Fashion Victims: The Price of Sandblasted Denim

First broadcast January 7, 2010 on France 2

Fashion dictates that our jeans should look as battered and worn out as possible, before we’ve even tried them on. The scruffier they look the better, and the higher the price tag. Up to 300 euros. Back in the day, people simply stuck their new jeans on the drive way and ran them over a few times to get that aged effect, but modern methods are a lot more sophisticated. All the leading brands are offering distressed denim, and one of the ways to achieve this effect is sandblasting. Brands such as Levi’s manufacture a proportion of their wares in small workshops in Turkey. Far from the glamorous surroundings of the Galeries Lafayette or Harrod’s, workers toil in poorly lit premises for modest wages. Up until last spring, in order to fulfil orders for sandblasted jeans, men were enclosed in cubicles where they treated as many as 500 pairs of jeans a day. They worked without protection breathing in highly toxic particles of sand. Sandblasting is illegal within the European Union, and Turkey has now also outlawed the practice. But the damage is already done. Working in such conditions causes the incurable lung disease silicosis. Silicosis used to be known as a miners disease, it took away hundreds and thousands of lives during the last century. Now it is back, in a much more aggressive form. It attacks suddenly, and kills faster. Official statistics list 600 sufferers in Turkey, but this could be just the tip of the iceberg. 44 workers have died, most of them were under 30.What do the multinational denim brands have to say about the devastating effects of sandblasting? And what is the fate of the textile workers affected by this terrible lung disease?