Stone Wash Jeans and Silicosis
Turkey is one of the main producers of jeans. With the current demand for stone-washed jeans, factories hire thousands of workers to manually sandblast the denim to lower the cost. However, little care is taken to make sure that workers wear protective gear or face masks. As a result, many workers suffer from silicosis.
This type of lung illness is caused by repeated dust inhalation is extremely painful, irreversible, and deadly. 44 workers lost their lives in Turkey alone, hundreds are suffering from this illness. However, it is estimated that real figure is likely to be far higher because there are a lot of illegal workers and workers without medical insurance.
More than 20 years, most of the jeans worn in Europe are made in Istanbul. Local speciality is stonewash denim.
Today, however, thousands of Turkish workers in jeans industry suffer from silicosis.
The nodules on this x-ray is cased by silicosis which is cased by the inhalation of silica dust.
Ibrahim, 42 years old, suffer from silicosis, too.
"I feel very week. I cannot work and get quickly tired. I have no appetite. There are some medications but they are expensive."」
Silicosis is usually miners' disease. However, Ibrahim never worked in mine. His silicosis is cased by 3-year sandblasting on jeans.
"We were working for very well-known jeans brand. We sandblasted and bleached denim. That's why I got this illness. Employer gives us yellow poor quality masks, and we were working 12 hours under terrible condition everyday."
"In four years, 550 people have been diagnosed as silicosis. However, when you consider around 10,000 workers in this sector, it is possible that at least 3500 to 5000 people contracted silicosis."
Sand is blasted at high pressure directly on the jeans in the very confined space.
"People in this video are using 1/3 of sand compare to the past. If you film the old system, you won't be able to see the workers as they would be in the cloud of dust.
In 1930s, a huge number of workshops opened in this suburb of Instanbul as there was a high demand for stone-washed jeans.
"I used to work here, but the workshop has a new name now. Blasting was done here using compressor. We were working 12 hours in as small as 2㎡ room."
Security standards are still not always met today. In this workshop, workes fixing the colour are also not wearing masks.
「Turkey is responsible doing this, but those who buy these jeans are the ones to blame. It's not the responsibility of the poor, but the rich. There is always demand for jeans. Big brands are producing in poor countries including Turkey such as India, Bangladesh, Egypt."
While all the major brand deny using sandblasting, the number of people suffering from silicosis are increasing.
A year ago, a commitee was born with volunteering doctors and lowers to save the sandblasters.
"The state is supposed to be in charge of controlling the system. You cannot allow textile manufacturers in the world to run their business as they like without rules and regulations. The state is responsible to shut down the factories which are harmful for workers."
"These are illegal workshops. They didn't appear in any register. They appear overnight and in business for around three days. If reporters come, they just disappear. It is very hard to stop them and even to find them."
Today, sandblasting is illigal and security measures are reinforced. However, it is questionable whether the security measures are actually in place at the workshops.
"We try to minimise the risks. Today it is mandatory to wear such masks."
Ibrahim was working illegally, therefore he cannot prove who the employer was.
Ibrahim and his family now live in the basement of the school where his wife started to work as a cleaner. His illness worsened under this unhealthy living condition.
"My aim now is to get pension and social security. My former employer disappeared and the government cannot find them. Nothing is certain in Turkey."
Kurdish area is the place where the first death from silicosis was officially reported.
There is no job, therefore young mans went to Istanbul for sandblasting. And they came home with the deadly illness.
"We knew that dust was dangerous. But we didn't know that it could kill you. I worked two years. Some worked five to six years. Afterwords I got to know this illness, and two of my friends died. We got really scared and stopped working."
"We couldn't even see what we were blasting. There were so much dust. At that time we were around 15 years old and didn't know the danger of sandblasting. If our family knew, they wouldn't have let us go there. Inspectors came, but took bribe and disappeared without asking any questions or to tell us the danger."
Workes were receiving 350 Euro a month, which is vital sum of money to support their families back in their village.
In this village, already 11 people died from silicosis.
"There is no treatment for this illness. No medicine. We come home and wait to die."
With the committee, they are battling to get the pension from the state. Not for themselves, but for their children so that they won't become the victims too.