Fast Fashion is turning African rivers blue

Global fast fashion brands are helping drive pollution that has dyed African rivers blue or turned their waters as alkaline as bleach, according to a report.

Water Witness International’s (WWI) report featured the polluted rivers in Lesotho and Tanzania to highlight the risks posed by global brands increasingly sourcing garments from contractors in Africa, attracted by cheap labor and tax incentives.

Global brands could force better practices, but so far their presence in Africa has done little to stop rampant pollution, water hoarding by contracting factories or even ensure adequate water and sanitation for factory staff, said Nick Hepworth, director of WWI.

He also said the “flipside is that (fast fashion) could be a force for change” but brands and investors needed to take the lead.

In Lesotho, researchers found a river visibly polluted with blue dye for denim jeans.

Samples taken from Tanzania’s Msimbazi River in Dar es Salaam meanwhile tested an pH of 12 – the same as bleach – near a textiles factory, impeding local communities from using the Msimbazi River for washing, irrigation and more.

From those samples, more than 50 international brands that source or have sourced their clothes from African nations were identified.
Dr Katrina Charles, an expert on water security and quality at the University of Oxford, said brands are able to make environmentally sustainable clothing, and consumer pressure is key to encouraging more.

Dr Charles, who has worked with governments in Africa and Asia, said the textiles sector offered opportunities for African nations, including growth and jobs, but these would not pay off if pollution management and adequate working conditions weren’t ensured.
“Making the textile industry a force for good in Africa is a very delicate balance,” she said.