Fast fashion in the western world is polluting African rivers

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In a new report on global inequalities in water pollution, fast fashion brands in Europe, the United States and the United Kingdom were highlighted as the main drivers of water pollution in the cities. African rivers. While also being a source of income and job creation for the continent, Water Witness analysts say lax environmental enforcement in the textile industry is already having devastating consequences for critical natural resources. .

A new report from Edinburgh-based nonprofit Water Witness International (WWI) has revealed the huge role of fast fashion brands in wealthier Western countries in polluting rivers in Africa. New analysis examining ‘fashion’s water footprint equity’ reports that wastewater discharges from textile and clothing production are now turning some African rivers into denim blue. In other cases, the water is as alkaline as bleach.

The environmental impact of textile production in Africa

While Asia is still the main region for global textile and clothing production, factories have migrated to Africa in recent years due to trade deals, tax incentives and labor costs. cheaper. Now it has a major impact on a critical resource on the continent: water.

According to the World War I report, as more and more big brands and fast fashion companies shift their production to African countries, the discharge of untreated sewage, fueled by the lack of protection of the l environment and enforcement is causing “devastating pollution” in the rivers of Lesotho and Tanzania. Among the 50 brands named in the report that have sourcing networks in African countries are Zara, H&M, Walmart, Mango and Asos, owned by Inditex.

Polluted water discharged into the Msimbazi River, Tanzania. (Photo: World War I)

In Lesotho, researchers documented a river that had turned noticeably blue due to sewage from dyeing denim jeans. In the Msimbazi River in Tanzania, where a textile factory is located nearby, water samples were very alkaline with pH levels of 12, equivalent to bleach.

In addition to causing environmental devastation, the report highlights the industry’s failure to ensure safe working conditions and access to clean water for their workers. According to the analysis, factory workers in Africa, 80% of whom are women, lack basic washing facilities, toilets and sanitation facilities.

Related: 99% of top fashion brands don’t disclose whether workers get a living wage – report

Fashion could be a “force for good”

But the report notes that the fashion industry could potentially become a “force for good” in Africa, if changes occur. At present, the industry is a major source of export income and jobs for the continent, with the report estimating that it currently supports the livelihoods of around 50 million people in the region.

“Our evidence reveals the strategic importance of the textiles and clothing sector in sub-Saharan Africa for economic growth and job creation,” he said. “Several countries are already heavily dependent on the sector for export earnings and contributions to GDP, where the sector contributes up to 60% and 30% respectively for some nation states.

The report did not single out any brands, but listed H&M, Zara and Asos among the 50 companies that source or have purchased textile production in Africa. (Image: Unsplash)

Related: Almost 60% of sustainable claims are greenwash, study finds

Therefore, the report states that what needs to be done is not to end textile production in the region, but to implement assurance that “the supply and production of goods across the continent are based on sustainable use of resources, decent working conditions and principles of social justice.

The change depends on brands to ensure proper water treatment and adherence to appropriate environmental standards, and on governments to enforce the rules.

“Producers, brands, retailers, investors, governments and street customers must act now to ensure that the fashion industry has a ‘fair water footprint’ in Africa, so that the creation of necessary jobs and growth are decoupled from destructive impacts on water. we are watching, ”the report says.

Main image courtesy of WWI.

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