Bangladesh is the top country where ships are sent to be scrapped and broken down when they are at the end of their life cycle. Shipbreaking, the name of this type of labor, is a job considered so dangerous that the life expectancy of a shipbreaker is 20 years lower than the national average, according to the International Labor Organization. Knowing this, European shipping companies are sending their ships for scrap using loopholes in international laws to profit and evade culpability at the expense of Bangladeshi lives and the environment.
Shipbreaking yards are cutting costs through shortcuts that have fatal consequences. Workers are doing illegal and dangerous night shifts, being denied living wages, rest, or compensation in case of injury, and eating, drinking, and breathing toxins illegally disposed of at the shipyard beaches.
In a report by Human Rights Watch, workers explained in interviews that they were not given any protective equipment and had to use their socks as gloves to avoid burning their hands as they cut through molten steel, wrap their shirts around their mouths to avoid inhaling toxic fumes and carry chunks of steel barefoot.
Kamrul, 39, who has worked in shipbreaking since he was 12 said, “We are not safe in the shipyard while working. Nails hit us, or flames hit us. Most of the workers at some point get burned. I never feel safe.”
A 31-year-old worker said, “If I am distracted for even a moment in the place where I work, I could die immediately.”
Children on the night-shift
It is estimated that 13 percent of the workforce are children, a number that jumps to about 20 percent during illegal night shifts according to a 2019 survey. Many of the workers interviewed in the report started working in the shipyards at about 13 years old.
In 2017, Rakib, who was 17 years old at the time, during an illegal night shift at around midnight, was cutting a heavy piece of iron when the piece fell, chopping off his left leg, while an iron rod pierced his stomach. The shipyard owners refused to pay any compensation.
“My life is totally ruined by this accident,” said Rakib.
People before profit!
There is an entire scheme that is designed to bypass international regulations so that shipping companies can continue to cheaply discard ships in Bangladesh’s dangerous yards at the expense of Bangladeshi lives. Even though international and regional laws prohibit the export of ships to yards that do not have adequate environmental and labor protections, through this scheme, many companies simply evade regulations and avoid liability. There is also a lack of enforcement of international laws and regulatory standards that further enable ships to be scrapped under these horrific conditions.
This corrupt and inhumane system to make a profit and evade accountability at the expense of these workers’ lives is appalling. Sign our petition to call on all governments to pass mandatory human rights due diligence laws and demand that people and the planet are always put before profit.