Project location: Guangdong, China
Funding: £82,634
Year / duration: 2011 / 2 Years
Partner: War on Want

China is the world’s biggest exporter of textiles, and the Guangdong region in South East China is responsible for half the world’s entire production of blue jeans.

Factories use sandblasting as a cheap and easy method of ‘distressing’ jeans. It involves firing abrasive sand onto denim under high pressure. Often done without ventilation, safety equipment or training, sandblasting exposes workers to silicosis, a deadly lung disease. The health risks are well documented with Europe banning sandblasting in 1966. Despite many brands claiming to have banned sandblasting from their supply chains, many top brands source jeans from China where sandblasting is rife.

TRAID is funding War on Want to help migrant workers in Guangdong to defend their rights through labour education, with a focus on health and safety in the Chinese denim industry.

Local partners Worker Empowerment (WE) and Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) produced a booklet about fundamental labour rights which has been distributed to thousands of migrant workers. It explains basic rights and how to seek redress with simple visual case studies to give workers and grassroots organisations materials on rights which are virtually non-existent in China.

The project produced the report Breathless for Blue Jeans, 2013, (PDF download) published in July 2013, investigating six denim factories in Guangdong uncovering poor working conditions and the health hazards faced by workers in denim factories.

The report details widespread violations including excessive working hours and overtime, few rest periods and little or no training or protective gear. Recommendations include action by brands, government and international bodies including a mandatory global ban to end sandblasting in denim production once and for all.