Campaigners are calling for a mandatory global ban on sandblasting

Campaigners are calling for a mandatory global ban on sandblasting

Renewed calls are being made for a global ban on the practice of sandblasting denim jeans, after research by labour rights groups found the finishing process is still widespread in China.

The calls follow a new report into conditions in six denim factories in the Chinese province of Guangdong, a region responsible for half of the world's entire production of blue jeans.

The report, 'Breathless for Blue Jeans: Health hazards in China's denim factories,' finds that sandblasting is still widespread in China in order to give jeans a worn or 'distressed' look.

This is despite most Western brands banning the practice three years ago because of its link to silicosis, a deadly lung disease that has already caused the deaths of many garment workers.

The new research, based on interviews with workers in the factories themselves, also revealed that workers are exposed to other dangerous finishing techniques to distress denim, including hand sanding, polishing, dye application and spraying chemicals such as potassium permanganate, with limited protective gear and inadequate training in the proper use of equipment.

Activists say factory workers are forced to endure these dangerous conditions for up to 15 hours a day in order to make ends meet, with the basic minimum wage often as low as GBP116 (CNY1,100) a month.

Campaigners are calling for a mandatory global ban on sandblasting in the garment industry, along with improved protection for workers involved in all other denim finishing techniques.

"Only a complete ban on sandblasting will end this deadly practice," said Dominique Muller from Clean Clothes Campaign and author of the report.

"Despite brands' promises to the contrary, this lethal method continues to be used. It is clear that voluntary bans by brands are not enough to protect workers. Brands have failed to undertake due diligence in ensuring alternative methods are safe and workers protected."

The report was produced by IHLO, the Hong Kong liaison office of the international trade union movement; Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), also based in Hong Kong; the Clean Clothes Campaign; and the workers' rights pressure group War on Want.