Fashion’s Hidden Scandal: How Top Brands’ Waste Fuels Cambodia’s Health Crisis?

In a startling revelation, a report by the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) has uncovered a disturbing practice in Cambodia’s brick factories. Waste from at least 19 international brands, including Adidas, Walmart, and others, is being used as fuel in these factories, posing significant health risks to workers.

This report, based on visits to 21 brick factories around Phnom Penh and Kandal province, highlights a grave issue in the global fashion supply chain.

Workers at these factories have reported severe health issues, including headaches, respiratory problems, and complications during pregnancy, directly linked to the burning of pre-consumer garment waste. This waste includes fabric, plastic, rubber, and other materials.

“Several workers reported that burning garment waste caused them headaches and respiratory problems; another worker reported that it made her feel especially unwell during her pregnancies,” the LICADHO report stated.

Brands’ Response and Environmental Concerns

Several brands named in the report, such as Primark and Lidl, have acknowledged the issue and initiated investigations. Adidas, sourcing from 16 factories in Cambodia, stated, “We have initiated an investigation to see if waste is being diverted from the authorized disposal routes to the brick kilns.”

Cambodia Fashion Waste
Brands’ Response and Environmental Concerns

This response is crucial as Adidas’s environmental policies in Cambodia mandate that all waste materials from apparel suppliers must be disposed of in approved waste-to-energy plants or government-licensed recycling centers.

The burning of garment waste is not just a health hazard but also an environmental concern. A 2020 UNDP study and a separate 2018 report by UK academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, found that burning clothing scraps can release toxic substances, including dioxins, which can cause cancer. These findings underscore the need for stringent waste management practices in the fashion industry.

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Moving Towards Sustainable Solutions

The situation calls for immediate action from all stakeholders. Brands must ensure compliance with environmental standards and ethical waste disposal practices.

Consumers, too, play a role in demanding transparency and sustainability in the fashion products they purchase. As the fashion industry moves towards a more sustainable future, addressing waste management in the supply chain becomes crucial.

Large Pollution Heap Fashion Industry Trash
Large Pollution Heap Fashion Industry Trash

This situation in Cambodia serves as a stark reminder of the hidden costs of fashion. It’s not just about the latest trends and styles; it’s about the health of workers and the environment. As we move forward, let’s hope that this revelation leads to positive changes and more responsible practices in the fashion industry.