Fashion Giants Tied to Deforestation in Brazil

Fashion Giants Tied to Deforestation in Brazil

Fashion Giants Tied to Deforestation in Brazil

A recent investigation has uncovered that popular fashion brands like Zara and H&M directly source their cotton from Brazilian farms, linked to deforestation and land grabbing.

Prior to reaching the display windows of renowned fashion giants like Zara and H&M, cotton pants, shorts, shirts, and socks contribute to deforestation, land grabbing, and human rights violations in Brazil.

The UK-based NGO Earthsight conducted a comprehensive year-long investigation, revealing the link between cotton crops in Brazil, the fourth largest global producer, and European brands. Earthsight meticulously analyzed satellite images, shipping records, public archives, and visited production regions to trace the journey of 816,000 tons of cotton.

The report reveals that eight Asian companies specifically cultivated this raw material, leading to the manufacture of approximately 250 million retail items between 2014 and 2023. The investigation alleges that suppliers supplied many of these items to popular brands like H&M and Zara, among others.

“It’s concerning to see the connections between well-known global brands that seem to lack control over their supply chains. Understanding the origin of cotton and its environmental impact is crucial.” Rubens Carvalho, head of deforestation research at Earthsight, highlighted this issue to The Diplomat News.

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Fashion Giants Tied to Deforestation in Brazil

The heart of the issue lies in the production of cotton for export in the western part of Bahia State in Brazil, within the biodiverse savanna known as the Cerrado.

Unfortunately, illegal deforestation for agricultural purposes is rampant in this region, with deforestation rates doubling in the past five years, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

Deforestation and land grabbing

The report examines various cases, including the SLC Agricola group, which claims responsibility for 11% of Brazil’s cotton exports. Shockingly, the Earthsight report reveals that SLC’s farms have destroyed an area in the Cerrado equivalent to 40,000 football fields over the past 12 years.

In 2020, the American think tank Chain Reaction Research identified this company, also known for growing soybeans, as the largest deforester in the biome.

Despite SLC’s 2021 commitment to a zero-deforestation policy with its suppliers, a report by the nonprofit consultancy Aidenvironment uncovered 1,365 hectares of cleared Cerrado, where cotton is grown. Alarmingly, almost half of this destruction occurred within a legal reserve.

When questioned about these allegations, the group defended itself by stating that it had converted all native vegetation within the limits established by law.

Regarding Aidenvironment’s accusation, the company claimed that the destruction was a result of a natural fire and not an attempt to open new areas for production.

Another group under scrutiny is Horita, which Earthsight has accused of engaging in violent land disputes with traditional Indigenous communities. Unfortunately, the Horita Group did not respond to The Diplomat News’ request for comment.

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European Brands’ links with Cotton

Earthsight investigation reveals European brands’ connection to cotton, shedding light on its impact. They meticulously traced the journey of 816,000 tons of cotton exports from SLC Agricola and the Horita Group between 2014 and 2023. The cotton primarily made its way to China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Through this traceable data, Earthsight identified eight clothing manufacturers in Asia that supply retail products to well-known brands like Zara and H&M.

According to the NGO, all the intermediaries involved in this supply chain, including PT Kahatex in Indonesia, Noam Group and Jamuna Group in Bangladesh, and Nisha, Interloop, YBG, Sapphire, and Mtmt in Pakistan, contribute to the production of these European brands.

Interestingly, the cotton that has been linked to land rights and environmental abuses in Bahia is actually Better Cotton-certified. This certification was established in 2009 by the fashion industry and organizations like WWF to ensure the safe origin of raw materials. In Brazil, there are 370 certified farms in partnership with the country’s Cotton Producers Association, Abrapa.

In response to the Earthsight report, Better Cotton has conducted an enhanced third-party audit of the farms involved. They are currently analyzing the findings and will make necessary changes if required. The initiative emphasizes the need for government support to address the issues raised in the report and ensure the fair and effective implementation of the rule of law.

Read Also: What is the Cerrado and Why Does It Matter for Our Planet?

Urgent Need for Enhanced Supply Chain Control

Fashion Giants Tied to Deforestation in Brazil

H&M emphasized the necessity for increased control over supply chains. The company expressed deep concern over the report’s findings and stated that they are actively engaged in discussions with Better Cotton to monitor the investigation’s progress and the subsequent measures to enhance and update its standards.

Zara, on the other hand, echoed similar sentiments by emphasizing the seriousness with which they view the allegations against Better Cotton. The company urged the certifier to promptly disclose the results of its investigation.

Inditex, the parent company of Zara, called for greater transparency from Better Cotton following the announcement of the report’s impending release on April 10th.

Inditex reached out to the initiative on April 8 through a formal letter, seeking further clarification regarding the certification process. While Inditex itself does not directly purchase cotton from suppliers, the companies responsible for its production undergo audits by certifiers like Better Cotton.

Rubens Carvalho from Earthsight highlighted the importance of holding European entities accountable to address deforestation and rights violations in commodity-producing regions like Brazil. He emphasized the necessity for stringent regulations in European markets to mitigate the negative environmental and social impacts associated with cotton production.

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