Bjoern and I walked into a department store the other day, and immediately upon entering, Bjoern pointed out the men’s vintage look designer jeans and said, “People in Turkey are dying making those jeans.”
Turns out he had recently read an article in our favorite German online news magazine, www.spiegel.de, about Turkish sandblasters, who, due to spraying sand on jeans with a high pressure machine, are dying from a disease called silicosis. Silicosis results from inhaling crystalline silica (quartz is the most common form and is found in granite, slate, and sandstone), which scars the lung tissue and forms nodules that, when enlarged, can cause death by suffocation. Initial symptoms of silicosis include coughing, rapid weight loss, and difficulty breathing.
While silicosis can be prevented with proper equipment, many jeans sandblasters, according to the Spiegel article, wear no protection as they create the vintage look so highly desired by jeans consumers. The workers, as young as thirteen, often work for only one Euro per hour, up to sixteen hours a day and are often unaware of the dangers of sandblasting, as their employers fail to educate them and proper protective gear is not provided. Mehmet Bekirbasak told Spiegel, “ ‘I don’t know how long I have left to live. The factory people should have at least notified us of the dangers. I would have bought the protective gear myself. But for them it was only about the money. They always said ‘work, then nothing will happen to you.’”
“ ‘As many of us grew worse,’” says another factory worker to Spiegel, “ ‘the manager came and said we should drink beer or buttermilk after work, that way we would excrete the poisonous substances. But we had no idea how dangerous this sand is.’”
I had been considering ordering a pair of vintage wash jeans, and now I’m not so sure.
While abstaining from purchasing sandblasted denim is an obvious part of the solution, at least until we are sure all factories take the necessary precautions to ensure workers’ safety, the real challenge is educating consumers about the effects of sandblasting so they can make informed purchases and reduce demand. So read more about the issue by clicking on the links below, then spread the word.