|Abercrombie & Fitch affirms it enforces the exclusion of unsafe practices|
in the making of its premium denim. | Photography, Guy Aroch
As main setting to "Denim Blues" is the city of Xintang - what is regarded as the jeans capital of the world with an estimated collective output of over one-third of jeans production in the global industry. Apart from environmental pollution (which is regardless a known general issue in China), a main concern highlighted by the investigation is documenting factories still putting workers to using the sandblasting method to achieve degrees of styled worn-look on denim:
"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."
Despite statements made by fashion labels on vowing on safety and responsibility and making sure their respective products are not realized utilizing toxic elements (including this controversial method) by their suppliers involved, Al Jazeera's team aims to share the findings to bring to light that that many conditions, as they stand by contracted suppliers, are not as placed to word:
"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."
In regards to sandblasting itself, while Turkey, for one, has outlawed it after hundreds of cases involving diseased former workers, it is still legal in China where it goes so far to there even being sandblasting mobile services. These people get payed the near equivalent of around 4 British pence (about 4 U.S. cents) per pair, as the Daily Mail reports on the matter (read for more).
After footage of finding denim with Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. labels came to light, the Company released this response to the Daily Mail: "Yes Dongguan Tiangxiang produces goods for us. We don't allow vendors to use sandblasting during the manufacturing process of our goods." Journalist Jack Crone furthermore noted in his article A&F responsibility statements on its website: "'[We are] proud of our commitment to international human and labor rights, and to ensuring that our products are only made in safe and responsible facilities. [...] We partner with suppliers who respect local laws and share our dedication to utilizing the best practices in human rights, labor rights and workplace safety. [...] Abercrombie & Fitch believes that business should only be conducted with honesty and respect for the dignity and rights of all people.'"
Undercover investigative initiatives serve to expose layers of questionable practices which would otherwise never be known by consumers and agents who can make a difference to improve and sustain safe industrial practices for workers and the environment.
Check out the preview article on "Denim Blues" (here).