Levi Strauss & Co. and Hennes & Mauritz have agreed to collaborate with the International Textile Garment & Leather Workers’ Federation to draft a manifesto banning the use of sandblasting in denim, in the hopes of convincing other brands to eliminate it, the global union federation said Friday.
Levi’s and H&M said last year that they were eliminating sandblasted products from their lines due to health concerns for workers who are involved in the process around the world.
“Sandblasting is a serious industry concern, and even though we at Levi Strauss & Co. are confident in our practices, we decided that the best way we can help ensure no worker in any garment factory faces the threat associated with exposure to crystalline silica is to move to end sandblasting industrywide,” said a Levi’s spokeswoman. “We will continue to focus on educating suppliers and other companies about why they should join us in this ban.”
Patrick Itschert, general secretary of ITGLWF, said in an interview Friday that the two brands would be participating in a conference call later that night to discuss crafting a “manifesto” banning the use of sandblasting, which he said has been known to cause a fatal lung disease known as silicosis in workers making the sandblasted products.
The ITGLWF convened a roundtable with 15 major brands and retailers last month to discuss best practices and concerns about the impact of sandblasting on the health of workers. Itschert said the ITGLWF plans to take the manifesto — a voluntary agreement — and ask other major denim brands to sign it at a second roundtable being planned in the next 30 to 45 days.
“What we have done is try to get main brands around the world to the table to start a discussion with them [about the health risks associated with the sandblasting process] and see if they would agree to sign a voluntary agreement banning sandblasting,” said Itschert. “At the first meeting, a vast majority agreed, but some others were not at that stage yet.”
Itschert said 40 garment factory workers involved in the denim sandblasting process died in Turkey from 2005 to 2009, which brought the issue to the forefront for the global union federation. Another 7,000 workers were exposed and could subsequently develop the lung disease, according to Itschert, noting that the Turkish government banned the use of sandblasting in 2009.
The ITGLWF hopes to reach out to governments in other countries that produce denim, including China, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and others in Asia, Central America and the Mediterranean region.
“Once the ban is in place in one country, they just to move to other ones,” he said. “We want to go to countries where jeans are produced and tell them that sandblasting kills.”