Greenpeace released a striking photo gallery last week entitled “The dirty secret behind your jeans and bras.” It chronicles the working conditions and pollution in two of Guangdong’s main textile hubs, where most of the world’s jeans, bras and underwear are made. Greenpeace had a look at the human and environmental impact of the industries, and the results were pretty bleak.
The town of Xintang is known as “The Jeans Capital of the World” and produces over 260 million pairs of jeans annually. They make 40% of the jeans sold in American every year, and account for 60% of China’s total jeans output. Many children and elderly take part in the production, clipping loose threads for 0.15 yuan per pair (about 30 yuan per day.)
Gurao is known as “the capital of sexy” and produced more than 200 million bras last year. Children take part here as well, attaching bra straps to machine accessories for 0.30 yuan per 100 straps, which can earn them 20 to 30 yuan per day.
Tests on local rivers in both towns found five heavy metals (cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and copper) in 17 out of 21 samples taken. Cadmium concentrations were 128 times higher than Chinese environmental limits. Locals complain that they can no longer drink the water and the fish have disappeared.
Heavy metals flow into the river from the chemical-intensive washes done to achieve the “stone-washed” denim look (a process requiring workers to pick stones out of the waste water by hand.) Fabric printing and dyeing both involve the use of heavy metals like mercury and lead. Said one woman:
“The water is discharged from the dyeing factories upstream. Sometimes it smells really awful. And every time the color of the water is different – I’ve seen every color imaginable.”
Locals complain of health effects such as infertility and instances of lung disease.
Zhao of Greenpeace insists it’s the government’s responsibility to conduct testing in accordance with Chinese environmental law:
“The local government is responsible to regularly sample and monitor these factories, and from our point of view, they are also responsible to get the information of how much and what kind of chemicals are released in the production process and to disclose the information to the public,” Zhao says. “They are not doing enough. There are thousands of factories in that area. The information out there is quite limited.”
See more photos and the full article at Greenpeace.