Sri Lanka Victoria’s Secret’s panties sold in USA.

Exactly the same treatment can be seen for children clothing, which are probably more sensitive to the effects of those chemicals. In the report “A Little Story about a Fashionable Lie” of 2014, Greenpeace showed that also children’s clothes and accessories of luxurious fashion brands are contaminated with hazardous chemicals.
On 27 products bought by Greenpeace, the 59% were tested positive to one or more hazardous chemicals. Moreover, in seven items with the label “Made in Italy” trace of NPEs were found, and in four products the concentration of this chemical was high.

As I wrote before, in Europe the use of NPE has been restricted since 2005, so we can’t even trust the label, as it is not sure that the total manufacture of a product has been done just in one country, the one told by the label. Or maybe the garments have been made in Italy, but in this case, we understand that the law and control of chemicals is not that effective.

The highest concentration of NPEs was found in a Louis Vuitton ballerina sold in Switzerland, with the label Made in Italy. So that’s a demonstration that our expectations over luxury brands are not always achieved and that avoiding just products “made in China” (due to past scandals) will be useless.

Toxic wastewater from textile factories in Sumedang, Indonesia, Rezza Estily/Greenpeace

A worker exposed to dangerous chemicals in a dye factory, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Pascal Mannaerts

The fast fashion that we are living, doesn’t mean just poor quality garments and low prices but it means also a big waste of energy to produce each item, waste of workers’ life, to gain in the end a big amount of poisoned clothing with hazardous chemicals spreading around. The more we buy and more chemicals are spread.

Furthermore, fast fashion is now expanding beyond the traditional western markets: for example, since 2010 Zara has had shops in Bulgaria, Kazakhstan and India, and in 2011 shops were opened in Taiwan, Azerbaijan, South Africa and Peru.
As Greenpeace has been trying to say for four long years: “Together we can demand that Governments and brands act now to start Detoxing our rivers, Detox our clothing and ultimately, Detox our futures. A post-toxic world in not only desirable, it’s possible. Together we can create it”.

The fast fashion that we are living, doesn’t mean just poor quality garments and low prices but it means also poisoned clothing with hazardous chemicals.

Contaminated water in China and Mexico

It is told that you can understand the trend of the next season watching the color of Chinese and Mexican rivers. One week it can be blue, the other green, then pink, black, and red.

Textile industries are considered the biggest cause of Chinese rivers pollution. It is esteemed that the 70% of rivers, lakes and water resources are contaminated at a so high level, to put China in the position of being one of the most polluted country for what concerns water.30

In China, sewage pipes of textile industries are located on the delta of the Yangzte river, the longest Chinese river which brings drinking water to 20 million people, and on the Pearl River’s delta, the third in length. Those rivers are contaminated, and very dangerous for the health of people and for the environment. Some of the chemicals found in these rivers are strictly forbidden in Europe.

Children swimming in toxic waste water, Rezza Estily/Greenpeace

San Juan River pollution in Mexico, Guadalupe Szymanski/Greenpeace

Multinationals buying from Chinese industries have to take responsibility of all the chemicals which are poisoning rivers and local people.

The same situation of Asia can be seen in Mexico, another important country for textile manufacturing. Mexico is one of the biggest producer of denim in the world and it’s a major supplier for the US market, due also to geographical issues (it’s closer than China).

As in China, Mexican rivers are contaminated: the 70% of freshwater resources are polluted, with the 31% being extremely poisoned.31

The textile and clothing industries are really important to Mexican economy, representing the fourth largest manufacturing activity in the country.

Discover the other topics of the Fashion System

fast fashion
Fast fashion
Pesticides and cotton
Intoxicated cotton
Workers conditions fashion supply chain
Workers conditions inside factories
Hazardous chemicals in clothes
Hazardous chemicals of the fashion industry
Fur farms
A cruel industry

or keep reading

A cruel industry

The fur industry

Everyone knows where furs come from and also everyone can imagine that, to have a fur, a life of an animal is taken; but what they might not know is how.

Between the fashion industry showing on catwalks floating furs and the reality on how furs are made there’s a big gap.
We all know that to make a fur, the animal has to be skinned, but often suffering animals are skinned alive, causing tremendous suffering for them.

Some data

of furs comes from animal farms
0 %
of fur farms is European
0 %

Fur farms

Animals for furs are kept in fur farms: the 85% of the fur industry comes from animals inside fur farms.32
These farms are similar to the one where animals are raised for food, the idea behind is the same: there’s the need to maximize profits, and so minimize spaces, food and water and so, as a consequence, minimize the animals’ health. That’s why to cut costs, animals are kept in really small cages, where they can’t even move. Often cages are one on the other, creating long piles. Life in cages makes animals go insane and leads many animals to self-mutilate, or even cannibalize their cage-mates.
The most common animals put in cages inside fur farms are minks and foxes; but also chinchillas, lynxes and even hamsters.
The 50% of fur farms are located in Europe, with 5,000 fur farms in 22 European countries.33

Fox in cage, Network for Animal Freedom/Norwegian Animal Protection Society

Fur farm, Poland, Jo-Anne McArthur

The other farms are in North America and spread all over the world, in countries like Russia, China and Argentina.

According to The United Nations, one billion rabbits are killed every year because of their furs.34
Inside fur farms, workers only care to avoid ruining the furs of animals, so that they can brake animals’ bones and do every kind of cruel act. Usually, when cages are put on tracks to be transported and then, once arrived, unloaded, workers throw cages on the ground, breaking legs of animals inside them.
To kill animals, fur farmers use the cheapest methods, which result to be more cruel: suffocation, electrocution, gas and poison.

Mink on a fur farm, Spain, CABALAR/AP

Free hunt

But there are other methods that the fur industry uses: the traps. There are many kind of traps, but the most common is the steel-jaw trap. These inhumane devices are banned by the European Union and a growing number of the US states are doing the same.35 Once the animal step in, the trap shut on the animal’s paw. Often with broken bones, animals struggle to free themselves from that infernal object: this struggle can last for hours. Finally, the exhausted animal succumbs. Another cruel trap is the so called Conibear trap: instead of on the paws of an animal, it crushes directly on the neck, suffocating animals from three to eight minutes before they die.

As these traps are spread on lands, any animal can be caught, including endangered species. Trappers define these animals, without any value for them, as “trash kills”.

Chinese fur farms

China, is the world’s largest fur exporter: half of the fur market of the US comes from this Asian country.36 The main reason is that there are no laws and penalties if Chinese abuse of animals in their fur farms.

Inside Chinese fur farms, animals kept in cages are left outdoor without any protection from the rain, from freezing nights, from sun, from anything. When it’s time for the skinning, animals are hang from their legs or tails: most of them are still alive, struggling desperately to avoid the torture. Once the fur has been taken away, bloody bodies are thrown toward pile of those which came before them. Usually there are still five to ten minutes of agony before the animal finally dies.
In China, together with foxes, minks and rabbits also cats and dogs are taken for their furs. Most of them have still a collar around their neck. That’s why the Chinese furs industries are deliberately avoiding labels, so it’s hard to tell in which skin you are in or with what animal your purse is made of.

Raccoon in cage, Zhuravlev Andrey/Shutterstock

Child exposed to dangerous chemicals in a Bangladesh’s leather tannery, Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/Barcroft Media

Fur and pollution

As the fashion industry, also the fur industry has a big environmental footprint. The production of a fur coat takes energies 20 times higher than those needed to create a fake fur coat.37 We can’t even consider the real fur to be then biodegradable, because so much chemicals are used to keep the fur perfect, avoiding skin from putrefaction. All these chemicals, once again, will enter rivers, contaminating water.

For every animal skinned, there will also be the necessity to put somewhere the dead body, and their feces enter the water ecosystems. Especially minks’ feces are really dangerous because of the phosphorus, which in big quantities cause havoc in the waterways. Nitrates and phosphates then enter aquifers, and pollute local water supplies.
As intensive animals farming (for meat) pollute the air, also fur industry does pollution; for example, in Denmark, where more than 14 million minks are killed per year, more than 8,000 pounds of ammonia are annually spread into the atmosphere.38

The fur industry also makes use of seal fur, causing the Canadian Seal Slaughter.

Every year the Canadian government allows hunters to go and kill baby seal for their precious white soft furs. The 95% of the killed animals are between 1 and 3 months of age, when a lifetime for a seal is around 35 years.39 Once taken away the furs, carcasses are left on ice.
In 2009 Europe banned this behavior, avoiding the sale of any seal products; and before, in 1972, the US banned the sale of seal furs.

We only talked about the fur industry, but similar events occur in the feather and leather industries.

Baby seal, Pierre Gleizes/Greenpeace

Discover the other topics of the Fashion System

fast fashion
Fast fashion
Pesticides and cotton
Intoxicated cotton
Workers conditions fashion supply chain
Workers conditions inside factories
Hazardous chemicals in clothes
Hazardous chemicals of the fashion industry
Fur farms
A cruel industry

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Text references

1. Black, S., (2008). Eco Chich: The Fashion Paradox, London: Black Dog Publishing Limited.
2-3-4. Greenpeace International, (July 2018). Destination Zero: seven years of Detoxing the clothing industry, Greenpeace International.
5. Lucchetti, D., (2010). I vestiti nuovi del consumatore, Altreconomia.
6-7. Greenpeace International, (July 2018). Destination Zero: seven years of Detoxing the clothing industry, Greenpeace International.
8. Francesco Gesualdi (1999). Manuale per un consumo responsabile, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milano.
9. Lucchetti, D., (2010). I vestiti nuovi del consumatore, Altreconomia.
10. Pesticide Action Network UK, Pesticide Concernes in Cotton. [online] Available from <> [Accessed 11 October 2018].
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12. Pesticide Action Network UK, Pesticide Concernes in Cotton. [online] Available from <> [Accessed 11 October 2018].
13-14-15. Lucchetti, D., (2010). I vestiti nuovi del consumatore, Altreconomia.
16. Black, S., (2008). Eco Chich: The Fashion Paradox, London: Black Dog Publishing Limited.
17-18. Environmental Justice Foundation, The true costs of cotton: cotton production and water insecurity. [online] Available from <>[Accessed 4 March 2019]
19-20. Francesco Gesualdi (1999). Manuale per un consumo responsabile, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, Milano.
21-22. Lucchetti, D., (2010). I vestiti nuovi del consumatore, Altreconomia.
23. The Star, (24 December 2010). Locked doors and lost lives, Volume 9 Issue 49.
24-25. Theuws, M., van Huijstee, M., Overeem, P., van Seters, J., (SOMO), Pauli, T., (CCC), (March 2013). Fatal Fashion: Analysis of recent factory fires in Pakistan and Bangladesh: A call to protect and respect garment workers’ lives. SOMO and Clean Clothes Campaign.
26. Clean Clothes Campaign, (November 2012). Bangladesh factory fire: brands accused of criminal negligence. Clean Clothes Campaign.
27. The Guardian, (April 2014). The shirt on your back. The Guardian. [online] Available from: The Guardian <> [Accessed 11 October 2018].
28. Greenpeace International, (February 2014). A Little Story about a Fashionable Lie.Greenpeace International.
29. ENDs, (August 2012). Chemicals in clothing imports may harm rivers.
30. Greenpeace International, (July 2011). Dirty Laundry. Greenpeace International.
31. Greenpeace International, (December 2012). Toxic Threads: Under Wraps. Greenpeace International.
32. Peta., Fur Farms. [online] Available from <> [Accessed 10 October 2018].
33. International Fur Trade Federation, Fur Farming Europe. [online] Available from <> [Accessed 11 October 2018]
34. Lebas, F., P. Coudert, H. de Rochambeau, R. G. Thébault. (1997). The Rabbit: Husbandry, Health and Production, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
35. Peta., Fur Trapping. [online] Available from <>
[Accessed 11 October 2018].
36. Peta., The Chinese Fur Industry. [online] Available from <>[Accessed 11 October 2018].
37. Gregory H. Smith, (1979). Energy Study of Real vs. Synthetic Furs, University of Michigan.
38. Peta., Wool, Fur and Leather: Hazardous to the Environment. [online] Available from <> [Accessed 11 October 2018].
39. Peta., Canadian Seal Slaughter. [online] Available from < > [Accessed 12 October 2018].

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