Posts Tagged ‘Silicosis’

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.

Great Stencil Bleached jeans (at She's Geeky)

Image by deb roby via Flickr

I was quite unaware of this until reading up about it for this post.

Apparently the bleached jean look is nowadays attained through a process known as sandblasting, which can create exact patterns rather than the overall pre-worn look that was created through stone-washing.

The problem is this. The key ingredient in the sand is silica. When silica becomes suspended in the air during production, it can enter the lungs and cause silicosis. The recommended maximum silica component is 1% and most U.S. factories keep it at 0.5%. However in Turkey (for example) it is as high as 80%.

Silicosis has a similar effect to tuberculosis, preventing a person from breathing. There is no known cure. And it can have an onset after as little as six months in an unfavourable environment.

What a disgrace that people could stand idly by and allow that to continue! All it would take is provision of adequate safety wear.

Clean Clothes Campaign are naming and shaming the companies that either won’t commit to a ban on the practice or have announced a change but done nothing. Their worst offender list includes Benetton, Diesel, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace.

Annoyed? Then send them a message! It’ll only take 20 seconds at most.

You can also read CCC’s full 20-page report on the issue.