Posts Tagged ‘Occupational safety and health’

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.



This business model was pioneered by Nike and adopted by others including Apple: companies ‘produce’ only their brand and people in lower-wage countries can do all the work. The brand companies shows themselves time and again to be disinterested in what happens on distant production lines until there’s a problem.

Adidas has been under pressure for some time for trying to dodge redundancy entitlements owed to workers in their Indonesian supply chain whose actual employer skipped out of the country. Their tight-fistedness earned them a spotlight at the London Olympic Games.

Now we have details of more problems. The information below details serious health and safety problems at one Chinese factory supplying Adidas.

From Rena Lau at Globalization Monitor:

One of TaylorMade-Adidas golf drivers’ suppliers – Dynamic Casting (Guangzhou) is responsible for the suffering of at least 69 workers, who have contracted Hand-Arm Vibration (HAV thereafter) disease. HAV is a non-curable disease which comes from the use of hand-held power tools and is the cause of significant health problems including painful and disabling disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints.

Victim's hands

After our investigation, we found that Dynamic Casting has several violations of China Laws and regulations.
I.            Dynamic Casting has been using substandard polishing machines which exceeded the maximum permitted level required by the National Standard on Occupational Health for a long period of time.
II.          Dynamic Casting failed to notice the hazardous factors of vibration units to workers.
III.        Dynamic Casting refused to send some workers for medical examinations.
IV.        Dynamic Casting forced workers to sign confidential agreement, which requires them to give up all their legal rights, before giving them compensation. Workers complained that the agreement is not a fair deal.
V.          Dynamic Casting unreasonably dismissed 4 affected workers and refused to reinstate two workers until today.
VI.        Dynamic Casting holds back part of the compensation of these 4 workers unless they agree to resign.

According to Adidas Group, they came to know the first cases of HAV disease in Dynamic Casting on late May 2010. Adidas only helped Dynamic Casting to up a timeline to provide medical examination and compensation in patches but not pushed Dynamic Casting to execute the plan.  Therefore, until today, still several workers were not sent to have medical examinations. This shows that Adidas Group does not take occupational and health issues seriously. It is shame for their statement on its website that “Every employee must have a safe working environment. Nothing less is acceptable.” Adidas Group claimed that Adidas SEA audits/ visited Dynamic Casting regularly. In fact, Adidas could not identify any HAV case through their audits. Thus workers working at Dynamic Casting have been always exposed in risky health condition. As the brand company of Dynamic Casting, Adidas Group has unavoidable responsibility to compensate the workers as it is negligent to protect workers from possible hazards.

Based on these facts, we demand:
I.            Adidas make sure all affected workers with HAV receive immediately comprehensive medical examination and compensation demanded by workers.
II.          Adidas set up an Occupational Hazards Victim Fund immediately to compensate all victims with HAV.
III.        Adidas launch a full and immediate investigation on tracking the full number of workers affected by HAV diseases along supply chain in China.

We sent out a full report on Dynamic Cast case to Adidas on 25th September and demanded a full reply from Adidas but until today, we have not received Adidas’s full explanation on the case. Thus we have reason to believe that Adidas may shirk its responsibility on solving the case immediately.

Therefore, we urge you to take action with us in order to support those HAV workers in China.

Suggested Action:
Sign the online petition addressed to the Adidas group expressing your concern about the 69 workers suffering from HAV disease.

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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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We may be witnessing a watershed moment in India’s labour history.

Advocacy groups in India (all of them home-grown) have pushed for some time to obtain justice for victims of silicosis. This disease is caused by inhalation of dust without protective breathing equipment and causes sufferers to endure constant pain.

It’s sadly very prevalent today in countries lacking high health and safety standards. One industry where it is a problem is in making sandblasted jeans (covered previously). Another is gem-cutting. One small town of  Gujurat state numbers 108 silicosis widows out of its population of 9,000 people. Usually these widows are compelled by economic need to follow their late husbands into the same work. This one village also counted 30 orphans who have lost both parents to the disease in this way.

Unfortunately solution via legislative fiat is not as easy as it sounds. To begin with, the country’s occupational health & safety laws only apply to specific, named industries: mining, manufacturing, ports and construction. That alone wouldn’t be so hard to redress but the majority of India’s workforce is in the informal sector (92% according to the Ashoka website) meaning that laws directed at employers will have no effect on them. Gemstone cutting, for example, is an industry based out of home workshops.

It’s been a long, convoluted journey to get anyone to take action on this issue.

Firstly there was a reporting problem. National figures under-estimated the prevalence of silicosis. Nation-wide – as in other nations – silicosis was being reported as tuberculosis. Public interest advocacy was pursued and successful litigation in the Delhi High Court compelled Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) hospitals to accurately measure the disease’s incidence. Also the National Human Rights Commission started accepting complaints relating to silicosis.

The next step was to litigate for an actual right to compensation. This too was successful however the court, foreseeing the complexities of implementation, asked the state governments to legislate on the matter. To date, one has and two haven’t. Negotiations continue but the governments really have nowhere to run on this issue. It seems workers are on the cusp of securing a historic entitlement.

Even once this is achieved, a further issue is deciding who will pay the insurance premiums and setting up an framework that ensures that the body holding the funds sticks to its purpose and does not simply become a source of funds that gets used for political convenience. ESIC, the insurer for the organised sector, currently runs a surplus of $900 million which suggests either their premiums are too high or they are sitting on a lot of unsettled claims. Activists will tell you it’s the latter.

Meanwhile, the people cutting the gems we see in our fine jeweler’s shops continue to die of this preventable disease.

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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Workers' Memorial Day poster Pray for the dead...

Workers' Memorial Day poster Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living. - Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What gets measured, gets done.

April 28 is commemorated worldwide as a memorial day of workers killed on the job.

Health and safety provides a stark example of the gulf between the workplace entitlements enjoyed in the developed world compared to the developing world. Not only are safety standards so much higher, after decades of lobbying, but it is comparatively so much easier to show an employer’s liability and thus access some form of remedy.

A forthcoming report co-published by Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) and Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) draws attention to some stark realities:

  • Globally, occupational disease is a more serious problem than occupational injury, causing four times as many fatalities.
  • One reason disease receives less attention is that it is less visible; deaths occur quietly at home, usually some time after cessation of duties, instead of publicly and dramatically at work. Also once a person stops work their contact with their union (if they belonged to one) usually ceases too.
  • Another significant reason is under-reporting. The workplace death figures that many nations report to the ILO / United Nations are impossibly low. The reason is not that they are being intentionally evasive, they just don’t allocate the resources to measure the problem. In the Philippines for example, the government employs 235 labour inspectors to monitor 800,000 workplaces.

This is a limitation of the CSR approach to labour rights. Until such time as the world becomes much more transparent than it currently is, good intentions and flowery prose aren’t enough to improve people’s rights. A watchdog of some kind is needed, preferably a democratic union but at the very least some kind of impartial monitoring agency. If official statistics don’t show that there is a problem, it’s easy for officials to simply dodge the issue.

(To be continued. Next: Samsung’s Health and Safety record)

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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.

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