Wastewater discharge from a denim washing factory in Xintang, Guangdong province.
Just in time for the holiday shopping season, Greenpeace has released a report examining two textile industry towns in Guangdong province. This behind-the-scenes look at how our clothing is produced may make you think twice before queueing up for Christmas sales.
From April to October, we visited Xintang, the “Jeans Capital of the World,” and Gurao, a manufacturing town 80% of whose economy is devoted to bras, underwear, and other clothing articles.
Blue jeans are much dirtier than you might ever guess. That cool distressed denim wash is the result of a several chemical-intensive washes. Fabric printing and dyeing involves such heavy metals as cadmium, lead and mercury – not stuff that you want to be getting near your bare skin!
Greenpeace testing found five heavy metals (cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and copper) in 17 out of 21 water and sediment samples taken from throughout Xintang and Gurao. In one samples, cadmium exceeded China’s national limits by 128 times!
Below is a visual tour of Xintang and Gurao.
A jeans stall in Xintang
Xintang is famous as the “Jeans Capital of the World” – it produces over 260 million pairs of jeans a year, equivalent to 60% of China’s total jeans production, and 40% of the jeans sold in the US each year.
Factories large and small fill the streets of Xintang, as well as family workshops housed in makeshift sheds. Everywhere people are busy making and processing jeans by hand – in the markets, in the commercial areas, and even in villages and in front of houses. Women, the elderly and children often do some simple thread-cutting jobs to supplement the family income.
Xintang’s jeans and apparel business began in the eighties, and in the last thirty years its output has rocketed. Its economy revolves around the complete production chain of jeans: from spinning, dyeing and weaving, to cutting, printing, washing, sewing and bleaching.
Yet villagers we met complained about the printing and dyeing factories’ wastewater discharge into the local river, which flows into the Pearl River Delta. “Everyone says that people who work in dyeing and washing have reproductive and fertility problems. My cousin once worked in a dyeing plant. He died of pleurisy,” said Lin Zhixin, a migrant worker from Sichuan who works in jeans sewing.
In this satellite image, the smaller river flows from Xintang into the Dong River, which eventually leads to the Pearl River Delta.
This boy is working with his parents at a small jeans workshop in Dadun Village in Xintang. He earns 0.15 yuan for snipping loose thread ends off one pair of jeans; in one day he can do about 200 pairs.
Workers at a jeans factory must search through wastewater every morning to scoop out the stones, which are washed with the fabric in industrial washing machines to make stonewash denim.
Article extracted from Greenpeace.