Textiles

Research-based evidence about the Pre-historic Era suggests that humans began to wear clothing dating back as far as 100,000 to 500,000 years ago. In addition, humans must have had a very early desire to give clothing specific textures, appearances and colours. Dyeing fabrics made from natural fibers using colouring agents extracted from minerals, plants or animals has had an age-long tradition. As the variety of fibers evolved into more synthetic ones, so did the efforts in providing garments and textiles that exhibited more unique aesthetic and functional characteristics.

Presently, there are several thousand textile chemicals which can be grouped into over sixty distinct functional chemical product classes. These textile chemicals are used in: yarn formation, fabric pretreatment and finishing, textile laminating and coating, and other miscellaneous applications. They range from agro-chemicals found in natural fiber production to relatively simple and specialized chemicals including mixtures (e.g. dyes, emulsified oils and greases, starch, waxes and surfactants, biocides, flame retardants, water repellents) that can be found in product manufacturing. Many of these chemicals remain within the products; others are released in their solid, liquid and gaseous forms during manufacturing.

By the early 1970’s, awareness about the possible adverse health effects of these chemicals on users and product manufacturers, as well as the environment started to emerge. Initially, the focus had only been on consumer protection. However, in recent years efforts have evolved towards making garment and textile products more sustainable along their entire life cycles. Currently, the textile industry is supposed to analyse and address the possible harms of textile manufacturing on the environment and human health starting from the raw material sourcing stage to its final disposal stage (e.g. labelling and certification, greening supply chains, green design).

The list of legally banned and controlled substances is becoming more and more comprehensive as research and an understanding about the actual and potential hazardous properties of such substances progresses. In mid-2011, Greenpeace launched the so-called ‘’Detox Campaign,’’ highlighting the direct links between global clothing brands, their suppliers and impacts on the environment and health around the world. Under this Campaign, the textile industry has responded with the launch of the “Öffnet externen Link in neuem FensterZero Discharge of Hazardous Substances” initiative. Most renown manufacturers refrain from or strictly control the use of substances which, amongst others, include certain groups of carcinogenic aminoazo dyes, pentachlorophenol (PCP), formaldehyde, phthalates, perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), heavy metals (e.g. nickel, chrome, cadmium or lead), brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, organotin compounds, short-chained chlorinated paraffins, alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEOs) and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs).

Over the last two decades, the growing variety and complexity of textile products and textile chemicals used in conjunction with the globalisation of manufacturing supply chains pose challenges in addressing the given issues and ensuring a comprehensive flow of information about the chemicals found in certain products. For example, a simple pair of jeans may have travelled several thousand kilometers before it reached its point-of-sale. They may have passed through various steps of manufacturing and material sourcing spread out over several different countries contributing to local values in the process, but also contributing to environmental and human health burdens as well. Each step in the life-cycle of this particular pair of jeans is set along a variety of environmental scenarios with differences in legal frameworks and enforcement procedures as well as differences among social, economic and cultural conditions.

To help support the control over these challenges, the GIZ cooperates with international brands and local manufacturers in the textile and garments industry, as well as local authorities and other stakeholders. Current efforts focus on the strengthening of worthy chemical management practices at the local manufacturing level, enhancing the enabling-frameworks amongst their target countries, while also contributing their experiences to international initiatives.