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13 September 2010

Jeans: thousands of lives saved? Towards the end of sand-blasting?

The International, Textile, Garment & Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) applauds the public announcement made on 8 September by Levi's and H&M of their decision to stop the practice of sand-blasting in their worldwide production of jeans.

"It is the correct decision if we wish to protect the health of workers. H&M and Levi's - who feature among the world leaders in jeans - going down this path shows an attitude of corporate social responsibility in this field" says Patrick Itschert, General Secretary of the ITGLWF.

The position of the producers answers the urgent demand of the ITGLWF, two years ago, to eliminate worldwide the use of free silica in the denim process. Since then, the ITGLWF has been leading a public awareness campaign highlighting the life-threatening dangers in the process which consists of projecting fine sand with compressed air having an abrasive affect on the denim; the result is jeans which are softer to the touch and faded in certain places: a "fashionable" look.

Nevertheless scientific studies have shown the tragic link between sandblasting and silicosis; one of the worst lung diseases. In Turkey alone, since 2005, more than 50 workers have died from this incurable illness, contracted in jeans factories. The campaign led by the workers, their unions, doctors and civil organisations resulted in April 2009 in the Turkish Government to adopt a law prohibiting this procedure. Unfortunately several companies then simply moved their production to other countries where legislation was less restrictive such as Egypt, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan among others.

"It’s an important result for workers’ health. It is time now for certain governments to stop ignoring inhumane and even illegal working conditions which put the lives of men and women in danger" continued the General Secretary. The International Agency in Cancer Research recognises free silica as carcinogenic to humans. "We urge the European Commission to class this substance appropriately. Sandblasting is already prohibited in several of the European Union member states. It is high time that legislation is improved and harmonised, knowing that at present, current protection does not completely eliminate the risk of silicosis" adds Silvana Cappuccio, Head of Health and Safety at the ITGLWF. "Alternatives exist!".

The ITGLWF will continue its campaign urging the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Heath Organisation (WHO) to ban sandblasting worldwide. "We hope to gather together very soon the world’s main jean producers in a round table, asking them to join Levi's and H&M, and to proceed on a voluntary basis - where as yet there is no legislation – to alternative methods of production. It concerns the lives of thousands of workers."

Source: ITGLWF
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