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The global union who represent textile workers has called for a ban on the practice of sandblasting jeans, arguing that it can cause silicosis.
Sandblasting involved the use of crystalline silica to give jeans a faded appearance. Exposure to the chemical can cause silicosis, lung cancer and autoimmune diseases.
The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF) revealed that 550 former sandblasting workers in Turkey have been diagnosed with silicosis since 2005, and 46 subsequently died from the disease.
ITGLWF general secretary, Patrick Itschert, explained that Turkey is the third largest exporter of jeans, and is the only country where the impact of sandblasting on workers’ health has been assessed. He said: “These officially documented cases are just the tip of the iceberg, both in Turkey and globally. Even if brands and retailers adopt rigorous standards regarding sandblasting, there will always be suppliers that do not enforce those standards, thus putting unsuspecting workers at risk.
“Therefore the best policy is to ban sandblasting altogether in the garment industry. Several leading brands have already done so and we believe others should now do the same.”
After the figures were published, clothing firms Levi-Strauss, H&M and Esprit all confirmed that they will stop producing sandblasted jeans.