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View on The Global Environmental Justice site

Rajashree Ghosh
Resident Scholar, Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University

Why I selected this film

RiverBlue documents the profound impact of textile factories serving the fashion industry in Western countries on the rivers in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, UK, USA, and Zambia. The film connects the consumer appetite for cheap and trendy garments with a rapid increase in the profitable but unsustainable production of disposable clothing. The film visits communities that rely on their waterways for food, livestock, and sustenance, and it chronicles the devastating effects of untreated wastewater from the factories. The polluted water harms the local aquatic life, contaminates crops, and eventually reaches the ocean to spread around the globe.

Overall, the film educates the viewer on the issues of environmental degradation, global trade agreements, workers’ rights, and hazardous working conditions. As a teaching tool, the film is more than a critique of the fashion industry; it also explores alternative and responsible manufacturing processes that can help resolve this global problem.  

Suggested subject areas

Agriculture, Ethics, Political Science, Business Management, Geography, Population Studies, Economics, Global Studies, Public Policy,Environmental Studies, Legal Studies

Teacher's guide

Please see the teacher's guide for maps, background information, suggested subjects, questions and activities. 


Conservationist Mark Angelo explores the pollution of major international rivers caused by the clothing industry’s irresponsible disposal of toxic chemical waste. The impact on Bangladesh’s Buriganga, China’s Pearl River, India’s Ganges, and Indonesia’s Citarum—and the people who depend on these rivers—is severe. Toxic dyes and heavy metals from textile manufacturing and leather tanning are frequently dumped directly into these rivers in countries where regulations are lax, poorly enforced, or both. The textile and tannery sectors alone account for 20% of the world’s freshwater pollution, says Angelo, but they don’t get anywhere near the level of scrutiny that other big polluters receive.  

The film includes interviews with local activists, investigators, and manufacturers as it sheds light on a crisis affecting some of the world’s most significant waterways. Although it focuses on the pollution produced by the blue jean manufacturing and tannery sectors, the film also explores the latest technologies and cutting edge alternatives and solutions to the problem that could greatly reduce the industries’ water consumption and the dumping of waste. 

The global environmental justice focus of the film

Supported by international trade agreements, fashion companies have outsourced manufacturing and jobs to China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and other countries where environmental regulations and laws protecting workers and the environment are lax. RiverBlue draws attention to the toxic living and working conditions experienced by workers and their families and the impact of the toxic waste on their health and the environment.

Many workers must perform their jobs in dangerous and unsanitary conditions with continuous exposure to toxins, reflecting the disproportionate exposure of poorer populations to environmental risks in their homes and workplaces. The fashion brands that benefit from these profitable industries often escape responsibility for the damage to the environment and to the workers’ health. RiverBlue argues that alternatives to the current practices do exist, and they could be more widely adopted. Consumer activism, the film suggests, could pressure companies to adopt more sustainable and less polluting practices.

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