How sea level rise could drown the fast fashion industry

Clothing and footwear manufacturing sites and predicted sea level rise in 2030 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Clothing and footwear manufacturing sites and predicted sea level rise in 2030 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Picture: Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Fast fashion is growing The source of carbon emissions. But these shows could well be his downfall; carbon pollution worsens the climate change, including impacts at the heart of the fast fashion clothing poles around the world.

A work document published by Cornell University’s New Conversations project at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations examines the different ways the clothing industry may be forced to change in the wake of the global pandemic. This looks everything from how online-only ordering changes the way supply chains work to the possible impacts of climate change.

The methodology for the climate part of the study is fairly straightforward. Cornell researchers first overlapped Climate Central data to the sea level rises and increased flooding by 2030 with maps of factory locations registered with the Open clothing register, an open-source database that collects and streamlines data on manufacturing facilities in the apparel and footwear industries. The study’s authors looked at major manufacturing cities in Asia, including Dhaka, Bangladesh; Canton, China; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It is quite obvious that the rise in sea level will create a severe flooding problem in many of these key manufacturing regions; in one of the worst scenarios, in Ho Chi Minh City, nearly 55% are in a flood zone.

Garment and footwear manufacturing sites and forecast sea level rise in 2030 in Guangzhou, China.

Garment and footwear manufacturing sites and forecast sea level rise in 2030 in Guangzhou, China.
Picture: Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Much of the data OAR uses to locate factories comes from supplier lists provided by the fashion companies themselves. Coupled with data from Climate Central, The report offers shows which brands supply chains and which workers – will be the most affected. I just spent 10 minutes clicking around locations in a small, low lying area of ​​the river estuary in Guangzhou, China, I found factories associated with Uniqlo, Esprit, Puma and Ted Baker.

As the document explains, rising sea levels are not the only climate threat facing garment factories. HHigh heat can also create unsafe working conditions in overcrowded, non-air-conditioned factories, which is also a major concern for other types of factory workers, including in the USA. Although the Cornell researchers did not make a analyzing the impact of heat on factories, they noted that in a worst-case emissions scenario, temperatures in China could rise by up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), while Indonesia is expected to experience a 95% increase in heat waves by the end of this century.

Clothing and footwear manufacturing sites and predicted sea level rise in 2030 in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta region, Vietnam.

Clothing and footwear manufacturing sites and predicted sea level rise in 2030 in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta region, Vietnam.
Picture: Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations

The discussion paper notes that big brands and fast fashion shoppers generally do not own the factories that supply their products. That means Ddespite the obvious risks, there may be little public pressure on the factories themselves to protect workers. The opaque system already has and the lack of regulation in the clothing industry has led to high profile tragedies.

In April 2013, a building containing five garment factories collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,132 people. Customers of the factories included Gap, Adidas and Walmart. It was discovered later that the building was built on a swamp without proper permits, and the owner refused to stop the work when cracks in the building appeared. During this time, 18 factories in Bangladesh were forced to close in 2017 after hundreds of workers collapsed in a heat wave and thousands left work. Adding regular to unstable and bad flooding supervised buildings – or additional heat to already too long working days for poor garment workers – is a recipe for potential disaster.

Clothing and footwear manufacturing sites and forecast sea level rise in 2030 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Clothing and footwear manufacturing sites and forecast sea level rise in 2030 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Picture: Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations

And even with warning signs like those presented clearly in this study, the big fast-fashion companies still may not be listening.

“In the interviews conducted for this article, the buyers did not intend to mitigate possible large-scale job and income losses due to sea level changes,” the authors wrote. “Suppliers in clothing production areas such as Dhaka, Ho Chi Minh City, and Jakarta showed little anxiety over the threat of flooding and dangerously high temperatures. “


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