The Textile industry is dependent on water in virtually all steps of manufacturing. Dyes, specialty chemicals, and finishing chemicals used to produce clothing are all applied to fabrics in water baths. This means that huge amounts of water are used to dye, finish, and wash clothes. In India alone, the textile industry uses 425,000,000 gallons of water daily and approximately 500 gallons of water are used in the production of just one pair of jeans.
While the textile industry uses massive amounts of water in the production of goods perhaps a larger problem is resulting water pollution, particularly in the developing world.
A lack of stringent regulations on corporations in many countries, means that textile producers frequently dump waste water directly into waterways. This water contains hormone-altering chemicals, colored dyes, and cleaning solvents that alter the pH, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorous levels in rivers. This contamination has been linked with increased rates of cancer, asthma, and workers have experienced second and third degree burns from the handling of chemicals. The majority of this contamination is seen in nations such as Indonesia, China, and India where textile manufacturing is less strictly regulated and can be more profitable.
Marx argues that a capitalist economy will grow in search of cheap labor, raw materials, new markets, and reinvestment opportunities resulting in globalization. This has been seen in the textile industry, where the search for cheap labor and raw materials have led for the industry to expand primarily into Indonesia, China, and India where less stringent regulations enable companies to more readily contaminate their surrounding environments. Less regulation means that goods can be produced at lower prices. In this manner, the expansion of industries globally has made the textile industry more profitable by reducing the cost of clothes by using cheaper labor and less regulated resources. As such, companies are able to sell more product at a higher profit. However, these profits do not accurately reflect the true costs of textile pollution nor the impact on those who live in regions with these factories. Because pollution is not accounted for in the cost of clothing the cost of a t-shirt will decrease while water resources become more and more unusable. The effects of this are seen primarily in developing nations, and areas where production occurs. In combination with existing inequalities in the global market, this results in increases in global inequality- as the rich get wealthier and the poor simply get more heavily polluted water.
In response to water usage and pollution by the textile industry, many corporations have begun investigating more alternative solutions. Sustainable index measurements of textile production take into account the total water used in production, any resulting pollution and overall human and health impacts that result from production. These transitions have been largely consumer driven, and have emphasized the importance of water conservation and waste-treatment.
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