Monday, September 16, 2013

Bangladeshi workers forced to work for chump change

This Bangladeshi worker is on the work force restoring a ferry at a dockyard near Dhaka. For welding, cutting, & painting, workers earn less than $4.00 USD per day. By comparison, US workers doing the same work earn from about $16 to $30 an hour. Note the absence of protective gear in highly-toxic labor.

Bangladesh has an old shipping industry but when freight containerization hit the industry it created an international slump in shipping. Visionary predators within the Bangladeshi government & ruling oligarchy realized that if they extended the incentives (tax exemptions, warehouse facilities, cheap labor) provided to the garment industry to the shipbuilding industry they could attract foreign investment for joint ventures. That required lowering labor costs & lack of workers’ rights--the sweatshop writ large! As these “visionaries” saw it, a refurbished shipbuilding industry built on super-exploitation could strengthen their “export diversification strategy,” making shipbuilding even more profitable than garment sweatshops.

Designing ships to accommodate containers meant old fleets had to be scrapped. The scrapping or ship breaking industry breathed new life into the industry in Bangladesh. Asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), & lead paint were used heavily in ship construction until they were banned in the 1980s. Until 15 or 20 years ago, breaking down ships for recycling was mainly done in UK & US shipyards but environmental regulations on the disposal of toxic substances forced the industry to move to countries without such encumbrances as required protective equipment, workers’ health claims, or personal injury lawsuits.

Bangladesh is a signatory to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes & Their Disposal, an international agreement designed specifically to prevent the movement of hazardous waste from what are euphemistically called “developed” countries to “developing” countries. The Basel Convention became international law in 1992. (The US is a signatory but refuses to ratify it.) Of course as we know, international law has never impeded a single transgression when profits & plunder are at stake.

The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) exposed flagrant violations of the Basel Convention & took shipyard owners to court. The Bangladesh High Court ruled in 2009 & 2010 that only toxic-free ships could lawfully enter Bangladesh but under pressure from the government & shipyard owners the High Court reversed that decision in 2011 & toxic ships are once again polluting beaches in Bangladesh & creating massive health problems for residents & workers. Human & workers' rights cannot be allowed to interfere with visionary plunder.

The central bank of Bangladesh recently reported a three-fold increase in the number of billionaires in the country just in the past decade despite an increasing level of poverty. This phenomenon is inexplicable to bank economists & has them scratching their heads, suggesting the government “look into the matter deeply.” These are the banalities that pass for analysis in capitalist media.

Ahmed Akbar Sobhan, now the richest person in Bangladesh, is one of those billionaires whose wealth is based in part on the shipbuilding industry. Shipbuilding workers earning $4.00 USD a day will be inspired to know he is an advocate of corporate social responsibility & works tirelessly for the poor & underprivileged of Bangladesh. This news will be especially heartening to workers suffering severe chronic or acute toxicity from asbestos, PCBs, & lead or occupational diseases such as mesothelioma. Family members of workers killed in accidents due to fumes, fires, & explosions caused by flammable gases & oils left in tankers will also be moved.

Sobhan’s PR troupe attribute his wealth to his visionary character combined with diversity in business. Closer examination without the handsomely rewarded sycophancy will reveal that plunder & exploitation are a far better explanation. What is inexplicable to bankers is crystal clear to those who don't get paid to kiss butt.

Our fullest solidarity with the working people of Bangladesh in reversing the “export diversification strategy” which is impoverishing them for the despicable likes of Ahmed Akbar Sobhan, Tommy Hilfiger, the Walton family, & other visionary creeps.

(Photo by A.M. Ahad/AP)

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