Fast fashion allows Russia to bypass oil sanctions

29 May 2023 Letter

From Urška Trunk, The Changing Markets Foundation

Published in the Financial Times:

It is high time to crack down on imports made with Russian oil to the EU, an urgency recently acknowledged by the EU’s high representative for foreign policy (FT, EU urged to crack down on imports of Indian fuels made with Russian oil).

However, refined fuels, including diesel, is not the only way Russian oil enters Europe through India, evading sanctions from Member States. Changing Markets Foundation’s recent investigation – a report called Dressed to kill – found that Russian oil is also sneaking in through the back door through fossil-fuel based fashion.

Synthetic fibres made from oil and gas make up a large majority (69%) of today’s textile production, with fast fashion founded predominantly on cheap polyester fibre. Demand for the fast fashion’s darling has been inadvertently funding Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Reliance Industries, India’s largest producer of petrochemicals, polyester fibre and yarn cashed in on the war and resulting sanctions against Russia by importing discounted Russian oil for its production of polyester and exporting it to destinations with sanctions against Russia, including the EU. That means that Russian oil is used in the production of polyester that is then shipped around the world to make garments for some of the largest global clothing brands.

The polyester giant increased the amount of oil it buys from Russia 12-fold from before full-scale invasion of Ukraine to July 2022, and in just one fiscal quarter increased its revenue from the oil-to-chemicals business – including its polyester production business – by a staggering 56.7%. The profits are to be used to invest in Reliance’s further expansion of polyester capacity, and by extension fuelling fast fashion.

Meanwhile, 39 global fashion brands were found to be directly or indirectly linked to the use of Russian oil through Reliance Industries, undermining Western governments embargoes and illustrating how broadly synthetic clothing is linked to contentious fossil fuel sources. Even though over 25 of these brands have pulled out their operations from Russia due to war, these steps seem highly hypocritical considering they continue to produce their clothes from Russian oil and therefore indirectly funding Russian war.

It is clear that for so many reasons synthetic fibres do not have a place in a sustainable fashion industry. They are not only bolstering the Russian economy during its invasion of Ukraine but are also a driver of the destructive fast fashion model, driving microplastics pollution, waste crisis and climate breakdown.

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