Call for an end to Jeans Sandblasting
Organisations say the practice kills thousands
Istanbul, November 27 - During a press conference in the Turkish city of Istanbul, the Solidarity Committee of Denim Sandblasting Labourers and the Clean Clothes Campaign, supported by dozens of trade unions and labour-rights NGOs, demanded that jeans brands stop selling sandblasted jeans, and encouraged governments to investigate an importation ban.
Jeans are sandblasted to give parts of the fabric a faded, worn out or bleached look. These jeans are profitable business: the retail prices of sandblasted jeans is often significantly higher than jeans without such finishings. Therefore, jeans producers think they found a cheap way of increasing their profits. However, there is a hidden cost: sandblasting operators working in the countries where most of our garments are produced - such as Bangladesh, China, Mexico, Egypt, and others - contract an acute form of silicosis. In Turkey alone, 46 known cases of former sandblasting operators who succumbed to sandblasting-related silicosis were registered until the practice was banned by the government in March 2009. According to the organisations, in reality the number could be far higher than the registered cases.
The current organisation of garment production through long international subcontracting chains, often based in countries where basic Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) procedures are routinely violated, makes it impossible for jeans producers to guarantee the highly complicated and technically advanced safety procedures necessary to sandblast jeans in a safe way. Considering the very high OHS risks and fatal consequences of jeans sandblasting, we call on the jeans companies to phase out all jeans sandblasting from their supply chains.
Recently, jeans producer Levi-Strauss and fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) have announced they will stop selling sandblasted jeans for this reason. "Such positive signals are encouraging, and shows that the industry is ready to act on this issue," said Wyger Wentholt of the Clean Clothes Campaign. "Still, actions by a few companies alone will not be enough to cover the entire sector. We encourage governments to look into a possible importation ban for these jeans."
The Clean Clothes Campaign and its allies called upon jeans brands that still sell sandblasted jeans to start phasing out production with immediate effect, and upon consumers to tell brands they don't want to buy killer jeans. "We also want these brands to take up responsibility for the damage done, and ensure that proper medical care and compensations are given to the victims of jeans sandblasting," added Ms. Yesim Yasin of the Turkish Solidarity Committee.
In Turkey, a successful campaign by the Solidarity Committee is currently aiming at their government to ensure that silicosis victims from the jeans industry are awarded a disablement pension, without distinguishing between workers in the formal or informal economy, and they won a court case about this issue last October. "We are on the right track, but progress is too slow," said Mr. Abdulhalim Demir, a former sandblasting worker himself and now active in the Turkish Solidarity Committee. "Recently we drafted new legislation and submitted it to the Ministry of Labour. If this legislation is enforced, we would take the biggest step in our national struggle.”
The press conference in Istanbul took place right after the Clean Clothes Campaign International Forum that brought together over one hundred labour rights organisations, trade unions and women's organisations that campaign for fair conditions in the garments industry. The organisations adopted a manifesto supporting the call for an end to the sandblasting of jeans and other textiles.