Dirty cotton – “BCI”

Earthsight, a non-profit organization, has recently published an investigative report revealing the potential dark side of the textile industry.

The report indicates that leading fast fashion brands such as H&M and ZARA may be sourcing cotton from lands that have been illegally reclaimed and cultivated, leading to what Earthsight has termed “Dirty Cotton.”

The investigation focused on tracing the origins of 8 million metric tons of cotton, uncovering that the cotton was derived from illegally exploited land and subsequently purchased and processed by garment factories in Asia. These factories then supply the processed cotton to some of the world’s most prominent fast fashion brands. Complicating matters further, the report highlights that the raw materials used in the production of this “Dirty Cotton” have been certified as sustainable by “Better Cotton,” the world’s largest cotton certification organization.

The source of this “dirty cotton” is the Cerrado, Brazil’s second-largest ecological region, which is under threat due to large-scale agricultural activities. Environmental experts are concerned that while efforts are being made to preserve the Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado is suffering irreversible damage. The report also reveals the significant environmental impact of agricultural development in the Cerrado, particularly in the northeastern state of Bahia, where excessive water use has led to the depletion of local riverbeds and streams.

Investigating logistics records, Earthsight found that the garment factories used by H&M and ZARA primarily source cotton from two major Brazilian cotton groups, which have been implicated in unsustainable practices and indiscriminate land reclamation in the Cerrado.

Between 2014 and 2023, these cotton groups exported over 816,000 tons of cotton from Bahia to foreign markets, with a significant portion being purchased by Asian garment manufacturing factories supplying global fast fashion brands with nearly 250 million pieces of clothing and household products annually. The report also raises concerns about the collaboration between these multinational fast fashion brands and “Better Cotton,” emphasizing that many of their products utilize raw materials certified by this organization, further perpetuating what Earthsight calls Brazil’s “cotton scam.”