Ten years ago, on 24th April 2013, the eight-floor Rana Plaza clothing factory collapsed, causing the death of at least 1,132 people.


That disaster was the biggest catastrophe to hit the modern day fashion industry and was a wake-up call for everyone that has since come to symbolise the devastating impacts of fast fashion and a recall to desire to change that status quo.


In these days, many insiders are asking themselves if any significant change has occurred after that. There have been numerous initiatives aimed at tackling these problems, including the Bangladesh Accord (The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh) signed in the same year and a new International Accord on Health and Safety established by unions and brands in August 2021, an agreement that continues the work of improving factories in Bangladesh and works towards expansion to other countries.

They also created Fashion Revolution, an activist movement founded by Carry Sommers and Orsola de Castro meant to mobilising citizens, brands and policymakers through research, education and advocacy.

However, over the last decade, the linear business model which depends on ever-growing volumes and turnover of disposable garments has remained unchanged.


According to data collected by Greenepeace clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014, with the average person buying 60% more items of clothing every year and keeping them for about half as long. The number of garments exceeded 100 billion by 2014 and is projected to rise to over 200 billion by 2030 and fast fashion production levels continue to grow.


Fast fashion companies apparently seem to pursue policies that promote sustainability and respect working conditions by declaring on their labels that their clothing is sustainably produced. However, as a recently issued by Greepeace Germany, "Greenwash danger zone. Ten years after Rana Plaza fashion labels conceal a broken system" declares, their action can be most often considered as greenwashing.


"Ten years after the Rana Plaza tragedy, the fashion industry continues to exploit workers and generate huge environmental impacts," said Giuseppe Ungherese, head of Greenpeace Italy's Pollution Campaign. "Today clothes proliferate on the market that the fast fashion companies themselves label as eco, green, sustainable, fair, but most of the time it is just greenwashing. A nonexistent sustainability is advertised, while in reality clothes made of disposable plastic derived from oil, non-recyclable and mostly produced under unacceptable working conditions are steadily increasing."


Greenpeace Germany's report unveiled what lies behind the supposed sustainability of some well-known international brands' labels by checking if information on clothing labels is true or not.


The investigation checked the initiatives of 29 companies including H&M, Zara, Benetton, and Mango that adhere to the Detox Campaign-launched in 2011 by Greenpeace meant to encourage companies to reach zero emissions of hazardous chemicals in textile supply chains.


Greenpeace wanted to verify what lies behind the supposed sustainability of some international brands' hang tags, checking their self-made green marketing initiatives' truthfulness.


The analysis identified some common traits in many of the initiatives examined, such as: the risk of confusing consumers with labels that are presented as certified but are actually derived from corporate sustainability programs; the lack of third-party verification or assessment of compliance with the best environmental and social standards; the absence of supply chain traceability mechanisms; the absence of references to the need to move away from the current business model; and the false narrative about circularity that relies on, for example, on sourcing recycled polyester from other industries instead of used clothing.


Other traits included the heavy reliance on misleading terms such as "sustainable" or "responsible" associated with "materials" that, in fact, record only slightly better environmental performance than virgin or conventional fibers; the use of fiber blends such as "Polycotton" often presented as more environmentally friendly; the reliance on the Higg Index to assess the sustainability of materials, a tool many consider untruthful; the improvement of a single aspect of production such as, for example, reducing water consumption, or recycling pre-consumer waste.


Only a few initiatives, including Coop's "Naturaline" and Vaude's "Green Shape," performed well, in contrast to those of all the other companies surveyed including Benetton Green Bee, C&A Wear the Change, Calzedonia Group, Decathlon Ecodesign, G-Star Responsible Materials, H&M Conscious, Mango Committed, Peek & Cloppenburg We Care Together, Primark Cares, Tesco F&F Made Mindfully and Zara Join Life.


"Fast fashion cannot be called sustainable. Companies have a duty to move away from business models based on a linear economy and promote a true circular economy that reduces social and environmental impacts. Promoting circularity and extending the life cycle of clothes must be the industry's priority. Only then will we avoid fashion based on greenwashing," Hungarian concluded.


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