By Joaquim Elcacho
As could be confirmed in a few hours, the damaged building did not meet the minimum security conditions and its occupants were forced to work in lamentable conditions.
The tragedy of the Rana Plaza building has so far been the clearest exponent of a problem that has dragged on for years: hundreds of large brands from rich countries manufacture their products -especially clothing and footwear- in developing regions, where workers are exploited and in which the environment is not respected (pollution, production of toxic substances, destruction of natural spaces ...)
What can we do to avoid these types of situations?
In addition to demanding that companies be responsible for their activity and respect people and nature as a whole, one of the instruments that consumers should demand is the traceability of the products we buy, and specifically, of the garments we wear. .
Traceability is the possibility of identifying the origin and the different stages of a process of production and distribution of consumer goods, in this case, clothing. With this type of data at our fingertips, for example, we could find out in which country our pants have been manufactured and each of the materials with which this garment has been made (fabric, buttons, zipper ...).
Knowing the geographical origin of our clothes can help us to discard those products manufactured by companies that violate the rights of workers or that do not comply with the elementary rules of control of toxic products.
Thus, for the traceability of the product to be perfect, we should have access to information on the manufacturing processes of these pants, so that we can rule out the presence of toxic substances accumulated during the cultivation of cotton or clothing dye, for example. .
If we want our commitment to the planet to be greater, we should ask companies in the textile sector to commit to reducing their impact on the environment, contribute to the fight against climate change and be respectful of essential resources such as water.
Perhaps we have never stopped to think about this detail, but the manufacture of jeans (medium size) requires the use of between 2,130 and 3,078 liters of water, a volume that is mainly determined by the raw material with which it is manufactured , the cotton. This calculation of the so-called water impact is the result of a study presented in 2013 by researchers from the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) with the support of the Botín Foundation and its Water Observatory.
In recent years, various companies in the fashion and clothing sector have incorporated into their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) the defense of the environment and respect for working conditions in their factories and suppliers. Some of these companies inform their customers of the origin of their products (traceability) and of the actions they carry out to reduce the environmental impact of their activity.
The effort of these companies must be recognized by consumers, although in some cases it must be ensured that it is not simply new marketing strategies.
In this sense, Greenpeace presented last January a study entitled 'Leaving a footprint' in which they detailed "the toxic and dangerous substances for human health and the environment found in different products of leading mountain clothing brands such as The North Face, Columbia, Patagonia, Mammut and Haglöfs ". The environmental organization assured that these companies "continue to use toxic compounds such as PFCs (per- and polyfluorocarbons) to waterproof their garments, despite presenting themselves as sustainable companies committed to nature."
This report focused on brands of mountain clothing and accessories was part of the generic campaign launched in 2011 by Greenpeace to ask the fashion world to commit to abandon the use of toxic products. One of the results of this campaign was the publication in 2012 of the report 'Toxic Stitches: The Dark Secret of Fashion'. In this case, after analyzing garments from a score of manufacturers, the main conclusion was that, "all the brands included in this study had one or more products that contained detectable levels of NPE (ethoxylated phthalates and nonylphenols)". "The contamination was detected in garments that came from 13 of the 18 countries of manufacture, and in products sold in 25 of the 27 countries analyzed," the Greenpeace report indicated.
The social and ecological responsibility of companies and the traceability of their products must be extended to the world of fashion and clothing, but we are still far from achieving it. The 2015 Behind the Barcode report indicates that 75% of brands that put clothing products on the market do not know in detail the origin of their products and that 48% of them have not incorporated traceability data on their labels.