Dhaka, Bangladesh
"Truth, Lies and Reality Checks for the Livelihood of 500,000 Bangladeshis"

"Truth, Lies and Reality Checks for the Livelihood of 500,000 Bangladeshis"

As per the World Bank "Ship recycling offers the most environmentally sustainable way of disposing of old vessels, with virtually every part of the hull and machine complex being reused or recycled as scrap metal…. The ship breaking and recycling industry in South Asia (Bangladesh, India and Pakistan) has grown over the past three decades and accounts for close to 90% of the global ship breaking industry. The industry provides great advantages: it's probably the most environmentally sustainable way of disposing of old vessels, it creates jobs and supply a substantial quantity of scrap steel for the iron and steel industries (e.g, it contributed to about 50% of Bangladesh's steel production)." While the industry has grown manifold in past three decades, Ship recycling sectorbecame one of the most controversial industrial sectors with several calls being made through the yearsdemanding imminent reform. Need for solid ship breaking and recycling codes across the South Asian countries that have local economies relying on ship recycling and the re-use of what is coming out of a recycled ship, was declared few years ago and the major recycling countries of the region, namely India, Bangladesh and Pakistan made efforts to address it by efforts like adaptation to Hong Kong Convention, setting up of the Ship Recycling Code in Bangladesh, recent changes in Ship breaking and Ship recycling laws in India. Chittagong in Bangladesh enjoys a natural beachside-slope exceeding 10 degrees allowing for large vessels to be beached naturally by the help of tidal waves, thus saving huge costs on labor and heavy machinery for alternatively beaching the vessel. For beaching without tidal waves, a large ship often weighing over 15000 Metric tonnes would require heavy cranes and machinery to pull it. Heavy machinerywould consume large sources of electricity and since no hydro-power source exists near Chittagong, a non-renewable fuel power-plant would have been needed to produce uninterrupted power supply for non-tidal water based beaching,in turn emitting huge environment pollutants. However, what most people are not aware of, is the significant importance of this industrial sector to the local economies: 98% of the waste coming from the dismantling process of a ship or an offshore structure is being sold for reuse in the street markets that have been developed right by the ship recycling yards. 'Shipbreaking is one of the world's "greenest" industries, with every nut, bolt and sheet of metal on a ship being recycled' according to the words of John Vidal at UK's The Guardian last week who went on to add:'it also employs hundreds of thousands of people in some of the world's poorest countries'.According to the World Bank, 500,000 Bangladeshis directly and indirectly depended on this sector for bread and butter "The work force in each country varies with the volume of ship breaking but may range from 8,000-22,000 workers in the ship recycling yards to 200,000 in the supply chain, shops, and re-rolling mills-with dependents in extended families estimated to reach over 500,000 in Bangladesh, although fewer in Pakistan". However, the situation is quite the opposite in the ship recycling sector in the Western world where the vessels that are being recycled in Europe and the US, are rather small, of low weight, that end up for recycling in yards of comparably much smaller capacity, currently contributing far less steel and non-ferrous output to the economy of western countries, especially Europe which according to the London based International Steel Statistics Bureau, Europe is the largest importerof Steel with "36.3 Million Metric tonnes imported in 2015 growing to 39.9 Million Metric tonnes imported in 2016". According to leading market website www.statistica.com"as of end of 2016, no European country was amongst the top 15 producers of Steel globally". Interestingly at the same time due to ongoing recessions, disposable income of people decreased dramatically while projects requiring steel kept increasing, leading to a continued imbalance in the marginal propensity to consume. Unlike moving an immovable iron-ore mine, ship-breaking being a movable business model, can be the fastest solution to stabilize the imbalance due to huge import of steel by Europe, as it could lead to production of steel at source in Europe, which would however mean the movement of ship-breaking industry from Asia, possibly leaving millions of workers in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan in the lurch. If the industry needs to remain in Bangladesh, ample focus needs to be placed on the working conditions at the ship recycling yards of Chittagong. Bangladesh being a sovereign and developing nation already has ample policy infrastructure to protect the interests of both the shipyards and workers in the ship-breaking industry. It is an interesting phenomenon to observe the rise in the number of ships being dismantled since the start of recent recessions in 2007. According to the World Bank, "1,200 ships were dismantled globally in 2009 alone, equal to a capacity of more that 25 million gross metric tonnes". During the same phase working condition of workers at Chittagong have taken the center-stage alongside the activist groups in Europe. It becomes difficult to choose as to which reports be trusted - those coming from local authorities on ground in Bangladesh and global agencies like World Bank or reports from activist groups based thousands of kilometers away in Europe who have only seen the recycling yards of Bangladesh in pictures and not in real life).Until now, Bangladesh has already ratified 33 ILO Conventions including 7fundamental Conventions as enshrined in the ILO Declaration. On December 12, 2011, Bangladesh published the extensive guidelines on Ship recycling named Ship breaking and Recycling Rules 2011 covering regulatory aspects of ship-recycling including the fact that shipyards must pay compensation to any accident victim on their yards. What about the shipbreaking code that is being implemented at the South Asian recycling countries? According to international legalconsultants, DTDA Law-Firm, "Ship breaking and Recycling Rules 2011 of Bangladesh is extensive and comprises elemental guidelines from national Bangladeshi laws like Petroleum Act, 1934, Explosive Act, 1884, Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995, Labor Act, 2006, Import Policy Order and international rules like ILO Guidelines for safety and health in ship breaking activities among others. As per the Chapter 1, 3.xiii a Ship Recycling Facility Plan (SRFP) is prepared by the shipyard and submitted to the Ship Building and Ship Recycling Board (SBSRB) which in turn sends an inspector to inspect the facilities in shipyard as compliance with the SRFP and if deviations are noted with the SRFP, the SBSRB in accordance with Section 15.4 of the Code can cancel the permission for dismantling the vessel. If accidents happen as per the Section 25 under Chapter VI, concerned ship recyclers or trade body shall compensate such laborers. If traditional production of steel is observed,it depends on extensive open-cast mining of iron-ore and smeltering of ore in coal powered furnaces. As per business website www.thebalance.com Coal extraction in minesexperienceabout 13-14 deaths per day in countries like China while huge damage is done throughiron-ore extraction processes,like in Bellary region of India where fresh-air is near impossible to get as thick red iron-ore dust has polluted 9 rivers, affected over 17,00,000 people and an area of over 5000 square kilometers. Given these facts,World Bank is certainly not wrong in calling production of steel from ship-breaking a greener alternative". According to an article published by ship-breaking expert Dr. Shyam R. Asolekar and others, in the Ship-breaking yard of Alang in India,roughly 0.13 accidents occur per 1000 workers. Two questions remain on the table at the moment: can any work-place in the world be ensured to be 100% accident free? And that who would take care of the needs of an affected worker after a full and final compensation was paid? Linked to the first question, more questions arise as to whether Bangladesh's ship breaking law ensures the prevention of accidents, mitigating the risks in the workplace and aligning with the interests of both employers and employees in the ship recycling industry? Whether adequate effort of the governmental bodies to address the need for higher safety standards in the workplace through training and education of the workforce, through seminars for safety & risk management and by raising the bar when it comes to applying legislation against offenders is put in place? A recent example is the case of Mr. Mohamed Edris, who was working as a metal cutter back in 2015 at one of the ship recycling yards in Chittagong. Due to an unfortunate accident while operating a blow torch, costed him his left leg below the knee and leaving him blinded in one eye. Mr. Edris did agree on a full and final settlement with his employer Ferdous Steel Corporation, who paid the injured worker's complete hospital expenses, in addition to monthly compensation from May 2015 until October 2016, totalinganamount of Taka 282,193. However, it appears from recent information published by local media that Mr. Edrishas recently been unhappy with the settlement he agreed with his former employer. While worker exploitation has been a topic of extensive public discussions (at least in the Western societies). If the example of Mr. Edris' accident case is used as a reference, it would be difficult to decide if it is a case of exploitation since his employers paid the full compensation asked and agreed by him or should his case be considered as rare example where public authorities must consider to change the law due to the fact that a fixed monetary compensation was insufficient to cover all future costs of living?While the two questions be pondered upon, Bangladesh could soon be the leading spot for a new industry of 'ambulance lawyers' wherein unfortunate accident cases like that of Mr. Edris can be asked for huge compensation in western Courts. Although it sounds preposterous, it did happen in the case of Mr. Edris who neither speaks English nor comes from an urban area of Bangladesh, apparently chose to hire top London based injury lawyers Leigh Day, to get further compensation from the original owner of the vessel he had the accident on, in order to buy a shopin Bangladesh. Apparently, European activist the Shipbreaking Platform helped the non-English speaker Mr. Edris to reach out and hire the personal injury lawyers in London. It is weird to imagine the person seeking funds to setup a shop in Bangladesh reaching out to lawyers in Europe, instead of seeking inexpensive local legal assistance or free legal aid in Bangladesh, unless, he was mollycoddled by an external agency to reach out to lawyers in London with the possible promise of getting him of a huge compensation. Interestingly enough, the personal injury law firm Leigh Day is considering to bring a test case in the UK courts for negligence, hoping to establish a link between the injured worker and the wealthy shipowner, aiming to satisfy the test of remoteness: had the ship-owning company not have sold their ship to the ship recycling yard in Chittagong, would Mr. Edris have been injured? A bit far-fetched from the first sound of it?Under this reasoning, any industrial worker suffering an accident in the workplace should be going after the supplier of the raw materials to the factory instead of claiming compensation from his employer/the owner of the factory or his direct supervisor. It would be like taking a chicken to Court instead of the shop which sold a spoilt egg. Apparently, all parties except the shipyard and common workers of Bangladesh, have a gain out of such bizarre cases since an activist like Shipbreaking Platform would gain immense publicity both in Europe and Asia, the issue would help certain European countries as this issue would add to the pressure being put on the international ship-owning community to avoid ship recycling in Bangladesh and shift to European yards, act as an international advertisement opportunity for the injury lawyers Leigh Day to work on an international compensation claim and open the floodgates for more injured workers to follow suit and use such unfortunate accidents as an in an opportunistic effort to make enough money for their dream shop?

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