9 July 2013, Hong Kong

Guangdong province in China is home of approximately half of the world’s denim production supplying garment for popular high street brands like Lee, Levi’s, H&M, Hollister, Wrangler, American Eagle, etc. The recent fashion trend of distressed jeans has however resulted in the widespread use of sandblasting; together with other processing procedures they bring a lot of health hazards to workers.

Sandblasting entails blasting sand under high pressure onto the denim fabric to create a distressed look. This procedure creates a lot of dust that mixes with tattered fabric. Extended inhalation of these particles can cause severe respiratory problems such as silicosis, byssinosis (also known as ‘brown lung disease’), pulmonary fibrosis, and lung cancer etc.

Many well-known brands agreed to stop using sandblasting 3 years ago. However, a new investigative report on 6 factories in Guangdong, entitled Breathless for Blue Jeans: Health hazards in China’s denim factories*, found sandblasting still common. Workers were not provided with adequate protective wear (e.g. face masks, eye masks and gloves) when they undertook procedures like hand-sanding, polishing, water-based treatment, and chemical spraying (e.g. potassium permanganate). They received no proper training and were not equipped with enough occupational health and safety knowledge to understand the risk of the materials they use every day.

The basic minimum wage in Guangdong province is just about 1,100 Yuan (€137, £116) a month. In order to make ends meet, workers are forced to work under such dangerous conditions for up to 15 hours a day.

We demand all brands:

1. to stop using sandblasting on their production line and should not work with suppliers which refuse to end the practice;

2. to ensure their suppliers to provide adequate training and protective gears for workers when adopting processing methods such as hand-sanding, mechanical polishing and wrinkling, and to fully disclose the information on any hazardous materials;

3. to work with suppliers to ensure workers are paid a living wage with no more than 49 working hours a week, so that they need not risk their life to support the living of themselves and their families;

4. to compensate the victims of occupational diseases.

Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM)

*Remarks: The report, Breathless for Blue Jeans: Health hazards in China’s denim factoriesis produced by SACOM, IHLO, Clean Clothes Campaign and War on Want. It can be downloaded here: http://sacom.hk/archives/2373

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