Deadly process to manufacture jeans revealed in new Al Jazeera investigation
- Chinese factories use sandblasting which leads to respiratory diseases
- Al Jazeera finds US denim labels Hollister and American Eagle Outfitters using sandblasting
- American Eagle Outfitters told Al Jazeera they removed equipment
Doha 11th March, 2015
A year-long, undercover Al Jazeera English investigation has uncovered factories across China that are still using a deadly process to manufacture jeans – and some are working with top US labels.
In “Denim Blues”, 101 East finds evidence of poorly ventilated, dusty and dirty Chinese factories that have been practicing sandblasting - a process that can lead to a fatal respiratory disease known as silicosis which industry leaders, activists and medical practitioners agree is extremely dangerous.
Al Jazeera traveled to Xintang in China’s Guangdong province, where an estimated 260 million pairs of jeans – more than a third of the world’s denim – are produced each year.
Al Jazeera found jeans bearing the label of Hollister inside the sandblasting unit at a factory in southern China. In another part of the factory, Al Jazeera found jeans with the labels American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie and Fitch, the company that owns the Hollister label.
This undercover investigation reveals that hidden behind the factory doors in Xintang, workers are still risking their health to produce fashionable denim for designer brands. Sandblasting involves fine sand being channeled into an air gun and then sprayed at high pressure onto denim in order to make the fabric look worn; it is a fast, cheap and dangerous way to manipulate garments into certain styles.
While factory managers refuse to discuss sandblasting, workers speaking in anonymity confirmed that the controversial practice continues. One worker told Al Jazeera: “The main problem with sandblasting is the dust. This means you risk getting silicosis if you are not properly protected.”
Some workers say they suffer not only from lung problems but also from allergies caused by dyes and other chemicals used in the making of denim.
Shan, who previously worked at the Tianxiang factory, was so concerned about working conditions there that he filmed secret footage inside the factory: “After smelling the chemicals all day, I had no appetite. I would work on an empty stomach every day,” he says.
Photographs taken by Shan and obtained by Al Jazeera show chemicals haphazardly stored in open containers in a crowded room. Workers with very little, or even no protective gear, spray potassium permanganate, an inorganic chemical compound onto rows of jeans.
Shan told Al Jazeera: “I found it very suffocating when I first went in and started coughing. I found it very hard to breathe. It’s like I was breathing in something strange. The air was not clean.”
Four days after Al Jazeera’s visit to Tianxiang, American Eagle Outfitter’s PR Company informed Al Jazeera that all sandblasting equipment has been removed from the factory, however they refused to comment on when this took place.