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Sandblasting: Bangladesh adopted green alternatives, China still behind.

Secret denim sandblasting continues in China” & “Chinese denim factories using banned sandblasting techniques” disclosed by respectively Ecotextile News Magazine (Environmental Magazine) & WTiN (World Textile Information Network is an B2B media company) by 9th July 2013.  After that BTT team investigated a number of denim washing plant of Bangladesh and found that industry here already closed sandblasting process 3 years back, alternatively they have started to use more green and latest technology like leaser engraving machine.

Reports has revealed that sandblasting is still widespread in China, despite most Western brands banning the practice three years ago because of its link to silicosis, a deadly lung disease that has already caused the deaths of many garment workers. Sandblasting is a dangerous occupation, but according to this latest research, it is still being used in both manual and machine processes as a technique for producing aged effects on denim in many factories in China. The process involves firing sand under high pressure at jeans, and it has been shown to have damaging effects on the medical condition of workers. For instance, they can inhale tiny particles of silica, which enter the lungs and can cause silicosis, a lethal pulmonary disease. But, many governments and companies are trying to combat the use of sandblasting in the production of denim by introducing bans.   In Turkey, where 57 garment workers have so far died from silicosis amid 1,200 registered cases, the government has imposed a ban on the use of sand and silica crystal in the blasting process of denim and other textiles in 2009. However, the response of many garment producers has been to move their operations to other countries such as China, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and parts of North Africa.

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Photo: Activists in Belgium stage an awareness-raising demonstration designed to bring home to shoppers the stark circumstances for workers in the sandblasting sector of the garment and textile industry. (Photo © CCC 2010)

The latest study named ‘Breathless for Blue Jeans: Health hazards in China’s denim factories’, however highlights poor conditions in six denim factories in the Chinese province of Guangdong, which is home of approximately half of the world’s denim production supplying garment for popular high street brands like Lee, Levi’s, H&M, Hollister, Wrangler, American Eagle, etc. The recent fashion trend of distressed jeans has however resulted in the widespread use of sandblasting; together with other processing procedures they bring a lot of health hazards to workers. One worker interviewed said: “In our department, it’s full of jeans and black dust. The temperature on the shop floor is high. It’s difficult to breathe. I feel like I’m working in a coal mine.” The report was produced by IHLO, the Hong Kong Liaison Office of the international trade union movement; Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), also based in Hong Kong; the global network Clean Clothes Campaign; and the workers’ rights pressure group War on Want.

Many brands that have banned sandblast method include Armani, Benetton, Bestseller, Burberry, C&A, Carrera Jeans, Charles Voegele, Esprit, Gucci, H&M, Levi Strauss & Co, New Yorker, Mango, Metro, New Look, Pepe Jeans, Replay, The Just group, Versace and Some companies say sandblasting does not occur in their supply chain, but have not publicly banned it Others say they will soon stop ordering sandblasted jeans.   Different methods can be used to achieve a worn out look on denim garments. The reason that sandblasting with natural sand prevails is that it is cheaper. Installing more advanced industrial equipment is expensive and the availability of natural sand is vast. The most common form of sandblasting is manual blasting, but sandblasting can also be performed mechanically in blasting cabinets where the process is more controlled. The latter requires the sandblasting factories to make more investments. Basic purpose of sandblasting is to fade out the color and making deliberate tears in denim. There are numerous other methods to tear denim. Some involve the use of chemicals (e.g. potassium permanganate or hydrogen peroxide) whilst others make use of stone-washing, sandpaper, brushing or laser. However, no method is entirely free of risk with respect to health and safety. Heavy exposure to potassium permanganate can cause manganese poisoning and stone washing with materials other than pumice stone can pose a serious health hazard to workers. Using sand paper or the brush method to achieve a worn look can put workers at risk of occupational asthma due to dust exposure. The use of laser requires considerable investments and can be dangerous if the workers fail to wear protective eye equipment. Since sandblasting and other methods of treating denim are a new phenomenon in the clothing industry it has so far been impossible to determine which method is safe from health and safety point of view? Regardless of which method is being used though, workshops should be suitably built and equipped. Moreover, all workers should use appropriate safety equipment, PPE including face masks to prevent the inhalation of dangerous dust particles, goggles, ear plugs and protective clothing.

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In case of Bangladeshi Jeans washing plant, BTT team made an exclusive investigation to all reputed suppliers like Denimach Washing Ltd., Ananta Denim Technology Ltd., Pacific Jeans, Tusuka Processing Ltd., Colombia Washing, Natural Washing Ltd., and some subcontract units too. Most of the above denim washing plant banned sandblasting 2.5 to 3.5 years back following buyers requirement, especially on the query of H&M.

Mr. Samim, Officer-Development of Ananta Denim Technology Ltd., said that they stopped sandblasting procedure 3.5 years back and using Hand Scrubbing+ Potassium Permanganate Spray + Neutralization by Sodium Meta by Sulphite process to get the same effect of sandblasting process. Also they are using 2 set Leaser Engraving Machine to get same kind of washing effect (which normally can cover 65% to 70% of design requirement said by Graphics Designer Mr. Aminul Karim of same industry). 95% of buyer’s demand of sandblasting effect is now being covered by PP Spray method and 5% is using laser engraving machine. Laser engraving is the latest, economic and green technology said by Md. Milan Hossain, Assistant Manager, Denimach Washing Ltd., but only disadvantage is requirement of a huge investment requires at the beginning and sometime output can’t cover all kind of fashion required by buyers.

Laser Engraving method is 40% economic than PP Spray method, where buyers paying same amount for both kinds of process. Knowing this fact why should factories still use PP Spray method is a big question? Lack of skill manpower & limitation of design effect are some cause behind less utilization of laser engraving system along with the capital investment.

McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm forecasted Bangladesh will be the hotspot for Apparel Sourcing over next 5 years, where skilled manpower, fuel and environment pollutions are some big factors to take this challenge. No doubt technology is a best alternative to chess productivity and efficiency, which also ensures quality, optimizing utilization of fuel, manpower and other internal & external resources. A lot of laser engraving machine manufacturers are coming everyday to influence the washing plant to use their technology. Permanent damage effect, tie die effect also can apply on denim by using laser engraving machine. Adopting such technologies Bangladesh is moving towards greener alternatives.

Reference:

  1. http://www.ecotextile.com/2013070912096/materials-production-news/secret-denim-sandblasting-continues-in-china.html
  2. BBC News – Sandblasted jeans should we give up distressed denim.htm
  3. http://www.cleanclothes.org/
  4. http://www.wtin.com/
  5. http://sacom.hk/archives/2403
  6. http://sacom.hk/archives/2373
  7. http://www.fairtradecenter.se/sites/default/files/JEANSRAPPORT_ENG_low_1.pdf
  8. killer jeans, a report on sandblasted denim by Fair Trade Center and Labor Behind the Label.
  9. Fashion Victims, A report on sandblasted denim by Fair Trade Center.

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