scorecardDirty laundry? Major clothing companies like Zara and H&M under scrutiny for allegedly fuelling deforestation in Brazil
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Dirty laundry? Major clothing companies like Zara and H&M under scrutiny for allegedly fuelling deforestation in Brazil

Dirty laundry? Major clothing companies like Zara and H&M under scrutiny for allegedly fuelling deforestation in Brazil
SustainabilitySustainability2 min read
Has that one summery shirt in a flashy clothing outlet got you oohing and aahing at how chic and affordable it is? Well, it’s probably because it comes with some hidden costs — for the environment, that is. As much as we would like to convince ourselves otherwise, picking clothing from a fast-fashion brand because it says “recycled cotton” on its tag does not make us a champion for the planet.

While the explosive water and carbon footprint of these products has been a known reality, an even darker side is slowly coming to light. Recently, investigative reports have put the spotlight back on H&M and its more expensive cousin Zara for inciting deforestation, land grabbing, and human rights abuses in Brazil. These fast-fashion brands have been facing backlash for “greenwashing” their products for years now. However, a new investigation by UK-based NGO Earthsight is grabbing eyeballs once again.
From field to store — a trail of destruction
Earthsight traced the journey of 816,000 tons of cotton from Brazil to major fashion brands. This cotton, primarily grown in the ecologically vital Cerrado savanna, allegedly leaves a path of devastation. Companies like SLC Agrícola, a major exporter, are accused of clearing vast swathes of native vegetation — an area equivalent to 40,000 soccer fields in just 12 years!

What’s even more concerning is that this deforestation has doubled in recent years, jeopardising the Cerrado's biodiversity. The report also claims that the local communities are being pushed off their land along with deforestation. The Horita Group, another cotton producer, faces accusations of violent land disputes with traditional inhabitants — tarnishing the sector’s image with potential human rights violations.
Sustainability certifications — a flawed approach
Many of the farms implicated in the report hold "Better Cotton" certifications, designed to ensure ethical production. But Earthsight claims that this system is failing. Cotton linked to deforestation and land grabbing ended up in clothes destined for major brands, highlighting the limitations of current certification processes.

The report has sent shockwaves through the fashion industry. H&M and Zara, implicated brands, have expressed concern and vowed to work with Better Cotton for increased transparency and stricter standards.

What sticks out as strange is that Zara owner Inditex had already vowed to look into recycling and using cotton from sustainably farmed crops to reduce its environmental impact by 2030 back in July 2023. But almost a year into making this promise, the company still seemed ignorant of the crisis in Brazil.

Fortunately, Earthsight is pushing for a more systemic solution. They call for stricter regulations in Europe, the cotton's final destination, to hold companies accountable and decouple fashion from environmental and human rights violations.

Consumers also have the power to drive change! Educating ourselves about the perils of fast fashion and the merits of actual sustainable fashion. Eco-conscious buying involves opting for brands committed to ethical sourcing and transparency. Together, we can push the fashion industry towards a cleaner, more responsible future, ensuring our clothes don't come at the cost of the environment and human well-being.

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