The Other Hidden Costs of Non-Green Fashion in Developing Nations

Behind the glitz and glamour of fashion lies a darker reality of sacrificing human and environmental welfare for style.

Fashion production has undergone a transformation in recent years, with developing countries now responsible for 60% of the world’s clothing exports.[1] While this has brought benefits to these nations, such as job creation and economic growth, there is a price to pay. Behind the glossy fashion shows and trendy outfits, the industry is hiding a dirty secret of environmental destruction, social unrest, and economic inequality that often goes unnoticed.


Under developing the environment

Textile, garment, and footwear manufacturing in developing countries have an enormous environmental impact. Each year, these factories generate 1,715 million tons of CO2 emissions and consume 79 billion cubic meters of water, leading to significant waste production. Despite the prohibition of harmful chemicals, developing countries continue to use these substances to remain profitable, causing damage to water sources and biodiversity.[2] Furthermore, the fertilizers used in cotton production contribute to water pollution, while the destruction of rainforests for wood-based fabrics endangers indigenous communities and ecosystems.[3]


Human & Environment Rights < Profit

Fast fashion, primarily produced in countries with poor labor laws, perpetuates low wages and hazardous working conditions for garment workers. Employees often work in unsanitary and dangerous conditions without access to their basic rights, fearing job loss if they speak up.[4] Forced and child labor continue to be prevalent issues in the industry.[5]

For example, In South India, approximately 100,000 young girls live under the Sumangali scheme, a modern form of slavery, where they work in textile factories for years, receiving only a meager wage and a lump sum payment at the end to cover their dowry. Uzbekistan, one of the world’s largest cotton exporters, had been notorious for forcing over a million people annually, including children, to pick cotton. Although Uzbekistan has accelerated its fight against child and forced labor, such practices still exist in the industry globally.[6]

The Human Cost Gets Political

The fashion industry’s global supply chain has created an unfair balance, leading to low pay and poor working conditions for garment workers. Three-quarters of garment producers depend on a single main purchaser for one-third or more of their sales, pushing manufacturers to cut prices to avoid losing orders to competitors and to sacrifice employee rights. This has created a race to the bottom with low wages, hazardous working conditions, and environmental degradation.[7]

Garment manufacturing concentration in some clothing export-dependent countries has led to an increase in authoritarianism and trade vulnerabilities that could impede their long-term economic growth. Bangladesh, for instance, is experiencing both challenges. Its garment manufacturing sector accounts for over 86% of the country’s total exports, making it challenging to diversify its economy.[8]

The clothing industry, once a symbol of progress, now carries the burden of environmental degradation, social discord, and economic disparity, disproportionately affecting developing nations. The toll on people and the planet has reached critical levels. Prioritizing sustainability, ethical practices, and the welfare of workers and communities is needed for the fashion industry to make strides towards a more equitable and sustainable future. Collective action and responsible choices will be vital in creating a better world that serves the needs of all.

Consumers can make a difference by making responsible choices and prioritizing sustainability and ethical practices when shopping for clothes. This can include buying from brands that are transparent about their supply chain and production processes, supporting fair trade and worker rights, and choosing clothing made from sustainable materials. Consumers can also reduce their environmental impact by reducing their overall consumption, recycling, or donating old clothes, and repairing or repurposing existing items. By making informed choices and supporting ethical practices, consumers can help create a more equitable and sustainable future for the fashion industry.



[1] “Globalization Changes the Face of Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industries.” Available at:–en/index.htm#:~:text=At%20present%2C%20more%20than%2060,are%20manufactured%20in%20developing%20countries.

[2] “How Fast Fashion Causes Environmental Poverty.” Available at:

[3] “What’s wrong with the fashion industry?” Available at:

[4] “Fast Fashion: The Danger of Sweatshops.” Available at:,and%20injuries%20are%20also%20frequent.

[5] “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.” Available at:

[6] “What’s wrong with the fashion industry?” Available at:

[7] “Textile workers in developing countries and the European fashion industry Towards sustainability?” Available at:

[8] “Bangladesh Is Clothes-Minded.” Available at:


Author: Giuseppe Scandariato