Environmental destruction is a global issue but it’s no a secret it’s being felt hardest by those in the poorest regions of the world, in particular Vietnam who is fighting industrial pollution on a large scale.
For a time, there wasn’t much that could be done by locals to object to such flagrant abuses such as industrial pollution. However, so much has happened in recent years, in terms of global active citizens, that things are beginning to change as more demand is made for sustainable and ethical fashion.
This post comes as news of Vietnamese villagers blockade a textile plant that serves global fashion brands, seeking the permanent closure of the factory due to pollution concerns. This highlights a growing readiness of textile workers to protest, specifically in Vietnam but across the region, over a number of issues including working conditions and benefits to environmental abuses.
In Hai Duong, 30 miles (50 km) east of Hanoi, hundreds of people have kept watch in shifts day and night since April to stop work at the Pacific Crystal Textiles mill, operated by Hong Kong-based Pacific Textiles. Among those affected by the stoppage is Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo.
Villagers reported they started to notice a bad smell last year and once investigated, they found the smell came from water discharged from the factory.
The company was fined 672 million dong ($30,000) for the December spill, according to a statement on the Hai Duong authority’s website in February. Water was found to have breached limits for acidity and alkalinity balance, colour, total suspended solids, chemical oxygen demand and biochemical oxygen demand.
Despite this, villagers said they were still concerned, accusing the factory of continued pollution and setting up their blockade on the 12th April.
Pacific Textiles’ head of corporate social responsibility, Eugene Cheng, told Reuters steps had been taken to stop any discharge of waste water with the help of the local government.
This isn’t the first time protests against industrial pollution has shook the country. A toxic spill from a Taiwanese-run Formosa Plastics Group steel plant occurred in central Vietnam last year, sparking unprecedented protests. It was responsible for poisoning sea life along more than 125 miles (200 km) of coastline.
However, the blockade does present another challenge to the communist state’s authority. And at a time when Vietnam is seeking more foreign investors to maintain one of Southeast Asia’s highest growth rates.
Image courtesy: Hoang Dinh Nam /AF / Getty Images
Uniqlo’s owner, Japan’s Fast Retailing, told Reuters it indirectly sourced fabric from the mill and had, for the time being, shifted production elsewhere. It said it had verified the steps Pacific Crystal had taken to remedy the situation after the spill.
“Fast Retailing is serious about running an ethical, sustainable business, and operates all supplier relationships under a strict code of conduct,” spokesman Aldo Liguori said.
According to Pacific Textile’s website, the factory also supplies other international brands including Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret. Gap Inc said it worked with both Crystal Group and Pacific Textiles, but did not source from or work with this plant.
While the government has told companies they must meet environmental standards in order to stay in the country, it seems their force is actually being felt more fiercely by environmental campaigners. Their protests can be considered a direct challenge to the strict communist rule of law. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, one of Vietnam’s most prominent bloggers, who is known by her pen name of Mother Mushroom, was jailed for 10 years this very month for anti-state propaganda.
Whether it’s environmental or workplace abuses being covered up by multinationals with grey supply chains or worse, the very governments who are charged with protecting their people and state, in the end it comes down to the resistance of ordinary people to stand together for what is right.