Earlier this year, ten leading garment brands and retailers signed a "Call to Action" designed to ban denim sandblasting, a hazardous process that can cause illness and even death for workers.
"Jeans are one of the most popular items of clothing and a very profitable segment of the market is for distressed' jeans," explained Patrick Itschert, General Secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF). "The method of choice for giving jeans a faded look is sandblasting, but it is a process which is very damaging to workers' health. Sandblasting releases dust which, when inhaled, causes scarring in the lungs. This can cause silicosis, an incurable and potentially fatal respiratory disease."
Most countries banned sandblasting decades ago. However, it still occurs in numerous illegal workshops, putting thousands of workers at risk and threatening the reputation and supply chain integrity of garment brands and retailers from throughout the globe.
Initially, the Call to Action to end sandblasting was signed and supported by Aurora Fashions, Bestseller, C&A, Carrefour, Esprit, Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M), Inditex, Karen Millen, Levi Strauss & Co. and New Look.
Now, The Independent is reporting that the Italian fashion giant Versace has also agreed to throw its weight behind the effort. From the article:
This month, (Versace) blocked public access to its Facebook site after a cyber attack by a protest group calling for a boycott of the company's jeans, after claiming that some of its clothes had been produced by sandblasting. The company said it carried out a comprehensive review of its suppliers last year and that none of them carried out sandblasting. But it said yesterday that it had decided to take a more proactive approach and join other industry leaders to encourage the elimination of sandblasting as an industry practice'.
By endorsing the Call to Action, the 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.
Versace is right. Leading garment brands and retailers need to take a more proactive approach to improving standards within their supply chains. When they do, they improve the status quo and take a step toward developing safe, rights-based conditions for all workers. Ultimately, that's a "win" for both workers and the businesses that hire them.