Why Versace is putting workers' health before style

The Italian fashion giant is the latest brand to back a drive to end the practice of sandblasting denim

The glamour of Milan's ready-to-wear fashion industry may seem far removed from dangerous Third World sweatshops. But Italy's style capital has become the unlikely focus of a battle to save some of the world's poorest textile workers who campaigners claim have died from a widespread industrial technique used to make clothes for the West.

The fashion giant Versace yesterday announced that it was throwing its weight behind a campaign to end sandblasting – a manual process used to produce trendy worn-look denim – but which campaigners claim destroys workers' lungs.

This month, the firm blocked public access to its Facebook site after a cyber attack by a protest group calling for a boycott of the company's jeans, after claiming that some of its clothes had been produced by sandblasting. The company said it carried out a comprehensive review of its suppliers last year and that none of them carried out sandblasting. But it said yesterday that it had "decided to take a more proactive approach and join other industry leaders to encourage the elimination of sandblasting as an industry practice".

The statement marks a victory for campaigners, with big names such as Levi Strauss, H&M and Karen Millen also having pledged to stop selling sandblasted products. "It would send a really big message out if the influential fashion names in Italy... said they too would stop selling these products," said Laura Carter of the Brussels-based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation, which is leading calls for a voluntary industry-wide ban.

The technique was outlawed by European authorities in 1966. Britain prohibited the practice in 1950. But the federation alleges that sandblasting has killed dozens of workers in garment-producing countries such as Turkey and Bangladesh, where the process has been carried out manually and has been blamed for the irreversible lung disease silicosis.

It claims that by July last year, 46 Turkish workers had died due to silicosis caused by sandblasting, which became widespread in the past decade as demand for worn denim soared. Turkey banned manual sandblasting in March 2009. However, the Solidarity Committee of Sandblasting Labourers support group says that about 600 workers were diagnosed with silicosis in the country in the past decade and the total number could rise to 5,000 in the next five years.

One of the victims, Yilmaz, 31, has been reduced to relying on state disability benefits and handouts from family and friends after he developed silicosis in Istanbul sweatshops. In a statement given to the federation, he said he sandblasted jeans for several Italian designer brands, between 2002 and 2005. He worked in poorly ventilated 2m-by-2m spaces with little or no protective equipment, for 12 hours a day, six days a week.

They blast denim with a high-powered jet of silica to give jeans a trendy worn look. No one informed him about the health hazards of the work or precautions that need to be taken, he said.

Victims' lungs can become inflamed and filled with fluid, causing severe shortness of breath and low oxygen levels in the blood, according to US government scientists. Sandblasters can develop the acute form of the disease, with symptoms appearing from within a few weeks to four to five years after breathing in the particles, according to campaigners.

Amber McCasland, spokeswoman for clothing giant Levi, said that her company was urging all firms to ban the use of sandblasting for clothes production. "The only solution is an industry-wide ban. It's the only way to guarantee the safety of garment workers everywhere," she said.

Dominique Muller, of the Clean Clothes Campaign, welcomed Versace's new position as "very good news".

"I would, however, ask Versace and all other companies joining the ban on sandblasted denim to be transparent about their supply chains and to explain how they are going to enforce the ban," she said.

Campaigners note that the complex nature of supply chains, and the paucity of workers' rights in poorer countries where production usually occurs, makes it near to impossible to ensure that even minimum safety standards are adhered to. Campaigners are focusing particularly on firms with production links to China and Pakistan.

Experts note, however, that the practice tends to emerge wherever there is cheap labour and a lack of properly enforced legislation to protect workers.

Ms Carter said she hoped several other big clothes companies might be persuaded to ban sandblasted products at a meeting planned for September. In particular she said she was hopeful that denim specialist Diesel might be brought on board. The company has said it will stop selling them next year.

The Clean Clothes Campaign says it has concerns about high-profile Italian brands, which it says have "failed to address the issue or even enter into a dialogue with us".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    KS1 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

    KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

    £140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

    Year 1/2 Teacher

    £130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

    Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

    £140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam