“Expecting producers in countries such as India, Bangladesh and China to adopt environment-friendly practices smacks of the white woman’s burden…”
Manjula Lal writes at the Hindu Business Line:
If extreme weather events like the Uttarakhand cloudburst are a result of West-induced climate change, is it morally right for consumers in the West to expect eco-labels for garments and textiles produced in Asia? Climate change is primarily the result of urbanisation and industrialisation. For that reason, expecting producers in countries such as India, Bangladesh and China to adopt environment-friendly practices smacks of the white woman’s burden in an age when globalisation has changed the rules, even the game, of trade across boundaries.
The desire for eco-labels may have originated as a call of conscience but has turned out to be misguided. In the last four decades, garment production has shifted to the developing world while consumption is overwhelmingly in the West. For instance, in 2000, about one-third of the worldwide sales of garments occurred in Western Europe and another third in North America.
With the end of import quotas in 2005 and the removal of tariff barriers, trade in textiles and clothing became freer. Countries such as India, keen on export-led growth, were able to earn significant foreign exchange from this sector. Countries like Norway which, in the 1970s, bought garments mostly from neighbouring countries, today import most of their needs from Asia at lower prices.
This growth has had an environmental cost — and the West is protesting too loudly about this, as if it has not benefited from cheaper imports. The textile industry is castigated as a major greenhouse gas emitter owing to its size and scope, and it is said apparels and textiles account for approximately 10 per cent of the total carbon impact.