An undercover investigation by Al Jazeera found evidence of sandblasting in poorly ventilated, dirty denim factories at Xintang in China’s Guangdong province, which produces an estimated 260 million pairs of jeans each year.
The results of the year-long investigation were reported Thursday on the 101 East program “Denim Blues.” In the program, Al Jazeera uncovered Hollister branded jeans inside the sandblasting unit of the Dongguan Tim Cheung factory in southern China, and jeans with American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch labels in another area.
American Eagle Outfitters told Rivet that the company is “committed to the health and safety of the workers who manufacture our products” and said it works closely with facilities throughout its supply chain to make sustainable progress in improving factory-working conditions worldwide.
“We have banned the physical presence of sandblasting equipment in any factory that manufactures for us, even if the equipment is being used for another brand,” American Eagle Outfitter said in a released statement. “We monitor our production facilities, conducting both announced and unannounced visits by internal and external auditors to ensure compliance with this policy. Moreover, our Supply Chain Responsibility team works hand-in-hand with our Quality and Wash teams to keep consistent watch over our factories and laundries.”
In response to the Al Jazeera program, the company stated, “We have thoroughly investigated the factory Dongguan Tim Cheung (here referred to as Dongguan Tianxiang) and have verified that all sandblasting equipment has been removed from the factory.”
In 2011, American Eagle Outfitters joining other leading companies, including H&M, Levi’s and Esprit, to ban the use of sandblasting in the production of its denim. Sandblasting, which creates a distressed, worn-in look to denim, requires abrasive materials like sand to be sprayed onto denim at a high pressure. The process has been linked to silicosis, a fatal respiratory disease.
A worker told Al Jazeera, “The main problem with sandblasting is the dust. This means you risk getting silicosis if you are not properly protected.”
Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch could not be reached for comment.