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World’s largest fashion brands are using tainted cotton, says investigation

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Rainforest Credits: Pexels

Brazil has long been under scrutiny for deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, but new research from Earthsight shows the destruction of the Cerrado biome, a biodiversity hotspot, has largely escaped notice. While efforts to address the Amazon's plight have seen some progress, deforestation rates in the Cerrado are worsening, driven in part by the demand for cotton by major fashion brands like H&M and Zara. Earthsight's investigation reveals the complicity of these corporations and their consumers in environmental degradation, land grabbing, and human rights abuses in the Cerrado.

According to Earthsight’s findings, H&M and Zara as global leaders in fast fashion indirectly contribute to the destruction of the Cerrado by sourcing cotton from Brazilian suppliers implicated in illegal activities. These suppliers, such as SLC Agrícola and the Horita Group, have extensive land holdings in the Cerrado, where they engage in widespread deforestation and environmental violations. Despite claims of sustainability, H&M and Zara's reliance on a flawed certification system fails to ensure ethical sourcing practices, allowing tainted cotton to enter their supply chains.

Challenges in addressing the environmental impact of Cerrado cotton production

The environmental and social impact of cotton production in the Cerrado is profound, with native vegetation loss, habitat destruction, and human rights abuses affecting traditional communities, Earthsight argues. Efforts to hold agribusiness accountable have been hindered by corruption, government neglect, and weak regulatory oversight. While initiatives like the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive in the EU aim to address supply chain transparency and accountability, political obstacles and industry resistance pose challenges to effective regulation.

To address the systemic issues driving the destruction of the Cerrado, Earthsight believes robust regulatory measures are needed, including stronger enforcement of existing laws and the expansion of legislation to cover cotton and fashion supply chains. They also suggest that the private sector must also take responsibility by demanding greater transparency from suppliers, implementing rigorous ethical sourcing policies, and supporting initiatives that promote environmental and social sustainability. Ultimately, collective action from governments, businesses, and consumers is essential to mitigate the devastating impact of industrial agriculture on the Cerrado and its communities.

Sustainable Fashion