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Despite voluntary bans by major apparel brands, sandblasting is still widely practiced in the largely unregulated overseas denim industry, according to a new report by the Clean Clothes Campaign. In Deadly Denim, published late March, the advocacy group details its investigation into nine Bangladeshi factories that still engage in the controversial denim-weathering technique. “Well over 45 percent of interviewees recognized the logos of brands shown to them as being manufactured in the factories in which they worked,” the study reads. “These brands included H&M, Levi’s, C&A, D&G, Esprit, Lee, Zara, and Diesel, all of whom, except D&G, claim to have banned sandblasting.” The so-called bans, the campaign says, have not only been poorly monitored but also regularly circumvented.
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BAN, WHAT BAN?
Sandblasting, though fast and cheap, has drawn near-universal criticism for good reason. Both manual and mechanical forms of the process involve firing tiny, abrasive particles of silica onto denim at high speeds, producing that faded and worn-in appearance denim aficionados crave. If inhaled in high concentrations, however, silica dust can cause an irreversible and potentially fatal lung condition known as silicosis, which can develop in as little as a few weeks after exposure. Making matters worse, sandblasting is typically carried out in unsealed environments with inadequate safety gear, according to the CCC’s research.
Mechanical sandblasting is typically carried out in unsealed environments with inadequate safety gear.
Buyer bans have helped encourage a shift away from sandblasting in the larger factories, as well as the closure of some sandblasting units, the group says. But change is hard, particularly if brands fail to change their designs or increase production times to account for labor-intensive and slower alternative finishing techniques. In several factories the CCC investigated, workers claimed to resort to manual sandblasting, often in the night, just to finish orders on time. “It is relatively simple to announce a ban but far harder to monitor the impact of such a ban,” the report notes. “Brands, meanwhile, have not revised deadlines, pricing, and target production figures to fit in with a non-sandblasted means of production, increasing the likelihood of ban-breaking.”