Av Carin Leffler
English translation of this story was published 24 Nov 2010
Fair Trade Center in Sweden has carried out a survey of 17 garment companies and looked at who utilizes sandblasting as a part of the production process. In addition, they have examined whether the companies mention sandblasting in their ethical guidelines at all.
The spotlight on sandblasting has already had consequences: in the course of the survey work and the completion of the report, six companies have decided to cut out sandblasting in their supply chains. The day before the publication of the report the Norwegian corporation The Varner Group (which owns the clothing chains Cubus, Dressmann, Vivekes and Bik Bok, among others) announced that they will prohibit sandblasting in all of their own garment production.
- The report revealed that three of the companies – The Varner Group, Whyred, and Nudie Jeans – use sandblasting in the production. Whyred’s representative was unable to state whether it was quartz sand that was utilized. Nor could the representative for Nudie Jeans, when first asked, tell whether quartz sand was being used but stated a month later that this does not occur. On the basis of the information in the report it is unclear whether The Varner Group has utilized the injurious quartz sand to bleach the garments.
- When first contacted, H&M, Fabric Skandinavien, Gina Tricot, Inditex, Åhlens and Tiger of Sweden all answered that sandblasting is a method that is utilized by the supply chain. While the report was being written, the companies have notified Fair Trade Center that they will now introduce a policy for phasing sandblasting out of their production.
- KappAhl and Lindex say they have already stopped using the method.
Read the Report “Deadly Fashion” [Will be available in English later this month]
Injurious Method Forbidden
In 2009 Turkey instituted a prohibition against the use of quartz in the production of garments. This bleaching method was common until last year, especially in the informal sector, which is not covered by any kind of legislation. Sandblasting is often carried out by migrant workers in constricted rooms without ventilation or protective gear. In some cases the workers have even slept at the workplace.
About 50 people have died in Turkey as a direct result of having worked with sandblasting of jeans material. The Turkish organization Solidarity Committee of Sandblasting Laborers estimates that up to 5000 workers in the country’s textile industry have been stricken by silicosis.
Watch the film on the victims of sandblasting, made by VJ Movement, an organization of more than 150 videojournalists from various countries.
The Method Is Moved to Other Countries
After Turkey instituted the prohibition, sandblasting of garments has been transferred to other countries, such as China, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Voluntary organizations and trade unions fear that the health-related consequences will be the same in these countries too.
Little Knowledge about the Risk
The investigation shows that surprisingly few clothing chains have any knowledge about the risk attached to sandblasting, especially when carried out manually. Furthermore, it appears that only a few chains have worked preventively with regard to the challenge that sandblasting represents.
Several of the companies declare that they use other alternatives to sandblasting. Bleaching of garments is nevertheless a challenge. It is difficult to differentiate between jeans garments that have been sandblasted and garments that have gotten a “worn” look by other methods. Furthermore, no method is totally without risk when the workers’ health is taken seriously. In other words, the companies face a great challenge in proving to their customers that the production methods behind their jeans and other products have not harmed the employees.