My dad (who usually has holes and paint all over his Tesco value jeans anyway) is very vocal about how ridiculous it is to spend £80 on new jeans which to him are defective – I’m talking distressed jeans here, carefully slashed at the thigh, faded, threads hanging loose. They’re fashionable, there’s something ‘cool’ about them, but have you ever considered how this distressed look was achieved?
It could well have been through sand blasting, a technique where workers fire sand at jeans with great force and the sand breaks down into silica particles which the workers then inhale. Five years ago a link was made between this process and increased cases of silicosis in Turkey which had a large sand blasting industry. The first two men known to have died as a direct cause of this, both under 20 years old, died within months after being diagnosed. The process was officially banned in Turkey in 2009, but of course it didn’t stop those savvy manufacturers who moved the production process to other countries like Bangladesh, Egypt and China, where it has remained a cause for concern.
Silicosis is a fatal lung disease. 10-15,000 are estimated to be working in the sand blasted industry, mostly young men from rural areas. They can be breathing in silica dust for 12 hours a day, some workers even sleep in the workshop making exposure to dust a 24/7 reality. Up to 5000 people may be suffering with the disease and around 50 men have died as a direct result so far. The sad thing is this is so preventable. Many other processes create the same effect for denim including chemical processing, laser or stone washing, but as ever, the issue comes down to money. Manual sand blasting is the cheapest method.
Levi’s and H&M were the first retailers to announce a ban on the process in 2010, and 40 others have since followed suit. A public ban is not enough though, without adequate monitoring of the supply chain as overseas suppliers could easily revert back to the cheaper method. A list of retailers which have communicated a public ban can be found on killerjeans.org. The only retailer to achieve two smiley faces is Gucci, who produce solely in Italy, but we can’t all afford Gucci jeans can we?
For 100% ethical jeans you can look at monkeegenes.com or ascension have some too. To campaign against sandblasting email the retailers here.