The 6 Biggest Issues with Overseas Manufacturing

One of the main reasons we started Two Birds Apparel was to offer consumers a better alternative, both ethically and environmentally. Here are some reasons why we believe you should check the labels before your next clothing purchase to see where your clothes are being made.

1. Unsafe Work Conditions – The Collapse of Rana Plaza

Click image for video > Bangladesh garment factory collapses killing over 1,129 on April 24th, 2013

Awareness of the extremely poor working conditions in overseas factories has come to light since the collapse of Rana Plaza on April 24th, 2013. The deadly collapse of this 8-storey factory in Bangladesh caused over 1,129 deaths and left thousands seriously injured, amputated and unable to work. Many retail brands such as Joe Fresh were having products made in this factory during the collapse. What is most unfortunate about this tragic event is that it was not the first occurrence of a factory collapse in the past decade. In 2005, 64 workers died at the collapse of Spectrum sweater factory in Bangladesh. Brands such as Inditex, Zara’s owner were amongst many having garments made at this factory. Though building safety is now being addressed by asking companies to sign the Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh, it is only one of the many countries that are being used for overseas manufacturing.

2. Child Labour – Children as young as 5 years-old working in apparel factories

Click image for video > Factory Kids

There have been numerous accounts of child labor being used by large apparel companies in countries such as China, Bangladesh, India, Uzbekistan, Indonesia (just to name a few) for their overseas manufacturing. Children as young as 5 years old are used to work 12-hour days, in poor working environments without the choice to have an education.

3. Unfair Wages – paying people pennies to make apparel

Reports have shown that children, women and men are being paid as little as $26.00 CAD/month working 6.5 days a week, 12 hours a day in apparel sweatshops overseas. Many owner’s of major apparel brands in North America use these sweatshops where workers are forced to work overtime in unsafe conditions with no benefits.

4. Water Pollution - Is that grape soda or a purple river?

Click image > Sign the Green Peace Fashion Manifesto

Often overlooked as one of the primary issues regarding unregulated overseas clothing production is the extensive water pollution and leaching of toxic chemicals into our planets waterways. The issues are two-fold:

  • Many manufacturing plants related to the dying and washing of fabric and finished garments do not maintain acceptable environmental standards. This means that in areas of high population where clean water is not always readily accessible, water is becoming increasingly unsafe for drinking or cleaning. There are some disturbing images of purple water in the video below.

Click image for video> Detox: How People Power is Cleaning Up Fashion

  • When cheap, toxic chemicals are used to dye garments, these chemicals are released into your local water systems whenever you wash your clothes! This brings the issue close to home….literally.

Greenpeace has begun a campaign called Detox to put pressure on large brands to be better stewards of the water pollution caused by their manufacturing practices. We have signed the Detox manifesto and encourage you to do so as well.

5. Climate Change - extreme weather, droughts and melting glaciers

Unless you have managed to escape the media for the past decade, you have probably heard mention of climate change. Climate change is the result of the changing atmosphere due to a huge increase in the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This imbalance contributes to extreme weather (think Hurricane Katrina and Sandy in recent years), droughts, and melting glaciers that supply water for drinking and agriculture. Carbon dioxide itself is a natural gas in our atmosphere – it comes out of our breath when we exhale, and plants take it in as part of photosynthesis. However, carbon emissions are also generated in a major way when energy is produced through coal power and other fossil fuels like natural gas, crude oil, and diesel gas. Why is this relevant to the apparel industry? With so much manufacturing taking place in Asia, the energy used to produce our clothes has a tremendous impact on climate change. Many of these countries (like China, Bangladesh and India) generate most of their power through coal, natural gas and liquid fossil fuels. China, for example, gets two-thirds of its energy from burning coal! One of the reasons we decided to produce our clothes in Ontario, which is largely powered through hydro electricity, is to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere as a result of our manufacturing operations.

Click here to look at China’s energy mix with a whopping 67% coming from coal power. 


6. Air Pollution - people live shorter lives when exposed to harmful smog

Click image > National Geographic, Harbin Smog Crisis Highlights China’s Coal Problem

The other issue with heavy reliance on fossil fuel energy is that the air pollution it causes is downright dangerous. This National Geographic article shares some disturbing images of Harbin, a city in China, where the smog from coal burning gets so bad that the city has to close its roads due to poor visibility. Another recent study cited in the article suggests that air pollution is responsible for the loss of over 2.5 billion years of life expectancy in China!


*While the commentary above is quite gloomy, there are a number of brands that are making an effort to improve both the working conditions and environmental practices of the factories they work with overseas. For more information on industry groups working towards a more sustainable apparel industry, check out the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.