Release of report on Sandblasted denim and its fatal effects on workers

published 29-03-2012 15:10, last modified 24-04-2013 11:48
Killer Jeans still being made. New research shows that sandblasting continues in high street production

Thursday, 29 March 2012 - Jeans brands including H&M, Levi's, Lee, Diesel and Zara come under pressure today as new research reveals Bangladeshi garment workers continue to be exposed to deadly lung diseases while producing faded jeans for European consumers. The report, Deadly Denim, issued today by the Clean Clothes Campaign, found that large factories exporting jeans overseas continue to use a process known as sandblasting.

Sandblasting is a technique to give the “worn-out-look” to jeans. Many brands sourcing denim from Bangladesh have declared that they no longer use sandblasting to fade their products. The ban has been adopted by scores of brands in the last year after the process was proved to cause fatal lung diseases, including silicosis.

The report reveals that regardless of whether a brand has ‘banned’ sandblasting or not, sandblasting - both manual and mechanical – is still commonly used. Our research clearly shows that not only manual but also mechanical sandblasting poses a deadly risk to Bangladeshi garment workers.

One factory owner stated that it was impossible to produce some of the designs requested without the use of sandblasting. Indeed workers told researchers that they are told to switch to using sandblasting, even if a buyer has said it is not be used, if they are too close to production deadlines. Others stated that production was often carried out at night to avoid detection by inspectors and auditors.

Workers interviewed suffered from constant coughing and breathing difficulties. They were using old machinery, and were forced to work up to twelve hours a day in dusty, poorly ventilated rooms, without adequate health and safety protection. Most interviewed had colleagues who had fallen ill.

The report further highlights the lack of medical care provided to workers and the difficulties they face in getting adequate diagnosis and treatment, in part because of the low awareness of the issue among medical professionals.

“It is shocking that almost a decade after a silicosis epidemic among garment workers was highlighted by doctors in Turkey, garment workers are still being asked to risk their lives for fashion” said Dominique Muller of the Clean Clothes Campaign “brands and retailers must do more to put an end to sandblasting.

The Clean Clothes Campaign and its partners are now calling on brands to take more action to end all forms of sandblasting. This should include ceasing production in any unit which carries out either manual or mechanical sandblasting production, making changes to the design of the jeans and working with local trade unions and workers' rights organisations to ensure the ban is being respected.

They are also calling on national governments to ban the process and for the EU to introduce an import ban on sandblasted products. The CCC also wants to see the garment industry included in the World Health Organisation/International Labour Organisation work on the elimination of silicosis and to develop a national programme in Bangladesh.