Posts Tagged ‘health and safety’

Union officials Joe and Jane congratulate managers Zanko and Anthony on the arrival of the new, safer stock picker, driven by Dave.

Union member Dave showcases the newly-arrived, safer stock picker. Union officials Joe and Jane and managers Zanko and Anthony all worked to this moment.

Here are two of my colleagues at a furniture distribution centre in Western Sydney. The photo is for an article in the next edition of the union journal about an innovative safety improvement that resulted from constructive collaboration between the union and site management.

The picker in the photo is the first of its kind. It is designed to lift goods up to 8 metres off the ground. The operator walks out of the cage onto the platform where he or she moves goods on and off the shelves. A harness is provided so they can’t fall but that’s only half the problem: if you place too many goods on the platform, the weight can tip the whole picker. Sadly one of these officials has dealt with a situation where exactly that happened, resulting in the death of a worker who fell onto a concrete floor.

The good news is that the hazard was raised with site management who accepted that it was a legitimate concern and set about working with Toyota to devise this first-of-its-kind picker that automatically measures the weight on the platform and sounds an alarm if load limits are approached.

I post this on here because the Murdoch-dominated press coverage of unions in Australia is so overwhelmingly negative that it’s worth remembering what the real work of unions looks like on a day to day basis.

I might also add that fresh data out of the UK shows that, in recent years, rises in union density are associated with rises in productivity.

The happy picker operators at this site are in no doubt why that is so.

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Deutsch: Kreuzwinkelständer der Modekette KiK

Deutsch: Kreuzwinkelständer der Modekette KiK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of weeks ago we saw the tragic death of at least 250 Pakistani apparel workers in an unregulated factory, the worst such disaster in history.

It later emerged that this factory was supplying garments to the European market including Germany’s KiK.

It also emerged that this very factory was audited by RINA (Registro Italiano Navale Group) at the behest of New York-based Social Accountability International (SAI) just a short while before the fire occurred, and certified as meeting the SA8000 standard as a fair and safe supplier.

SA8000 is a voluntary standard promoted by SAI as a means of ensuring that suppliers are ethical. No one would suggest that it is anything but sincere but this incident makes a mockery of it.

When interviewed by Al Jazeera, SAI’s Executive Director didn’t seem particularly upset or contrite about the incident either:

True, if the deaths were anyone’s fault it was the negligent factory owners (who are now on murder charges). Plus, if you look narrowly at the auditing aspect, it’s more RINA’s fault than SAI’s as they were the people on the ground.

However it really doesn’t rescue SAI. To blame it on RINA is to use the precise defense that suppliers try to use but know they can’t get away with. Imagine if Mattel said that in 2007 when it had the toxic paint problem: “Well, hey, it’s not our supplier, it’s our supplier’s supplier doing the wrong thing, so how are we to know?” If SAI, the supposed leader, can’t monitor their own contractors, how are companies supposed to?

This tragic episode underscores the shortcomings of SA8000. You can’t manage workers’ rights in the same way that you might manage food additive levels or child restraint shock resistance, as something that can be measured and implemented but always imparted. All companies need to do is stand back and listen to what people want (like … ventilation and fire exits, let’s say). It’s not really that difficult.

Asia Monitor Resource Centre recently published a book about this very issue, titled The Reality of Corporate Social Responsibility: Case Studies on the Impact of CSR on Workers in China, South Korea, India and Indonesia. You can download the PDF on their site here: http://www.amrc.org.hk/system/files/Book%20-%20The%20Reality%20of%20CSR%20-%20AMRC.pdf It is well worth checking out.

This book is written by people at the front line thoughout developing Asia and documents how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that reflects the corporate agenda is not only unhelpful to workers in the developing world but is frequently used as a strategy to prevent workers and other community groups from having their place at the table.

In the Asian context, CSR mostly involves activities like adopting villages for what they call a ‘holistic development’, in which they provide medical and sanitation facilities, build school and houses, and helping villagers become self-reliant by teaching them vocational and business skills. Such corporate strategies have been effectively hegemonic, providing a strong legitimacy and license for corporations to sustain the exploitation of human and natural resources. More importantly, it leads people to wrongly assume that the business houses, and not the states, are responsible for citizens’ basic rights to better education, clean water, healthcare, etc. It disciplines the un-informed poor motivating them to behave in ways that make state regulation obsolete, while leaving them at the mercy of market forces. (pp. 2-3)

Rights aren’t something that you can “give” or impart, they are something that you acknowledge. That’s the problem with CSR: it is by definition an after-thought that merely papers over an existing way of doing things without seriously challenging them.

Aftermath

SAI’s mistake was not promoting SA8000, it was disowning this catastrophic system failure. They haven’t made a peep of a suggestion that they need to re-examine their way of doing things.

SAI is funded by the companies that obtain its certification (rather like FairTrade), which leads me to think it will soldier on through the crisis, notwithstanding the harm that’s been done to its reputation.

There is more than one group operating in this space and it’s really important that they aren’t all tarred with the same brush. All up, six groups belong to the Joint Initiative on Corporate Accountability and Workers Rights.

SAI is one. Another, the Fair Labor Association (FLA), was set up during the Clinton administration. It has also been criticised for being too soft on business (they are the company auditing Foxconn).

Of the others, Fair Wear Foundation, Clean Clothes Campaign and the Workers Rights Consortium all put the promotion of union membership and worker consultation and participation front and centre and really need to be lauded for the great work they do in partnership with developing-world worker organisations.

The last, the UK-based Ethical Trading Initiative, seems to adopt a tripartite ILO-type approach which presumes unions’ involvement without pushing it too hard.

The best thing that could come out of this disaster is that FWF, CCC and WRC start getting some phone calls from companies whose motivation isn’t white-washing but who want to know that their suppliers are decent places to work in reality.

Related posts on FairForAll.org:

I would have just tweeted this video link but it needs a little explanation.

Here is yet another example of supply chain water-muddying. I’m guessing you’ve never heard of Perfect Gem & Pearl Manufactury Company [sic]. They are a Hong Kong-based jewellery wholesaler, exporting worldwide.

This video tells the story of several employees from the company’s factory across the border in Huizhou, Guangdong, who contracted silicosis due to inadequate health and safety protections. A group of their family members travel to the company’s headquarters in 2005 to confront them about it. Their case was pursued by advocacy group China Labour Bulletin and each of the families received about US $40,000 in compensation.

Who knows how many thousands more receive no such assistance!

(If you want to skip right to it, this section of the video begins at 1:28)

Video credit: Asia Monitor Resource Centre

Story source:

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Very timely as we’ve heard this week that Samsung has become the world’s number 1 manufacturer of smartphones, outselling Apple 3 to 2. They haven’t had a fraction of the attention Apple has had in the last two years.

Stop Samsung - No More Deaths!

The Occupational Diseases of Electronics/Semiconductor Industry in South Korea
based on the information collected by SHARPS
Update as of March 5th, 2012

(The numbers mean victims and deaths among them respectively)

Total: 154, 61 (i.e. 154 victims found with occupational diseases; 61 deaths)

Samsung Semiconductor: 85, 30
Samsung LCD: 16, 7
Samsung mobile phone and other electronics: 11, 7
Samsung Electromechatronics: 11, 7
Samsung SDI: 10, 2
Samsung Techwin: 4…
(Subtotal of Samsung: 137, 53)

Hynix (Magnachip): 9, 5
Amco Technology Korea (Anam): 2…
Subcontractors of electronics components: 6, 3

These are the reported and known cases; how many more sick victims and deaths might there be which have been unreported?

Workers must be informed about the hazards they face at work; their rights to information and protection must be respected; and their lives must be treasured. Until all these are achieved in the industry, particularly at Samsung, the…

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Lobster Trap

Lobster Trap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve started reading Conor Woodman’s recent book, Unfair Trade. Once finished, I’ll post a full review, however it’s already given me some food for thought.

In the first chapter, Conor explains the perils of lobster diving as practised near Bilwi, Nicaragua. The locals dive many times per day in total ignorance of the risk brought about by such frequent decompressions.

Lobster trapping would be a less hazardous alternative but for the locals, the cost of entry is out of their league (about $1,500: 50 traps at $25-30 a piece).

The hapless divers tried to strike to improve their conditions but their customer, an intermediary food processing company, stared them down. The only other lever that can be pulled are the CSR commitments of the companies at the other end of the supply chain, such as Red Lobster restaurants. Even assuming that a ban on dive-caught lobster is helpful, Conor quickly illustrates how it is impossible to know the origin of any particular lobster and no one has set up any serious form of monitoring.

Just when it seemed like a lost cause, enter microfinance.

Yes it will certainly be better if, in the medium-term, the divers can secure some enforceable right to collective bargaining however if you want to assist people get out of the poverty trap you can do so today by making a loan through Grameen FoundationKiva or a similar organisation. It makes the difference between the likes of Conor’s guide, Wally, having some kind of self-determination and being stuck in a vicious cycle of low wages and poor equipment.

The only criticism I’ve heard of microlending is one study which found that people who received funds easily were less inclined to take care of it. I’m not convinced that this is a widespread issue though.

You won’t see the labour movement promoting this as a solution, which is fair enough since collective bargaining would give the Miskitos the leverage to improve their lot on a widespread basis. However you have to be realistic about how attainable that is in Nicaragua in its present state of economic development. In the meantime, concerned individuals can at least “do something” to give real assistance.

Related posts:

Stop Samsung - No More Deaths!

Every year an international vote is held for the most shameful corporations, to expose what social and environmental damage the corporate world brings.

Please support the Samsung workers and their families by voting for Samsung as the worst company in this poll by Public Eye

http://www.publiceye.ch/en/vote/samsung/

Read more about the Public Eye Awards here

http://www.publiceye.ch/en/about/

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The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

Image via Wikipedia

The companies who source their sportswear from Ocean Sky factory in El Salvador all have corporate social responsibility pledges posted on their websites. Customers included America’s NFL and several well-known retail brands such as Reebok, Puma and Columbia.

It took a nine-month investigation by the Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights to uncover the reality:

  • Illegal forced overtime
  • Oppressive heat
  • Oppressive use of surveillance
  • Wages far below subsistence levels (72-92 cents an hour, or 8 cents per shirt)
  • Unsanitary drinking water on site
The Institute’s plan of attack is quite instructive. They didn’t call for a boycott and they didn’t even set out to embarrass the major brands about the findings.
With a local partner (Mujeres Transformado) they took responsible action that has resulted in concrete improvements. They presented their findings to Ocean Sky’s Singaporean owners, to the El Salvadorean Department of Labour and to each of the U.S-based sourcing companies.
The result? As of last month:
  • health and safety issues have been rectified
  • workers now receive payslips
  • the factory has made it clear that abusive language by supervisors is unacceptable
  • the owners have undertaken that there will be no retaliation against workers who raise concerns
Great start! Next the workers need to press for improved wages and suitable overtime payment…