Fashion faux pas

Report highlights the contribution of global fashion brands to the deforestation of the Amazon.

A recent report from the environmentalist group Stand Earth revealed that global fashion brands are contributing to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. More than 50 global fashion brands, including LVMH, Zara, H&M, Adidas and Nike, among others, rely on complex supply chains that contribute to the deforestation of the Amazon.

“There are many industries benefitting from the lack of control of irregular economic activities in the Amazon, and fashion is one of them,” agreed a Professor of textiles and fashion at the University of São Paulo, “Stand Earth’s study shows that Brazil has the largest cattle herd in the world, partly sustained by illegal deforestation, from which the fashion industry benefits.”

“There are many industries benefitting from the lack of control of irregular economic activities in the Amazon, and fashion is one of them.”

Professor of textiles and fashion at the University of São Paulo

Greg Higgs, author of the report, claimed that the efforts of the fashion industry to stop deforestation have been ineffective. He added that the industry was pushing the Amazon rainforest closer to the point of irreversible collapse. Furthermore, Colin Vernon, co-founder of Slow Factory accused the fashion industry of hiding human rights and environmental abuses. He said that the Amazon is being burnt down to raise cattle for meat and leather while brands turn their heads.

An environmental activist in Brazil commented, “We’re happy to see this being highlighted. The fashion industry contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation, water pollution, toxic waste and, on some occasions, the violation of the human rights of local communities. The industry also uses ambiguous terms such as ‘man-made’ or ‘organic/natural products’ which does not necessarily mean they are sustainable.”

“The fashion industry contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation, water pollution, toxic waste and, on some occasions, the violation of the human rights of local communities.”

Environmental activist, Brazil

The Brazilian government has significantly disengaged from efforts made by previous governments in the mid-2000s to better monitor the management of the rainforest and agricultural land. Unsurprisingly, annual deforestation rates have increased and by November 2021 deforestation in the Amazon was up by 21.9% from the prior year, according to the National Space Research Institute of Brazil (“INPE”).

Joaquim Leite, the Minister of Agriculture in Brazil, claimed that the numbers did not reflect the reality and claimed that the INPE’s numbers were unacceptable.

Despite Leite’s protestations, Bolsonaro’s administration has protected illegal logging, mining, cattle-ranching and land-grabbing. The Professor confirmed, “The current [Brazilian] government has completely neglected the monitoring of illegal activities in rainforests – the data are readily available and government officials trying to discredit them is ludicrous. The problem is that the Congress has a strong agribusiness representation that blocks any proposed environmental law.”

It is hoped that any new president will accept Joe Biden’s offer to create a USD 20 billion fund if Brazil can curb deforestation. The Professor wasn’t sure, “Bolsonaro will clearly not change any environmental policy but it seems unlikely that he will be reelected. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a huge question mark, he has the capacity to build a consensus and capitalise on the global interest to protect Brazil’s rainforest. Whether he would be allowed to do so by Congress is another matter.”

Studies like Stand Earth’s are increasingly raising awareness of how industries which receive less media attention for their climate impact are nonetheless major contributors to the problem. People usually point to oil and gas, mining and construction as the most polluting industries but fashion is right up there among them.

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