Share This Page

Deadly denim practice persists

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Three years ago, when Levi Strauss & Co. announced it had banned the use of sandblasting, labor advocates hoped the move by the top-selling jeans maker would help end the deadly practice, which gives denim a fashionable look but is linked to a fatal lung disease.

But even as Target Corp. and Gap Inc. joined Levi Strauss in proclaiming bans, sandblasting persists in factories that make those retailers' clothes in China, India, Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh, countries responsible for the bulk of the 5 billion pairs of jeans made each year, research by nonprofits, medical groups and labor organizations shows.

“There clearly is sandblasting going on. I don't know how anyone could really deny it,” said Katie Quan, associate chairwoman of the Labor Center at the University of California-Berkeley.

Counterfeit jean production, outsourcing in the supply chain and vast factories that make jeans for dozens of brands under one roof make it difficult to track jeans from production to the shopping mall. But the groups say their research establishes that workers in many of these overseas factories are sandblasting — spraying sand on denim to make it appear bleached or distressed — without necessary protective gear.

Levi Strauss says its suppliers have removed sandblasting equipment from their factories and that it regularly conducts on-site inspections at factories.

Although Levi Strauss still sells bleached and distressed-looking jeans, the company says none of the styles requires sandblasting.

“The look and feel of denim is noticeably different,” a spokeswoman said.

The disconnect between what retailers say happens in the factories and what labor groups report foreshadows immense challenges for other garment industry reform efforts, such as those under way in Bangladesh following a factory collapse in April that killed more than 1,100 people. The garment industry is built on a vast network of subcontractors hidden from regulatory oversight, experts say, so that even well-meaning fashion brands are unable to change the conditions in which their clothes are made.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.