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The Clean Clothes Campaign and its partner organisations organised a two-day expert meeting to work towards a global ban of manual and mechanical sandblasting in the garment sector. Fair Wear Foundation’s verification coordinator Annabel Meurs was there to present FWF’s policy.
Sandblasting is a technique for finishing jeans to give them a worn look by blasting sand at the denim. It is now beyond question that abrasive blasting of denim can cause silicosis, a deadly lung disease. New research shows that many factories exporting jeans continue to use sandblasting.
Experiences from a Bangladeshi sandblaster and from members of the Turkish Solidarity Committee of Sandblasting Workers resulted in valuable exchanges. After the known deaths of at least 56 Turkish workers as well as many others who became seriously ill, the Turkish government enforced a national ban on sandblasting.
However, given the fact that the ‘worn’ jeans are still widely produced, sandblasting has most likely moved to other production countries such as Bangladesh. Since silicosis has a latency period of at least six months and can show up in x-rays years after sandblasting occurs, it is assumed possible deaths of workers will occur in the future.
The sense of urgency among stakeholders and many brands is extremely high.
Due to the potentially lethal consequences of using unsafe abrasive blasting and the difficulty in securing safe working conditions in abrasive blasting, FWF adopted a policy against abrasive blasting in January 2011. Given that the industry is characterised by many subcontractors and unregistered workers, FWF members cannot guarantee that no unsafe abrasive blasting is done in controlling their supply chain. FWF advises its members to invest in researching alternative methods (note that some alternatives such as PP spray can also be extremely harmful) and to adequately monitor if the ban on sandblasting has been implemented throughout their supply chain. In this context, brands have the responsibility to look at their own purchasing practices (particularly paying a living wage and sufficiently long lead times) that support the implementation of this ban.