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Textile industries and pollution in Tehuacan, Mexico

Textile industries's water pollution in Tehuacan, also known as the international capital of Blue Jeans is threatening local livelihoods in Puebla, Mexico.


Tehuacán is the second-largest city in the Mexican state of Puebla. The Tehuacan region, formerly known as one of “Mexico’s jeans capitals, " became infamous at the beginning of the 2000s for environmental pollution caused by the industry, human rights issues, and low wages, which were widely denounced in the press. There are about 300 garment factories and 25 laundries in the Tehuacan region. [2]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Textile industries and pollution in Tehuacan, Mexico
State or province:Puebla
Location of conflict:Tehuacan
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Other industries
Manufacturing activities
Specific commodities:Manufactured Products
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The textile sector grew rapidly in the 1990s, much of it taking place in Maquiladoras, following the NAFTA trade agreement with the US. This began to decline in 2004 when taxes and tariffs on imports were dropped for all countries. Many companies had to shut down. It is estimated that 32,000 jobs were lost in less than a decade in the Tehuacan region, Puebla, a major center for jeans production.

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Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:300,000.00
Start of the conflict:01/01/2000
Company names or state enterprises:Grupo Navarra
GAP from United States of America
Levi Strauss from United States of America
VF Corporation from United States of America
Sara Lee from United States of America
Calvin Klein from United States of America
Tommy Hilfiger from United States of America
Polo Ralph Lauren from United States of America
The Limited from United States of America
Relevant government actors:PROFEPA - Federal Procuraduria for the Protection of the Environment
SEMARNAT - Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources
OSSAPAT - Operating Agency for Drinking Water and Sewerage Services
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace Mexico
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Air pollution, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
Negotiated alternative solution
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:After a union campaign and its international repercussions in the press, certain improvements in working conditions in the maquilas of the major brands were achieved, such as the installation of firefighting equipment, courses on industrial safety and behavior, and the elimination of child labour.

Over-exploitation of aquifers and water pollution went unnoticed, overshadowed by labour problems and the conflict over unionization. This permitted the factories and industrial laundries to make free use of water through the National Water Law (1992), which imposed no restriction on the extraction and use of water according to the activity to which the resource was destined. It was not until its reform in 2004 that limits on the extraction and use of water began to be defined through the establishment of ‘regulated zones’, ‘reserve zones’ and ‘closed zones’.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:These advances, which improved the international corporate image of the major transnational textile firms, had negative repercussions in Tehuacán. Major textile firms began relocating out of Tehuacán to southern Mexico and Central America to reduce their production costs through cheaper labor. Local authorities and business leaders blamed the economic situation on the trade unions, which became the target of death threats, extortion, and blacklists.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

National Water Law (1992)
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Antonio Trinidad Requena, et al., Water resources and textile maquilas in Tehuacán, 2019

[2] Greenpeace, Toxic Threads: Under Wraps, 2012
[click to view]

[10] Greenpeace, Toxic Threads: Under Wraps, 2012
[click to view]

[3] International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Tehuacan: blue jeans, blue waters and worker rights , 2003
[click to view]

[4] [6] International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Tehuacan: blue jeans, blue waters and worker rights , 2003
[click to view]

[5] La silla rota, El agua o la vida
[click to view]

[9] Greenpeace Mx, Hilos Toxicos, 2012
[click to view]

[7] RSI News, Il lato sporco dei blue-jeans, 2018
[click to view]

[11] J.Jesu Lemus, El agua o la Vida, 2019
[click to view]

[8]; Tehuacán: Sin vigilancia, descargas de aguas tóxicas de textileras
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[click to view]

The Guardian, Distressed denim trend costs Mexican farmers the earth, 2007
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

GreenPeace Mexico - Campaña "Hilos Toxicos"
[click to view]

Other comments:At the beginning of the twentieth century, the abundant water and its medicinal properties prompted the development of bottling plants for mineral water, attracting major investors looking to reach a national market and leading to the bottling of soft drinks. This industry expanded in Tehuacán until the 1970s when it began to decline because of the textile industry underground pollution.[1] Some water bottled are still working there, but others had to leave, such as Agua de Tehuaca, Garci-Crespo, Balseca, San Lorenzo and San Francisco.
Meta information
Contributor:Laura Grassi, Source International
Last update15/07/2020
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