All posts by Luisa Dörr

Inhuman working conditions , continuation of the story about the Sumangali girls

In our last post we have already dealt with the Sumangali system in India. Nevertheless we need to look at it more closely, so we thought this topic is worth another blog!

As already mentioned, girls in the Sumangali system are living and working in inhuman conditions. They are treated as slaves and are at the mercy of this exploitative system. An initiative in the state of Tamil Nadu has proposed standards for Sumangali girls: In an area of about ten by ten feet should not live more than twelve girls and share a toilet, a sink, a bucket and a mug!

Maybe you should read this sentense a second time…after all this should be a suggested improvement! This enables us to see how the circumstances might be for this girls. As women of the western world it´s hard to imagine that other women have to abandon themselves in such humiliation.

The so-called ILO labor and social standards defined by the International Labor Organization can provide for certain contitions, in terms of working conditions. Since 1919, this organization have been campaining for the rights of workers around the world – the aim is the indroduction of  minimum social standards worldwide.

These standards can be classified into four basic principles:

  • Freedom of association and right to collective bargaining
  • Elimination of forced labor
  • Abolition of child labor
  • Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation

These principles are embodied concretely in further conventions, the outcome of this are the ILO core labor standards. They are regarded as so-called universal human rights…but the question is now: if there are such conventions, how then is it possible that despite everything people still are exploited!? These ILO standards are only legally binding if they are ratified by the member states.

It is sad to see that this organization has been trying for what felt like eternity to enforce these standards for a social and fair interpretation and implementation of globalization, as well as the creation of decent work – important standards as prerequisite for poverty reduction. This should actually be in the interests of all, but unfortunately many nations and major corporations still shirk from it, they don´t want to face up to this responsibility and ignore such standards skillfully. This may explain why, for example, conditions such as in India can prevail

More information about the ILO labor standards can be found:–de/index.htm

Inhuman working conditions

Sadly, fire in factories, child labor and inhuman working conditions are an everyday occurance in the textile industry. An important question is: How do these people who make clothes for us in India, Bangladesh, etc, live and work?

We can hardly imagine what risks people are exposed to in the so-called low-wage countries just to offer us consumers in the western world one t-shirt at low prieces…fortunately, through their revealing reporting media and organisations call attention to the abuses in the production and processing of textiles in low-wage countries – we as society can and should no longer close our eyes to the facts.

An example of inhuman working conditions in low-wage countries is the Sumangali system in India … Sumangali means „happy bride“. Young girls (15 years and older) are deployed and exploited as cheap labor in factories. They are hired as „apprentices“, thus they receive a low wage and the promise to be paid out a fixed sum (about 400-800€) after three to five years. This money can serve as a dowry for the marriage. The problem with this system is that many girls do not persevere, but dropped out after one to two years and did not even receive a part of the promised wage bill. The girls are treated as slaves and have been systematically sealed-off, and frequently work for 10 to 12 hours per day. They are overtired due to night shift and overtime, they have not a day off and are not allowed to leave the factory premises. Generally, these girls do not get holiday and may return home to their families only twice a year for one to two days. While working they are under constant pressure, each working step is noted and who is late for work, gets the daily wage deducted.

These women are at the mercy of the (arbitrariness of) male supervisor. One speaks of verbal abuse and sexual harassment…also rape! No rights, the constant pressure and the slave-like conditions drive the girls commiting suicide… – these are just some examples of how the conditions for women working under the Sumangali system in india look like. Sumangali is a form of debt bondage or slavery…for us in the western world it is difficult to imagine, but for indian women it is cruel reality.

An exemplary organization campaigning for the economic, social and cultural rights of women is the non-profit association FEMNET e.V. :

Water consumption and CO2 emissions

Water consumption and CO2 emissions are important aspects in the context of the cultivation of raw materials and the production of textiles. Earlier in this blog we showed the detrimental effects on the environment caused by the immense amount of water consumed for the cultivation of conventional cotton… Today’s size of the Aral Sea, formerly 66,900 km2 large, is only less than 20,000 km2. One of the reasons for this is the heavy cotton cultivation and, consequently, the high water consumption as well as the tremendous use of fertilisers and pesticides. As a result the Aral Sea has lost more than 80% of its water volume! The consequences are devastating. When conventional cotton is cultivated the water consumption depends on the irrigation system; in any case though organic cotton generally needs less water than conventionally grown cotton. That is because the cultivation of organic cotton completely avoids chemical plant protection products and only relies on natural fertilisers. In the long run this leads to an increase of the humus in the soil, which can then store more water.

Now we have thought about chemicals, all the other toxic substances and the water consumption. However, what is still often forgotten is the fact that not only a car but also a piece of clothing is responsible for a vast amount of CO2 released into the environment. The carbon footprint shows all the greenhouse gases produced throughout the whole life cycle of a textile starting with the raw material and the production over to the transport and the distribution up to its use and disposal. Take a white long shirt with a net weight of 222 gram for example. The carbon footprint measures 10.75 kg CO2 – equalling 50 times the net weight of the shirt. Especially interesting about this is that the time period a piece of clothing is actually in use has a considerable influence on its carbon footprint… 3.5 kg CO2 are produced in an expected life cycle of 55 machine washes. If the piece is additionally put in the dryer and ironed as well, this value can increase by three times. This means that, as consumers, we are undeniably responsible for this too. Energy-efficient devices, the loading of these devices as well as washing clothes at low temperatures can largely reduce the carbon footprint.

If you would like to calculate your personal ecological footprint, just click here

Toxics in dyes and in textile finishing

In China they say you can tell what the colour trends of the season are by looking at the colours of the rivers.

Textile processors are those who finish the textile, clean it, bleach it, dye it or treat it until they achieve the fabric handle intended, a fluid structure of the material, a soft gloss or a bright white as well as easy ways to take care of the piece. The specific finishing of a piece of clothing determines whether our pullover feels soft, whether our blouse is wrinkle-free or whether our T-shirt is machine washable. Again and again tests have detected harmful substances in our clothes, which continue to have a toxic effect even after several machine washes… and we wear these clothes every day!

It’s shocking but it’s true – the textile industry uses 250,000 tonnes of dye per year to process textiles as well as 4 million tonnes of textile auxiliaries, lye and salts for the textile finishing. After this process 20% of the dye and 80% of the chemicals used are led into the sewage.

Cancer-causing dyes, plasticisers that lead to infertility or diabetes, or chemicals which can cause allergic reactions… they all are used during the finishing process and eventually come into contact with us, the consumers. We are not aware of this… because these hazardous chemicals are not listed on the clothing label. Even if wearing these clothes might not damage the health directly, these chemicals enter the sewage at the very latest when we wash the clothes and then they accumulate in the environment and consequently find their way into our food chain. As a result they can be found in human blood and tissue!

“Detox” is a Greenpeace campaign that calls producers around the world to use safe substances instead of toxic ones which can harm the human body. Meanwhile fourteen companies have committed to avoid all hazardous chemicals and to change their production practices until 2020. This might be a drop in the ocean… but we at EARTHBACK hope that far more companies will follow suit!

Video about the detox campaign:

The new textile guide by Greenpeace shows which textile labels really offer toxic-free clothing:

Toxic substances used for the cultivation of fabrics – detrimental effects on people and the environment

Why go for organic materials instead of, for example, conventionally grown cotton?

The basic question to be answered here is… how is the cotton for our clothing actually grown?

Cotton is grown in monocultures, meaning that nothing but cotton is grown in a particular area. About 2,000 litres of water are needed to produce a regular T-shirt, leaving out the amount of water used to dye the fabric later. Due to its long ripening period the cotton plant attracts pests and therefore has to be sprayed on with pesticides 20 to 25 times before the harvest. 24% of all insecticides and 11% of all pesticides are released then. As a result 150g of toxic substance per cotton T-shirt end up seeping into the field. The toxic substances do not only kill off the pests but also the useful insects. A vicious circle is created as consequently more pesticides are spread. The consequences are disastrous to humans and the environment.

  • The use of pesticides puts cotton farmers in high danger… Most agricultural workers are not informed about the risks involved in the use of pesticides and are exposed to them without escape. They work with toxic substances without any protective equipment… Accidents involving these toxic sprays lead to poisoning and even death. Since farmers need to spend more than half their proceeds on further pesticides or fertilisers, they are very reliant on their yield… Without any money no seed can be bought for the next season, interest cannot be paid back – as a last desperate resort many farmers decide to commit suicide!
  • Another dramatic effect concerns our environment: The Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, formerly 66,900 km2 large, serves as an example of this. The heavy cotton cultivation and the consequently high water consumption as well as the tremendous use of fertilisers and pesticides has led the lake to decrease in size which is now less than 20,000 km2. This means the lake has lost more than 80% of its original water volume! Biologically the lake is practically dead. The consequences for the regions around the lake are: Salinised and spoiled soils, the population suffers due to polluted drinking water and poisoned food as well as from epidemic diseases, cancer and physical deformities of newborn babies.


Is it fair that people and our environment make such sacrifices for mass-produced fashion? EARTHBACK says NO!

Eco fashion today

So what is the state of eco fashion today?

At last … Today’s high eco fashion has said goodbye to its cotton bag image. Green fashion can finally be up-to-date, trendy and ecologically and socially responsible at the same time… Fairs have contributed largely to this development like the Ethical Fashion Show Berlin for example

and the Green Showroom

These fairs take place twice a year as part of the Berlin Fashion Week and are firmly established there. They allow established and new sustainable labels for high end fashion and accessories to present themselves.

We can finally say that some things are about to be change in our society … a new way of thinking is coming about. In this day and age sustainability and fair trade have become standard topics present in our minds. Media reports on the conditions at production sites and the exploitation of workers in countries with a low-wage economy add to the fact that consumers cannot turn a blind eye to such ills anymore. By now many consumers have changed their way of thinking in such way that they focus on ecological questions. But we cannot stop there… We now have to act! The inhumane working conditions in countries with cheap labour economies and the irresponsible treatment of the environment are not the only issues. The health risks, that result from the use of chemicals and that we are exposed to as consumers, should really make us think and get into alternative buying habits! Thanks to the “green fashion wave” there are alternatives, just look around  :)

We at EARTHBACK wish our society and the coming generations that sustainability will become more and more part of our everyday lives – everyone needs to get up to make this happen. Everyone can get involved to prevent our planet from being ruined by industry and instead help preserve the living environment of animals and a balanced ecosystem – and all this while everyone can still be well-dressed and look great ;-)

Join the fashion revolution…


The year 2000 – The LOHAS

…and then the LOHAS came along… and the phase of high eco fashion

Who are the LOHAS actually? Some of you might have heard about the LOHAS. The LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) are a lifestyle group also called neo ecos. They do want to be fashionable and trendy but they are also conscious of values such as solidarity and social responsibility. Since the year 2000 ecological fashion that is also fashionable and stylish has been constantly growing within the fashion industry. The LOHAS especially feel committed to buying fair goods… as a moral and ethical duty.

As a result the grey clouds surrounding the bleak image of eco fashion have slowly but surely been dispersed from the fashion sky… This period of “high eco fashion” has attracted so many young designers as never seen before. Their products are ecologically produced and conform to ethical and moral standards.

The difference between this phase and earlier attempts of the eco fashion movement is the design… It follows the latest trends. But it is not only new young designers who follow principles of fair trade and sustainability when producing their collection. “Old hands” in the fashion industry or indeed well-known high fashion designers are changing their opinions.

And fortunately we can say that more and more people get on board the “green” movement, inspired by those who dare… Your EARTHBACK team



The 90s

The development of ecological fashion goes on… the second wave of eco fashion…

During this phase terms like “green luxury” and “welfare light” characterized the view that ecology should be enjoyed. On one hand ecology was seen as something that should show exclusiveness but on the other hand it was also regarded as a chance to be different… to stand out from the crowd.

During this period, the so-called “eco goes fashion” phase, the textile industry addressed the issue of ecology. The aim was to adapt the value chain of clothing items to the demands of an ecologically produced piece of clothing – that means from the cultivation of the material to the finished product. The problem was that functional and ecological aspects were not enough reasons for the potential consumer to purchase a piece… The image of the still omnipresent “sloppy-looking eco style” hovered over this eco fashion movement like grey clouds. So this phase represented rather an ecological wave than a shift towards a greener industry .

A historically significant event outside the fashion sector was the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. There the Agenda 21 was passed by 178 states – a model for sustainable development. This model aims to satisfy the needs of today’s generation by means of changed economic, environmental and development policies without damaging the chances of future generations. If we think about the fact that this conference was held 21 years ago and if we consider the ongoing and never-ending issues regarding factory fires in countries with low-wage economies, child labour, inhumane working conditions, exploitation of farmers etc., we should critically think  about what will happen to our planet  and our society within the next 21 years…

…these are the things we think about at EARTHBACK and we want to make this earth a better place again, for everyone!

Warm fur and good leather shoes at the expense of people, animals and the environment!

Some of us thought we had seen enough misery after the reports on factory fires and the deplorable working conditions of textile workers, e.g. in Bangladesh… but this goes on and on. Few people for example worry about the origin and the processing of the leather that we wear on a daily basis.

The idea that those people who produce our leather shoes cannot afford shoes themselves cannot be more ironic … however, it is getting worse. These people are trapped in a vicious circle of hunger and poverty. They are affected by diseases early in life due to the toxic chemicals they are exposed to every day or they suffer from starvation. And all this while they work for a wage rate so low that it lies beyond our imagination… Do we actually think about that when we slip into our fancy leather shoes in the morning?

Animals also go through unbearable sufferings for the sake of our well-being… In order to make a pretty-looking fur collar coat, foxes and raccoon dogs for example are bred in droves and then brutally beaten to death with iron bars on local markets so that their skins can be utilized right there. Or they are skinned alive…. Unscrupulously and heartlessly.

And in the end the products that enter our markets even harm the consumers. The material contains the remains of chemicals and toxic substances which are used and released during the tanning and which potentially damage the health of consumers. Recently a large amount of children’s shoes was affected and had to be recalled. Where is this going to end if workers in countries with low-wage economies, innocent and defenceless animals as well as our nature, the environment and in the end even the consumers – that is us – suffer from and throughout the whole production process of leather and fur… When will these conditions change?

The TV documentary by Manfred Karremann and the ZDF is shocking as well as eye-opening and helps us think outside the box of our everyday lives!

The history of eco fashion

The historic development of ecological fashion began decades ago… or indeed even further back.

In the ancient world people had to rely on the materials found in nature. Consequently materials such as wool or cotton were used exclusively before linen, hemp and nettle fabrics arrived in the Middle Ages. When synthetic materials emerged these natural materials took a backseat in the 20th century. However, in the 80s parts of society took a political stand against the fundamental principles and the system of fashion and formed an environmental movement against excessive consumerism. How did this show!? That is the question now. It showed for example in the typical “sloppy-looking eco style”. Natural materials were “in”, figure-hugging designs were “out” :) . “Eco” was seen as an alternative lifestyle and was practiced in any shape or form.

Even at that time one fashion icon played a leading role and brought political awareness to the fashion industry: Katharine E. Hamnett. Her politically inspired protest T-shirts brought attention to social ills: “58% don’t want Pershing” (against the deployment of Pershing missiles in Britain) or “save the whales” were issues of the time that she referred to in the designs of her t-shirts.

Some people might ask how loud and provocative you are allowed to be in order to create attention… but the grand dame of the ethical fashion wave is also heavily involved in today’s eco fashion movement and successfully makes statements with her meaningful slogan T-shirts.


Katharine E. Hamnett visits the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1984)