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Clothing Brands Must Lead in Bangladesh

Bangladesh sealThe New York Times reports a seldom-discussed facet of Bangladesh’s garment-sector boom: widespread air and water pollution.

After April’s factory collapse that killed 1,129 workers, outrage focused on working conditions in the country, which is the world’s second biggest clothing exporter after China. Apparel giants sourcing in the country include Walmart, JC Penney and H&M. Major companies since signed an agreement aimed at boosting worker safety in the country, although questions linger as to its effectiveness.

But pollution problems from garment operations in the country are severe. A canal running through the town of Savar is red, purple, blue – whatever dye the factories are using that day. Air emissions wafting into a neighboring school make students vomit. In Dhaka, rice paddies and fish stocks are suffering. The Times argues that global brands sourcing in Bangladesh fail to give the same priority to pollution that they do to working conditions, although H&M has sponsored some environmental programs.

Unfortunately for the people of Bangladesh, nauseating canal fumes will probably never generate the same outrage as factory fires and collapses. But NGOs could seize upon the New York Times article to open a new campaign front, similar to Greenpeace’s 2011 Dirty Laundry report, which said major clothing brands were importing from a Chinese company responsible for river pollution in that country. Companies would benefit from addressing this supply chain issue now, to claim the mantle of leadership in their field.

Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.

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