We need to talk about undies

Yes, your undies are a very private thing. Comfort and style are immensely important, and no doubt you’ll have a strong personal preference. But we do need to talk about undies.

Do you know what nasties are riding along with your favourite undies?

Residual chemicals in clothing

It’s a significant issue in clothing, particularly for people with sensitive skin, and especially in underwear that hugs our skin so closely. So much so that Choice recommends:

wash any new clothes twice before wearing, although washing won’t remove certain types of chemicals

The ACCC has ordered several recalls of clothing over concerns about residual chemicals, so there is at least some modest level of protection for us as consumers, though in most cases that will be after the event, after customers have already worn the suspect items.

Health risks for farmers and textile workers

But what about at the other end of the undies supply chain? From the very start of production — growing the cotton and processing it — through to dying the cloth, there’s a vast array of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals used in mainstream production, and that’s a health risk for farm workers and factory employees.

Child labour

And were your undies made by kids who should have been at school? In 2013 the ILO reported that there has been progress:

Global number of children in child labour has declined by one third since 2000, from 246 million to 168 million children. More than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work (down from 171 million in 2000).

But it’s shocking to think that millions of kids are still doing hazardous work, risking life-long illness, just so that people in wealthy countries like ours can buy cheap clothing.

It doesn’t have to be that way

Consumers have choices. Every day we vote with our wallets about the world we want to leave to next generation.

There are alternatives to dirty undies:

  • Look for clothing that is certified organic under the GOTS scheme, the Global Organic Textile Standard. Ah. That feels better already. No pesticides or herbicides allowed in farming; no toxic dyes allowed in production.
  • Check that it is Fairtrade cotton, certified by Fairtrade Australia New Zealand. As well as ensuring better incomes for producers, the Fairtrade movement is focussed on improved strategies for child protection and the elimination of child labour.
Etiko undies

As part of our commitment to the environment and a fairer world we’re working with award-winning Melbourne-based company Etiko to get organic Fairtrade undies out to a wider audience. Etiko has a long history of awards for environmental practice and fair trade, including the 2016 Business Award of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

How to order Etiko undies: Men’s trunks and women’s bikini briefs are available from the New Internationalist ethical shop here.