Sandblasting is a fast, cheap and dangerous way to make denim look worn

Sandblasting is a fast, cheap and dangerous way to make denim look worn

American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch have told just-style that recent audits found no evidence of sandblasting or sandblasting equipment at a factory in China where the deadly process is said to be used to make their jeans.

Their feedback comes in response to a year-long undercover investigation by Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language news network, which claimed factories across China are still using the sandblasting process.

Its 101 East programme “Denim Blues” said jeans bearing the Hollister label were found inside the sandblasting unit at the Dongguan Tim Cheung factory (referred to as Dongguan Tianxiang in the documentary) in southern China.

In another part of the factory, jeans were discovered with the labels American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) and Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F), the company that owns the Hollister label.

American Eagle Outfitters says it “thoroughly investigated the factory Dongguan Tim Cheung and have verified that all sandblasting equipment has been removed from the factory.”

While A&F says audits in March 2014 and February 2015 “found no evidence of sandblasting being used by Dongguan Tianxiang or the presence of sandblasting equipment. Any violation of this directive will be treated as a serious matter.”

It adds: “We will review available evidence from the videos when they are released and will take appropriate action.”

Both US denim retailers have banned the use sandblasting during the manufacturing process.

“Our vendors are required to use hand sanding, a safe method which achieves a similar effect to sandblasting,” A&F explains, adding that it audits compliance with this directive “on an ongoing basis.”

AEO has also banned the “physical presence of sandblasting equipment in any factory that manufactures for us, even if the equipment is being used for another brand. We monitor our production facilities, conducting both announced and unannounced visits by internal and external auditors to ensure compliance with this policy.

“Moreover, our Supply Chain Responsibility team works hand-in-hand with our Quality and Wash teams to keep consistent watch over our factories and laundries.”

The probe by Al Jazeera was carried out in Xintang in China’s Guangdong province, where an estimated 260m pairs of jeans – more than a third of the world’s denim – are produced each year.

The sandblasting process involves fine sand being channelled into an air gun and then sprayed at high pressure onto denim in order to make the fabric look worn – but can lead to a fatal respiratory disease known as silicosis which industry leaders, activists and medical practitioners agree is extremely dangerous.

Western brands including Target Corp, Levi Strauss, H&M, Gucci, Benetton and Esprit are among those who have banned sandblasting because of its link to silicosis - although research by labour rights groups in 2013 claimed the finishing process was still widespread in China.

The TV investigation also showed photographs of chemicals haphazardly stored in open containers in a crowded room. Workers with very little, or even no protective gear, spray potassium permanganate, an inorganic chemical compound onto rows of jeans.