Killing The Future: Asbestos Use In Asia

Ship-breaking in Bangladesh

Ship-breaking in Bangladesh

For more than 20 years, commercial ship-breaking operations have been carried out in Bangladesh; an average 180-250 ships a year are scrapped at 35 yards directly employing 50,000 individuals and indirectly employing 80,000. The work in these yards is labor intensive and carries no job security or social security protection; non-unionized, illiterate local migrants who make up 98% of the workforce have no knowledge of the asbestos hazard. Occupational accidents, injuries and deaths as well as hazardous exposures to a myriad of toxins occur on a daily basis.

There are many natural and political reasons for the growth of ship-breaking in Bangladesh. The coastline is suitable for the beaching of large vessels and the geographical isolation of the shipyards prevents social monitoring of working conditions. The availability of cheap labor, the low cost of machinery and the lack of health and safety legislation keep operating costs low. The resale value of material reclaimed from the ships is high:

The removal of and disposal of asbestos waste is unregulated in Bangladesh and the manual crushing and reuse of asbestos from ships is common.

National mobilization on the asbestos threat has been spurred by the actions of the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE)67 which is campaigning for a global and national ban on the import of asbestos and asbestos-contaminated ships, a ban on the reuse of redundant asbestos-containing products, government regulation, periodic workplace inspections, compensation and support for asbestos victims. As part of this remit, the OSHE and the Asian Monitor Resources Center organized a conference in Agrabad, Chittagoon:Banning Asbestos in South Asia on December 15-16, 2006. This small informal gathering drew together occupational health experts, community activist, trade unionists and scientists from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Japan who, amongst other issues, considered: asbestos exposures in power plants in India, the asbestos hazards in the ship-breaking industry, asbestos politics in Asia and the development of asbestos victims groups and NGOs in South Asia. Indian delegate Gopal Krishna reported that the sessions of Bangladesh were both informative and productive and included a visit to shipyards where people were observed working in an asbestos-laden atmosphere with no health and safety precautions.

In collaboration with the Netherlands Confederation of Trade Unions of OSHE has embarked on the project to: raise asbestos awareness amongst ship-breaking workers, empower local trade unions to be actively engaged in the social debate on asbestos with government and company officials and develop procedures and regulations to safeguard occupational health and safety. To heighten public awareness, in April 2007 the OSHE commemorated International Works' Memorial Day at events held in the capital city including:

Notes:

67. Founded in 2003, the OSHE is a specialized labor foundation for collaborative work on development issues relating to human rights of workers, decent work and sustainable development.
68. Plans for a ban asbestos demonstration in front of the Bangladesh Supreme Court on April 28 were called off due to a lak of official authorization.

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