Campaign to Eliminate Sandblasting
The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation launched its campaign to eliminate the use of sandblasting in the garment industry in 2009. Since then we have pushed both Governments and Brands to take action to eliminate this dangerous and unnecessary process.
What is Sandblasting?
Sandblasting in the garment industry is primarily used for the creation of a faded or worn look on denim products. The process involved sees the garment being worn down through the use of abrasive substances being powered by high velocity jets. This causes the top layers of fibre on the denim to be removed creating the faded look. The silica, which is the abrasive, and the fibres are dispersed into the air and inhaled by workers in the factory.
Why is it harmful?
Sandblasting causes silicosis which the World Health Organization states leads to " lung fibrosis and emphysema. The form and severity in which silicosis manifests itself depend on the type and extent of exposure to silica dusts: chronic, accelerated and acute forms are all recognized. In later stages the critical condition can become disabling and is often fatal. A frequent cause of death in people with silicosis is pulmonary tuberculosis (silico-tuberculosis). Respiratory insufficiencies due to massive fibrosis and emphysema (respiratory tissue loss is not always present), as well as heart failure, are other causes of death
The ITGLWF's Campaign
In 2009 the ITGLWF launched a campaign calling for the immediate worldwide ban on the use of sandblasting in the garment sector. The campaign was initiated following the revelation that as many as 10,000 garment workers in Turkey could potentially develop silicosis due to inadequate protection during the sandblasting of denim.
The practice of sandblasting had taken place in Turkey since the 1990s but it was only in 2005 that it was linked to the development of silicosis. By 2009 there were 550 garment workers who had been diagnosed with silicosis and a further 46 had already died of the disease. Experts predicted that infection rates may be as high as 50% amongst those exposed to the silica used in the sandblasting process and thus the numbers already identified could multiply by ten in the coming years.
The ITGLWF has continued to campaign for the elimination of sandblasting and has negotiated with Governments and major clothing brands to end the practice. In 2010 both Levi's and H&M jointly decided to eliminate the process from their supply chains representing a major breakthrough in the campaign.
On the 20th of January 2011 in Brussels the ITGLWF held a meeting with global clothing brands to discuss ‘Towards the Elimination of Sandblasting in the Garment Industry’. Speakers included trade union, and health and safety experts as well as brands that have taken the step to ban sandblasting.
The ITGLWF is continuing its campaign and a further meeting is planned in the first half of the year.
CALL FOR A GLOBAL BAN ON APPAREL SANDBLASTING
The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) and global apparel buyers and manufacturers issue this joint Call to Action urging an industry-wide ban on the practice of sandblasting in the garment industry
Apparel sandblasting involves projecting fine sand with compressed air to create a worn look on denim and other garments. Sandblasting can be extremely damaging to the health of workers if proper safeguards are not followed, and can lead to a disabling and potentially fatal lung disease called silicosis.
In July 2010, after the impact of sandblasting on workers’ health had come under scrutiny in Turkey, the ITGLWF called for a ban on this process. The ban is an important step toward ensuring that no worker – in any garment factory – faces the threat associated with exposure to crystalline silica.
In September 2010, as a commitment to the health and safety of workers across the apparel industry, Levi Strauss & Co. and Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M) became the first to implement a global ban on sandblasting in their supply chains. In so doing, these companies went beyond the ban which the Turkish Ministry had imposed within Turkey and extended the ban to all operations globally. Since then a number of other leading brands and retailers – such as Aurora Fashions, Bestseller, C&A, Carrefour, Esprit, Inditex, Karen Millen, and New Look - have also announced the elimination of sandblasting in their supply chains.
The aim of this Call to Action is to ban sandblasting throughout the global garment industry. Signatory companies agree to:
- Ban the practice of sandblasting throughout their supply chains including but not limited to the use of aluminium oxide, aluminium silicate, silicon carbide, copper slag and garnet for abrasive blasting;
- Work with their suppliers in a transition towards alternative methods, after having established the risks and their means of control;
- Take the necessary measures to ensure that the ban is effectively applied throughout their whole supply chain.
This Call to Action is signed and supported by the ITGLWF and the following brands and retailers:
- Aurora Fashions
- Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M)
- Karen Millen
- Levi Strauss & Co
- New Look
- VF Corporation