pp. 191-195 in Bioethics in Asia

Editors: Norio Fujiki and Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D.
Eubios Ethics Institute

Copyright 2000, Eubios Ethics Institute All commercial rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with the author.

5.5. Environmental Ethical Cost of T-shirts, Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu, India

C.Thomson Jacob, and Jayapaul Azariah.

Dept. Zoology, University of Madras, India

Tiruppur, in the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu is known for the production of T- shirts to the global market. It is one of the oldest centers of textile processing, particularly for the knitted cotton hosiery, popularly known as gbanianh. Tiruppur produces 90% of Indiafs cotton knitwear (Jacks, et al 1994). The rapid pace of technological development in textile industries and practice of age old methods of bleaching and dyeing have affected the ecological balance in Tiruppur. The impact of the textile industry on the environment is the bone of contention for the environmentalist. There are about 2000 production units manufacturing variety of goods such as vests, briefs, panties, tracks, suits, sweat shirts, pullovers, blouses, shirt blouses, leggings, pyjamas, sportswear, beachwear, shorts & woven garments for children, men and women. The finished products have a good market both in India and overseas. The direct and indirect of knitwear export fetches a revenue of Rs 30 billion per year which is the reflection of the quality of goods manufactured. But the ecology of Tiruppur is totally degraded. The ethical problem is who will pay for the damage caused to the river, ground water, agricultural land and the health of the ecosystem. The ethical problems which we like to raise are:

(I) Is it right for the developed countries to purchase products from the developing countries?

(ii) Is it right to use unclassified chemicals banned in the west?

1. Origin and Growth of Textile Industries

The growth of the knitting industries in Tiruppur is attributed to the availability of skilled labour, quality of ground water, and the availability of cotton yarn for hosiery. Until the early part of 1970s, white banians were manufactured and sold to Indian markets. The year 1980 through early 1990 saw one of the revolutions in export marketing due to the favourable changes in government policies and the advent of free marketing enterprises has resulted in the increase of coloured T- shirts in the market as also the pollution load. Gauging the prospect of growth of export and inland sales are very bright. Table 1 shows a clear increasing trend in production and export of garments from the year 1985 to 1997 (Subramaniam, 1997).

Table 1: Value of Garment Exports From Tiruppur


Production (Quality in 100,000 PCS)

Value (Rupees in 10 millions)









































Table 2
: Global Production and Consumption of Knitwear



Consumption (US$)

1. China

2. USA

3. India

4. Pakistan

5. Uzbekistan

6. Turkey

7. Greece

8. Argentina

9. Australia

10. Brazil





















Source: (Carta Textile)

Table 3: Export of Knitwear from India to Japan


Qut. (97/96)

Value (97/96)

Knitted Outer Wear

2160 (36.6)

1213 (69.6)

Knitted Under Wear

803 (44.8)

171 (67.0)

Woven Menfs Outer Wear

703 (50.5)

474 (58.8)

Woven Ladiesf Outer Wear

6931 (56.1)

4179 (62.0)

Woven Menfs Under Wear

1408 (55.3)

1311 (75.1)

Woven Ladiesf Under Wear

51 (39.8)

34 (38.5)


133 (157.6)

275 (129.7)

Apparels Total

3031 (56.6)

7486 (66.1)

* Value in million yen., % in 97/96.

Source: Japan Textile Importers Association, Tokyo

In the global market Brazil is one of the largest producers and consumer of cotton materials. From information available from ABIT, for 1996, China stands first in production and consumption in Asia. India stands third in production and consumption. The ten largest produces of cotton and their consumption are given in Table 2 (AEPC, 1997).

2. Ground Water Pollution

Untreated textile effluents released from the industries on open land seeps into the aquifer and increases the concentration of EC, TDS, Na & Cl. Contamination of ground water in India has been reported in various places because of a large number of dyeing and printing units within the city of Mathura (U.P) (Rastogi & Gaumat 1990) and in Pali (Rajasthan) (Gupta and Jain 1992). In Tamil Nadu ground water pollution is reported in Ambur, Ranipet, Pernampet, Vaniyambadi, Karur and Tiruppur.

The water used in the process is almost entirely discharged as waste, the average being 150 to 175 liters of wastewater for every kg of fabric processed. This poses a great demand for ground water. Untreated effluents contain substances that could endanger the aquatic life. Some of the dyes present in the wastewater are carcinogenic and harmful not only to human beings but also to plants and animals (Rugunathan, 1977). The ground water in Tiruppur is highly brackish (Jacks, et al 1994). The ground water quality in this vicinity has resulted in damage to agricultural crops and has caused skin disorder (Prabakaran, 1994).

3. Water Scarcity

The total water consumption of Tiruppur is 93 mld (million litres per day) from which the industry alone consumes 91.6 mld of water. It is reported that only 33 mld of water is supplied by the municipality and the private lorry supply is around 60 mld of water per day. The cost of water payable by a industry is about Rs.2.50 per litre. Therefore, the demand placed by industry and households has forced the conversion of agricultural lands for commercial private market supply amounts to 50-60 % of water used in Tiruppur. The buying price from wells ranges between Rs.40 and 80 per tanker. The average price for a 12,000 litre capacity tanker is Rs.240-300 (Blomqvist, 1994).

The dependence on cart supplies continues as the municipal supply is not adequate to meet household, industrial & commercial needs. The textile processing units still continue to purchase water, spending Rs.1500/ day. Each processing unit spends about Rs.1 lakh/ every month on the purchase of water. If such a trend continues then the availability of portable fresh water will be one of the major limiting factors to future growth and will emerge as a constantly growing source of conflict (Shane cave, 1993).

4. Child Labour

More than one third of Indiafs population consists of children aged between 1 and 14 years. Children are denied their basic right, the right to childhood. The plight of India is very grim, 60% of young children are underweight, 30% are malnourished and 65% of school-going children are out of school and child workers toil in unhygienic and hazardous occupations and processes with long working hours for meager wages in very vulnerable environments (Aloysius, 1996). The Factory Act 1948 prohibits the employment of child labour in industries, but in Tiruppur 30,000 to 60,000 children are employed in under exploitative conditions that are harmful to their physical, mental, and moral development and it is a violation of human rights.

5. Unclassified Chemicals Used In Textile Industries

The textile industries use synthetic organic dyes like yarn dye, direct dye, basic dye, vat dye, sulfur dye, nepthol dye, developed dye and reactive dye. The large variety of chemicals used in bleaching and dyeing process render them very complex. These chemicals are used in an attempt to make more attractive popular shades of fabrics for a competitive market (Rajagopalan, 1990). The textile industries are to satisfy the ever growing demands in terms of quality, variety, fastness and other technical requirements, but the use of dye stuffs has become increasingly a subject of environmental concern. Therefore, it is essential to evolve regulations designated to improve the health and safety and the human and natural environment. In India different textile processing units in Tiruppur use a number of chemicals that are likely to be from the Red List Group which is said to be harmful and unhealthy (Ravi kumar and Dutta, 1996). It is recommended that these industries must accept ISO 9000 & ISO 14000 series put forward by the European Community and International Standards for better management of industries and ecology of Tiruppur.

Table 4: Harmful Chemicals used in Textile Industries

Generally used products in Textile India


a. Detergents: Non-ionic detergent based on nonyl- Phenol Ethoylates Problem on biodegradation, Generates toxic metabolites highly poisonous to fish
b.Stain remover: Carry solvents like CCl4 Ozone depletion, capacity of 10 times more than CFC
c.Oxalic acid used for rust stain removal Toxic to aquatic Organisms boosts COD
d. Sequestering agents:

Polyphosphates like Tricsodium Polyphosphate, Sodium hexameta phosphate
Banned in Europe still used in India in water softening and house hold detergents
e. Printing gums:

Preservative Pentachloro Phenol is used
Dermatitis, liver & kidney damage, carcinogenic Banned in Europe & India
f. Fixing agent: Farmaldhide and Benzindie Harmful Internationally banned
g. Bleaching: Chlorine Bleaching Itching, Harmful
h. Dyeing : Amino acid liberating groups Carcinogenic, Internationally banned
6. Ethics and Law

India is one of the few developing countries to have comprehensive environmental regulations but the implementation of pollution control measure has been rather weak. The major environmental regulations for pollution control are

1. The Water Act 1997: The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has set tolerance limits for various pollutants present in the effluent depending upon the mode of disposal of effluent either into inland, surface water or into irrigation.

2. The G.O Ms.No. 213, imposes a total ban on setting up of highly polluting industries within 1 km from the embankments of public drinking water sources, reservoir and rivers.

3. Environmental Authority: The Supreme Court has ordered the Government of Tamil Nadu to set up an Environmental Authority to assess the extent of damage caused to the Environment. gThe authority should compute compensation under two heads, namely: reversing the ecology and payment to individuals... The Collector/District Magistrate shall recover the amount from the polluters, if necessary, as arrears of land revenue. He shall disburse the compensation awarded by the Authority to the affected persons / families ...h (Section 3) gAn industry may have set up the necessary pollution control device at present but it shall be liable to pay for the past pollution generated by the said industry which has resulted in the environmental degradation and suffering to the residents of the area.h (Section 5)

The Supreme Court has been unequivocal in its judgment that industries are liable for past damages caused to the environment or to individuals. With regard to remediation following order was passed: gThe Authority shall frame scheme (s) for reversing the damage cause to the ecology and environment by pollution in the State of Tamil Nadu. The scheme (s) so framed shall be executed by the State Government under the supervision of the Central Government. The expenditure shall be met from the Environment Protection Fund and from other sources provided by the State Government and the Central Governmenth (Section 7). The Supreme Court was equally clear that remediation (i.e. reversing the damage) must be undertaken whenever possible by the State Government. (Appasamy, & Devanathan, 1997).

Though there has been a multitude of regulations, many of the older and smaller units are not implementing the pollution control regulations, due to financial, technical or space constraints. The regulations are rather weak, in the long run self regulation, the use of pollution pay principle strategies and transparent environmental quality reporting system would be effective.

7. Ethical Restoration

1. Strict enforcement of law to the industries to meet the standards

2. Efficient cleaner technology should be introduced to meet the effluent standards

3. Industry should practice waste minimization, recycling, recovery and reuse of waste from the processed chemicals.

4. Green marketing with ecofriendly products and with eco-labeling or ecomark for their products

5. Exporting industries should get ISO 14000 certification

6. Abolish child labour

7. Ethical Committee to be formed locally

8. Conclusion

The relationship between the buyer and seller and economy that has controlled the demand projection can be depicted as a 4 pointed pyramid with the points, Economy, Demand, Seller and Buyer. When the demand of the Textile industries becomes high, the buyer and seller are concerned about the economic gain resulting from the damage of the ecology. The statistical figures show that the developed countries are interested in buying products from developing countries to save their own ecology and economy affecting the ecology of the developing countries. To overcome this problem the developed country buyers should have some ethical concern , so that they pay back the money which damages our ecology. To restore our ecology the developed countries should pay to import suitable technology and also to restore the historical damages caused to the Ecology. This type of give and take policy will be beneficial to the economy and ecology of both the buyer and seller.

To create better environment and protect the ecosystem from further degradation the developing countries need to apply their well designed policies from the start, cleaning up past mistakes. Developed countries once neglected this industry now favour the growth of the industries. The ecological concerns and economic developments are not contradictory but complementary to each other with a single common goal of sustainable development without depleting the natural resources .


AEPC, (1997), Apparel Fortnightly , Volume IV, Issue No.12, September 15th pp: 1-11.

Appasamy, P. and P.S. Devanathan (1997), Method of Damage Assessment: A Case Study of The Palar Basin (pp. 1 & 2)

Blomqvist, Annat (1994), Association of water users in Tiruppur- The development of local user groups inititatives in urban water management: A research proposal, MIDS, Madras, pp. 57

Gupta, I.C., and B.L. Jain (1992), Salinisation and Alkalisation of ground water pollution due to Textile hand processing Industries in Pali: Curr. Agri. 16(1-2): 59-62

Jacks, G., M.Kilhage and C.Magnusson (1994), The Environmental Cost of T-Shirt: Sharing Common water resources, Background paper, pp. 1-7

Prabakaran, 1994, Sources and classification of water pollution, Ed. N.Irving Saxed, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.

Ragunathan (1997), ETPS - Textile Units Face Hobsonfs Choice, The Hindu, April 27th.

Rajagopalan, S. (1990), Water pollution problem in Textile Industry and Control, In: Pollution Management in Industries Ed. R.K.Trivedy, Environmental Pollution, Karad, India pp 21-45

Rastogi, R. and M.M. Gaumat (1990), Pollution of ground water in Madura city, Uttar Pradesh: Bhu Jal-News. 5: 49-51

Ravikumar and P.K.Dutta (1996), Are Textiles Finishing The Environment? IJEP 16(7): 499-501

Shane Cave (1993), Poor Water Poor People Poor Water, Our Planet, Volume 5, Number 2

Subramaniam (1997). Origin and growth of Textile Dyeing Industries and Impact of closure due to pollution control on labour at Tiruppur, pp. 1-8, (Unpublished).

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