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Silk


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Overview

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Silk

The Byproduct Myth

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Silk is produced by the domesticated, selectively bred caterpillar, Bombyx Mori, that has been factory-bred and lives only in a captive environment where reproduction is almost continuous. The male moths, after fertilizing the females, are all crushed and discarded. The female moths each lay approximately 500 eggs; they are then inspected for any sign of disease. The unusable females and eggs are destroyed. The remaining eggs are placed in growing trays or on racks along with mulberry leaves (or an artificial diet), and they develop into larvae that grow as large as a human finger. In about a month, when fully mature, the larva begins to spin a cocoon around itself in preparation for its transformation into a moth. Over a period of 3 days, the caterpillar spins a continuous thread in a figure-eight motion, binding it with a natural secretion called "sericin." Its metamorphosis will take from 10 to 12 days.

 

The object of the entire silk process is the harvesting of this extraordinary, delicate thread. The cocoons are gathered early enough to interrupt the transforming process in order to prevent damage to the cocoon. At this point, the live silkworm is killed by boiling, baking, or steaming. Silkworms are sensate animals that react to temperature and light, and they produce endorphins as a response to pain.

 

Once the silkworm is killed, the filament encircling the cocoon must be carefully unwrapped and reeled. It is so fine that 3 threads must be twisted together to form a single strand. Great precision is required for this work, which is done primarily by women and children.

 

It takes 5,500 silkworms to produce only 1 kg of raw silk. At current levels, 550 billion silkworms are exploited and killed in an endless violent cycle to produce 100,000 metric tons of raw silk a year. China almost completely dominates silk processing with its network of 20 million farmers, while in India there are over 6 million villagers engaged in the production of silk fiber. Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil also have vibrant silk industries. Among producing nations, in India and Vietnam local demand far exceeds supply, therefore they are also importers. The export value of silk remains consistently high and is an important source of hard currency across Asia.

 

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Japan, Italy, France, and Germany are the most advanced and sophisticated weaving centers, supplying high-end silk textiles for clothing manufacturers, as well as silk decorative fabrics for the furniture market. In the last decade, however, the silk industry has experienced strong competition from synthetics like viscose rayon and polyester for market share. Silk trade representatives, like the International Silk Association and the International Sericulture Commission, are concerned that the challenges are not only coming from other available textiles but also from the improved socioeconomic prospects of rural Asian villagers. In Japan and South Korea, where farmers choose more lucrative options, some production centers have already been dismantled. The World Bank sees this as an opportunity, and it has initiatives promoting silkworm production in areas where the rural population has few other good economic choices but where the culture favors silk clothing. In Bangladesh, for example, the World Bank program is encouraging the expansion of this industry, aiming at reducing raw silk imports and, at the same time, creating local ingredients for clothing exports.

 

Shifting the production to poverty-stricken regions is a way to maintain high profits in the silk trade by lowering costs in a labor-intensive industry. This solution, however, illustrates one of the most scandalous issues in the industry: namely, the exploitation of children, poor farmers, and rural women. Dateline (a U.S. investigative television program) exposed the abuse that is common in India, where children are locked away in factories working 1215 hours at a stretch as bonded laborers for pennies a day. Sold by their families into slavery that is formally illegal, they are brutalized by factory foremen and kept working in cocoon-cooking factories, in twisting and spinning units, and at looms. Numerous child-welfare agencies attempt to rescue these children, but authorities persist in denying what is apparent bondage for thousands of children. Cynically, exporters graciously provide invoices that assure Western manufacturers that the finished silk or manufactured clothing items were not made by underage children or prison labor, yet film footage showed it to be common throughout the region.

 

Ironically, silk is promoted as a pure and natural fiber of the greatest elegance, but it is, in fact, made in sweatshops from killed animals and no longer portrays a deluxe image. Appropriate alternatives are easily located that don't involve cruelty and abuse of humans and animals alike.

 

   

 

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