Graciela invited me to her home in El Salto, a city on one of Mexico’s most polluted rivers, the Rio Santiago. She wanted to share the story of her community’s struggle for environmental justice.
“Every family here has at least one person with a serious illness or a loved one who passed away before their time,” Graciela told me. “The people are suffering. Their health and livelihoods are suffering. And industry is earning billions of pesos. It’s just not right.” I saw anger and sorrow wash over her eyes as she spoke about their plight.
This community knows people can drown in toxic pollution, but they can also drown in despair. To their great credit, Graciela with her husband Enrique and daughter Sofia have chosen to resist that darkness.
“Un Salto de Vida”, or “Life-Falls” in English, is how the Enciso family named their community organization when they began to protest against industrial pollution in the Rio Santiago in 2006. “Because we live close to the falls and we fight for life,” says Sofia, who is now heading the fight in her community. Hundreds of factories supplying goods to international brands discharge wastewater into the Santiago. The government has found dozens of hazardous chemicals in the river, but nobody can tell how many toxic chemicals are in there, nor exactly how high the levels of pollutants are.
What’s more – due to lax regulations and enforcement – locals don’t know which outflow pipes belong to which factory, what they are discharging, and which brands they are working for. But government files, forced into the public domain by Greenpeace Mexico, reveal that officials are aware of illnesses in the area linked to chemical pollution.
Despite all this, Graciela has never lost faith in their mission, and wishes that her granddaughter will one day be able to experience the river like she did as a child – as the most wonderful place on earth.
For this wish to come true, much work lies ahead.
You can make a difference
Right now, big brands such as Levi’s are working with suppliers in Mexico that Greenpeace investigations have revealed are contributing to the toxic pollution in Rio Santiago and other rivers in Mexico, and elsewhere around the world.
Levi’s have the power and influence to dramatically improve the amount of information locals have about what is being released into their rivers, and to work with their suppliers to eliminate these hazardous chemicals across their entire global supply chain.