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National Labor Committee 5 Gateway Center, 6th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 Telephone: (412) 562-2406 Fax: (412) 562-2411 Email: he filming of the shipbreaking yards was primarily the work of Mr. M.N. Darpon, an independent television producer in Bangladesh along with his cameraman Mr. Bakiul Alam. Additional filming and still photos were done by Barbara Briggs and by the shipbreaking workers themselves, who used their cell phones. The report could never have been researched and written without the close collaboration and partnership of both the national and local offices of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and in particular Mr. Babul, Ms. Kalpona Akther and Mr. Farid. Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), a Bangladeshi NGO based in Chittagong, broke the ground and is responsible for the most serious ongoing research and advocacy in the shipbreaking yards. The International Metalworkers Federation has also been a powerful advocate for the shipbreakers in both India and Bangladesh. Research for the National Labor Committee report was conducted by Charles Kernaghan, Barbara Briggs, Jonathann Giammarco and Carlow University student interns Elana N. Szymkowiak and Francesca Michelle Lies. The National Labor Committee’s video on shipbreaking was edited and produced by Scott Weaver. Design of the report was the work of Aaron Hudson. The United Steelworkers Union provided enormous support, both for the research and writing of the report and, more importantly, in solidarity with the brave shipbreakers of Bangladesh.
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Where Ships and Workers Go to Die:
Global Trade Rules Fail to Protect the Most Basic Worker Rights
• Some of the world’s largest decommissioned tanker ships—measuring up to 1,000 feet long, twenty stories high and weighing 25 million pounds—have been run up on the beaches of Bangladesh. In July of 2009, 112 tanker ships were strewn over four miles of beach. • Thirty thousand Bangladeshi workers, some of them children just 10, 11, 12 and 13 years of age, toil 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for wages of just 22 to 32 cents an hour, doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. • According to estimates by very credible local organizations, 1,000 to 2,000 workers have been killed in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards over the last 30 years. Currently, a worker is seriously injured every day, and a worker is killed every three to four weeks. • On September 5, 2009, 35-year-old Mr. Hossain was burned to death while breaking apart a South Korean tanker at the Kabir Steel Yard. Twenty-year old Mr. Ashek remains in critical condition, while three other workers were seriously burned. Their blowtorches struck a gas tank which exploded, engulfing them in flames. • It is common for workers to be paralyzed or crushed to death by heavy metal plates falling from the ship. A 13-year old child, Nasiruddin Molla, was killed on July 14, 2008, when a large iron plate struck him in the head at the Sultana shipyard. Accidents and even some deaths are not reported, and there is never an investigation. • Each ship contains an average of 15,000 pounds of asbestos and ten to 100 tons of lead paint. Shipbreaking workers are routinely exposed to asbestos, lead, mercury, arsenic, dioxins, solvents, toxic oil residues and carcinogenic fumes from melting metal and lead paint. Environmental damage to Bangladesh’s beaches, ocean and fishing villages has been massive. • Helpers, often children, who go barefoot or wear flip flops, use hammers to break apart the asbestos in the ship, which they shovel into bags to carry outside and dump in the sand. • Workers lack even the must rudimentary protective gear. Cutters, who use blowtorches to cut the giant ships to pieces, wear sunglasses rather than protective goggles, baseball caps rather than hardhats, wrap dirty bandanas around their nose and mouth as they are not provided respiratory masks and wear two sets of shirts rather than a welder’s vests, hoping the sparks will not burn through to their skin, which happens every day. • Four to six workers share each small, primitive room, often sleeping right on the dirty concrete floor. No one has a mattress. In some of the hovels, the roof leaks when it rains, so workers have to sit up at night covering themselves with pieces of plastic. Their “shower” is a hand water pump. • Every single labor law in Bangladesh and every one of the International Labor Organization’s internationally recognized workers rights standards are blatantly violated on a daily basis. While forced to work overtime, the shipbreaking workers receive no overtime premium. There are no weekly holidays, no paid sick days, no national holidays or vacations. Any worker asking for his proper wages is immediately fired. • The shipbreaking workers are very clear on two points: that they will die early and that there have been no improvements whatsoever over the last thirty years in respect for worker rights laws or health and safety. • The global institutions which direct world trade have miserably failed workers across the developing world who continue to be injured, cheated, maimed, paralyzed and killed on a daily basis. The G-20 countries, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization and the International Labor Organization must be held accountable.


Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh

Table of Contents
Executive Summary 04 06

Preface by Charles Kernaghan: If there is a Hell, This is It 1.) Workers Are Injured, Maimed and Killed In Bangladesh’s ShipbreakingYards - Worker Burned to Death at the Kabir Shipbreaking Yard - A Dead Worker Is Worth $1,400 - Now I Am Sick and Starving; Life Is Cheap in the Shipbreaking Yards - Young Worker Paralyzed; Shipyard Owners Refuse to Help - A Ship Explodes, two workers die, more than ten injured - Eighteen-year-old Worker Crushed to Death - Crippled on the Job and Discarded without a Cent - Eighteen-year-old Worker Crushed on Greek Ship - A Shipyard of Death: Mamun Enterprise 2.) Portrait of Shipbreakers: Two Experienced Cuttermen 3.) A Day in the Life of “Lucky” Shipbreakers 4.) The Jiri Subedar Shipbreaking Yard 5.) Shipbreakers Exposed Daily to Deadly Toxic Wastes

08 08 09 11 13 13 14 15 16 18 20 28 30 32 34 38 39 40 42 44 45 46

6.) A Worker Dies Every Month in the Shipbreaking Yards 7.) The Ambia Shipbreaking Yard 8.) Let’s Send the Child Workers to School 9.) Mamun Enterprise Shipyard 10.) Bhatiary Steel Shipbreaking Yard 11.) Khaja Shipmaster Trading Shipbreaking Yard 12.) Kabir Shipbreaking Yard 13.) Lists of U.S. and Chinese Ships being broken in Bangladesh 14.) Conclusion: What Should Be Done?

APPENDICES – Interview with Syeda Rizwana Hasan, BELA 48 – Key Organizations


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This is the story of the Bangladeshi shipbreakers. 650 to over 1. The shipbreakers do some of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The G-20 leaders are meeting in Pittsburgh this year in late September. the handful of powerful shipping nations and the companies that dominate global merchant cargo trade. No one helps them.000 pounds of asbestos in every I PREFACE by Charles Kernaghan 6 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Bangladeshi government have not—individually and collectively— been able to implement a single improvement? Make no mistake. which have been run up on the beach in the Bay of Bengal. this is it. the National Labor Committee counted 112 tanker ships stretching across nearly four miles of beaches. In July. and nothing at all has changed in the last three decades. Injuries happen every day—some are paralyzed for life—and a worker dies every three or four weeks. the International Maritime Organization (IMO). It is large enough to be seen from space. If there is a hell on earth. mostly young men. How is it that over the course of 30 years.If There Is a Hell on Earth. but also child workers who are just 10. handling and breathing in dangerous toxic waste with no safeguards whatsoever and under conditions that violate every local and international labor law. 11. toiling 12 hours a day. The horrific sweatshop conditions in the shipbreaking yards are not a stepping stone to the middle class. 12. The workers say a dog means more to the business owner than a human being. and in all that time. This Is It t is one of the strangest. 95 to 164 feet wide. not far from the city of Chittagong. and 13 years old. the workers are certain of two things—they will die early.000 shipbreaking workers are dismantling some of the largest decommissioned tanker ships in the world—20 stories high. let alone seen. In Bangladesh. Workers. for wages of just 22 to 32 cents an hour. use hammers to break up the 15. the G-20 countries (and before that the G-7). This has been going on for more than 30 years. Rather. most striking and frightening industrial sites in the world. 30. the shipbreaking yards are the final cycle of the Race to the Bottom in the global sweatshop economy. but remains an open secret which few American people have even heard of. seven days a week. including children. and the reality is not pretty.000 feet long.

often sleeping on a filthy concrete floor. it should make us blush. sick days. The workers’ demands are so modest. there is nothing romantic or exciting here. uniforms and a stipend to replace their lost wages. holidays. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Four to six workers share each primitive room. It is the job of international solidarity to push the G-20 world leaders. No one can afford a mattress. to have one day off each week. to be paid the legal overtime premium. The National Labor Committee 7 .800 and walked away. unable to even sit up or control his bowels. And life is cheap. When it comes to protecting and promoting worker rights in the global economy. the major shipping nations and corporations. This should not be a very hard. What is going on is the cruel and criminal exploitation of young workers in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards. We can help these workers climb out of misery and at least into poverty.ship and then dump it on the sand to wash out to sea. A young worker whose back was broken when a heavy piece of metal fell from the ship and struck him lies paralyzed. healthcare for workers injured on the job and the right to organize. The environment is being destroyed. Their dream is to earn 60 cents an hour. He just lies there. But unlike in the popular TV series. The owner of the shipyard gave him $1. the IMO and the ILO to finally guarantee the rule of law and to end the abuse and exploitation in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards. nothing will improve without activism and struggle. These are in fact the most dangerous jobs in the world. It would cost less than $750 a year to send a child worker back to school—where they belong—to cover books. It does not have to be this way.

Jahangir. Jahagir was crushed and 8 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh M trapped under the huge metal plate. starting work there in 2004. clinging to life. The workers were breaking apart a Korean tanker using blowtorches when their flames cut through a tank which was filled with gas and gas vapors. Hossain was burned to death while breaking apart a huge Korean tanker ship at the Kabir Shipbreaking Yard.. Jahagir was an experienced senior “cutter”. operating a blowtorch all day. He was struck by a heavy piece of falling metal and died on the way to the hospital. he and his helper were assigned to work in an area very near to where a huge metal plate from the ship was suspended above by a wire cable. But both lived. The cable snapped. A second worker. There was a large explosion and all five workers were trapped in an inferno of flames.400 r.m. His helpers were luckier. Mrs. The workers at Kabir told us. 2009 at 9:00 a. “We have no security in our lives. 20 years old. 32. 2008.Worker Burned to Death at the Kabir Shipbreaking Yard O A second worker is in critical condition. 28. Nurjahan Begom. The other worker’s hand was crushed and is now paralyzed. Critically injured. 22. Mr. Jahagir Alam had worked at the Jiri Subader Shipbreaking Yard for four years. but the doctors said there was no hope for him.” n Saturday morning. and he died on September 6. Early on August 12. an . Three other A Dead Worker is Worth $1. is in critical condition and just barely clinging to life. Twenty-five year old Mr. workers. One worker’s leg was so badly crushed that it had to be amputated. September 5. and Khokon. Mr. also suffered serious burns and are in the Burn Unit of the Chittagong Medical College Hospital. Masud was killed at the Kabir Steel yard on November 14. 2008. Md Kuddus. cutting apart the giant beached tankers. Jahagir’s mother. Ashek. 2008. Three others seriously burned. and Mr. told us: “When my son was working in the shipyard. 35-year-old Mr. he clung to life for 26 days.

Jahagir’s father also died. Nor are even the most minimal health and safety standards enforced. Mr. Another two workers were also injured. Mr.453. His left ear was so badly burned that it is disfigured. or $1. While working one of the most dangerous jobs on the ship. he was paid just 24 cents an hour. I cry every day to Allah that no other parents lose their son. every single labor law as well as the International Labor Organization’s internationally recognized worker rights standards are violated. walked away from a young man who was badly burned when a gas tank he was cutting burst into flames.Mother of Jahagir Alam Life is Cheap for Shipyard Owners “Now I am Sick and Starving. He also needs help walking. I cry every day to Allah that no other parents lose their son. Begom begged the shipyard owner for help to bury her son. iron plate fell on him. One of them had his leg crushed and another his hand fractured. It’s a cheap price for a worker’s life. suffered extensive burns to his head. but there was no response.000.In the shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh. just 26 years old. and he is now partially deaf. It was only with the help of a lawyer and after a long struggle that the management of Jiri Subader shipyard paid the family 100. Lokman. Under such circumstances. They are alive. back and thighs. years before. Halim. it is cost effective for the shipyard owners to continue to kill and maim the workers. working in a shipbreaking yard. “My son will never come back to this world. the owner of the Jiri Subedar Shipbreaking Yard. but my son will never come back to this world.” A fter paying about $3.000 taka. Mr.” . Without money for medical treatment he The National Labor Committee 9 . hands.” Mrs.

[He earned 24 cents an hour. a daily occurrence. and I went down to the ship to cut a gas tank there. for tea and a lunch break from 1:00 to 2:00. I passed out. are never recorded or investigated. I realized that I was in hospital. Liton.Mr. I was in the hospital for almost six months. “I had to carry my lunch with me. 130 for working 8 hours. February. son of Khurshid Alam. The flesh of my legs was seriously burned by the flames. After five minutes. work 30 days a month.m. “The cutter man. 2009. chest. It got rotten as it was very hot in the shipyard. and I both got burned.m. “Now I am sick and starving.83 for a 12-hour shift. Later. The flame set fire to my hands. My (boss) a cutter man. I was released from the hospital on August 12.” . Illegally. to 11:00 a. back. I started working at 7:00 in the morning and finished work at 7:00 in the evening. It is believed that serious accidents occur every day. 1. and sometimes until 12:00 noon. back. There was a thirty-minute break at 10:00 a. Lokman. “I worked at the Subedar Yard owned by Mr. 18. My ear. Mr. The company did not provide any refreshment. Liton. 2009.] We got paid every 15 days.” Accidents in the shipyards. When I came to.500 Testimony of Abdul Halim “My name is Abdul Halim. after taking my break. thigh and part of my body was burned. It was not possible for me to 10 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . Mr.m.m. $2. I worked there for a year as a helper. the workers were not paid the overtime premium. thigh and ear. I was throwing water on the tank to stop the sparks. the company took the responsibility for medical bills and medicines. The flame set fire to my hands. I also worked on Fridays—then I had to work from 7:00 a. Sometimes I suffered from diarrhea from eating spoiled food. thigh and ear. The flesh of my legs was seriously burned by the flames. I worked 12 hours a day including 4 hours overtime. I worked inside the ship and got paid Tk. I resumed work at 10:30 a.“…I saw a big gas flame shoot out from the opening that was cut. Abdul Halim told us. spending Tk. which was prepared at home in the early morning. “On Wednesday. I saw a big gas flame shoot out from the opening that was cut. Sometimes it goes on fire. I heard that the other workers got us admitted to Chittagong Medical College hospital. For the first three months. I am 26 years old. I worked 22-25 days a month because ship-breaking is such hard labor.

which need to be changed every day or two. Mr. they make excuses. were working inside the ship using blow torches to cut apart a huge ballast tank. I have not fully recovered and the doctor recommended that I remain in bed for another two to three months. He cannot control his bowels and does everything in the bed… The contractor doesn’t want to give money. Now my son cannot walk. He may never be able to work again. cannot hold down food and cannot sleep. For the last three months the company reduced the payment. which weighed 300 or so tons. My mother took a loan from the neighbors for my treatment.80] daily. smashing into M “His backbone is broken.” Notes: Mr. Now I am sick and am starving.” . His life is full of pain. I am married but my wife has abandoned me due to my present condition. Abdul Mannan.[$21. Laskor. Mr. Mahim and Mr. When I plead with them.) Young Worker Paralyzed Shipyard Owners Refuse to Help r. When his blow torch ran out of oxygen.000 [$14. He has recovered and is back at work. Nezam Uddin and his helper went outside to hook their hose up to a fresh oxygen cylinder. “The company is refusing to pay any medical expenses now that I am released from the hospital. Now the owner is refusing to pay a penny more. spending Tk. M.1. (See full report on the Jiri Subedar Shipbreaking Yard on page 28. 2007. His burns still require clean dressings. a large piece of metal weighing about 3. which is owned by Mr. The cutter. He needs help to walk and to use the bathroom.53] daily. Nezam Uddin worked cutting apart huge tanker ships at the Mahim Enterprise Shipbreaking Yard. My medical treatment is now stopped as I can’t afford to buy medicine or nutritious food. Suddenly. for which the owner spent 227.307 or less.Mother of Nezam Uddin The National Labor Committee 11 .000 pounds came free from the ballast tank. Liton. My father is an old man and can’t work and my mother works in neighbor’s house to support our lives. He is very frail and weak and spends most of his time in bed. cannot sit. On the morning of April 2. was relatively lucky and suffered burns only on his face. Halim was hospitalized for 176 days.500 taka--$3. Nezam Uddin and his helper. Mr. Mr.

doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. “I demand justice for my condition. To the shipyard owners. and cannot sleep. He was just 25 years old.” Mr.” his mother said. I was admitted to the Chittagong Al Sattar Hospital… My backbone is broken and my head was injured. His backbone was broken. I was unconscious. but that money is long gone. He worked a minimum of “His backbone is broken. “Now my son cannot walk. Uddin’s initial treatment. one-and-a-half years to force the owners to take some responsibility for their son’s injury. His life is full of pain. I feel nothing in my chest or back. The operation would cost 750.900. they make excuses. “I was struck and knocked down to the ground. Uddin cannot walk or get out of bed. and his poor family is borrowing money to take care of him. He cannot control his bowels and does everything in the bed… The contractor doesn’t want to give money.817—and walked away. When I plead with them. The owners gave the family 125.817 covered Mr.72 hours a week. with the help of a lawyer. 27 years old.900— but the shipyard owners refuse to pay a cent.900. with no end in sight to his and his family’s misery. Now my bodily organs are not functioning. Nezam Uddin on his back and head. But the operation is so delicate that it should be done by specialists in India. Uddin. The shipyard owners—very wealthy men—ignored the family’s pleas to their son. Uddin told us.Nezam Uddin. earning $20. a worker’s life is not worth $10. rot in a bed. Uddin. I cannot feel my stomach… I wish I could move like I did before. Mr. they will let Mr. Rather than pay the $10. cannot sit. Mr. or 28 cents an hour.000 taka—$1. Uddin started working in the Mahim Enterprise Shipbreaking Yard in 2006. Shipbreaking worker 12 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . the oxygen tank and then striking Mr.000 taka—$10.13. and I want to recover from my injury. cannot hold down food. The $1.” The doctors at the Chittagong Medical College Hospital think there is a good chance to help Mr. It took the family. He has no feeling in his back or his stomach and has no control over his bowels.” .

which the workers call “Lucky. Shipbreaking Yard. The explosion took place in the Mahim Enterprise Shipbreaking Yard. owned by Mr. r. There was no investigation. The source believes that management may have had the bodies thrown into the sea. and no steps were taken to institute even the most minimal safety measures. and the heavy load crushed him… The metal plate was pulled off by the machine [winch]. a practice that was not uncommon a few years ago.325. The shipyard owner gave the dead man’s family 160. He was just smashed by the load…” .A Ship Explodes Two workers die and more than ten injured I n mid-June 2008.000 taka ($2. a large explosion on a ship being dismantled was caught on tape showing heavy smoke billowing out of its hull. when a huge steel plate from the ship— weighing tons—suddenly fell on him as he was cutting it apart into smaller pieces. Touhid Hosain Babul. a very credible local source told us that two workers died in the accident.58) and walked away.M. 2009. Shipyard management said that no one died and that just two workers were injured in the blast. just 18 years old. When flame from the blow torch cut through the tank. was crushed to death at the M. He was paid just 27 cents an hour. and more than 10 workers were seriously injured. However. The workers on that ship were using blowtorches to cut apart a large gas tank. Laskor. taking the Eighteen-year-old Worker Crushed to Death M “The steel plate fell on him.” on April 19. and we saw that his appearance had changed. For the shipyard owners.Co-worker of Touhid Hosain Babul The National Labor Committee 13 . there was an explosion. Mahim and Mr.

. 90-degree temperature. Shipbreaking Yard. We saw that the dead body was going out through the gate…” -Lucky workers life of a worker is cheap and easy.” on page xxx. Babul started working in the shipbreaking yards when he was just 14 years of age. They step in unison to the rhythm of a team leaders’ chant. He was hired as a helper. Babul is on the right.) Mr. (See the full report on the M. He worked at the Lucky shipyard for two years before he was killed.. He was just smashed by the load… We all helped to get him out. to get the dead body out from under the load. but the load suddenly fell on him… The metal plate was pulled off by the machine [winch]. It took an hour. from 12:00 midnight to 1:00 a. and we saw that his appearance had changed. They t first we thought he was an old woman. known as “Lucky. he had just started working nine days earlier. The plate was supposed to be secured so it could be cut from any side. If they did not. the weight would crush them. When we visited him and a group of workers from the yard in mid-February. five workers were assigned to carry a smaller plate of steel measuring about five feet long. Mr. In this case. whose job it was to join a team that 14 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . Some metal plates measure four or five feet wide by 15 or 16 feet long and are so heavy that it takes a dozen or more workers to lift and carry them on their shoulders.“The steel plate fell on him and the heavy load crushed him.m.M. But he was a 32 year old man. wearing a black shirt and light blue jeans. who had just begun to work at the Bhatiary Steel Shipbreaking Yard. This photo taken with his friend was taken shortly before his death A Crippled on the Job and Discarded without a Cent carried heavy metal plates cut from the ship to a waiting truck. … Then it was dawn. stooped over with a shawl thrown over his shoulders and head despite the humid.

the tanker United Moonlight delivered crude oil products around the world.hoisted it onto their shoulders. As he had worked for four days prior to his injury. But the weight was too great. The huge ship—676 feet long. 108 feet wide and 20 stories high—now sits beached in the sands of the Bay of Bengal. and started to walk.64 for the routine 12-hour shift. and they knew that if they waited the plate would crush them all. The shipyard would not even pay for him to see a doctor. United Moonlight was owned by the Greek company. but he was a split second too late. 18 Years Old. Hundreds of young workers go into the ship without even the most primitive protective gear or safety precautions to work 12 hours a day for 22 to 32 cents an hour The National Labor Committee 15 .Bent over from the ing to a halt when he heavy weight he was was 32 years old. he could not straighten himself back up again.56. United Moonlight F or 27 years. taking no responsibility for his injury.018 to a Bangladeshi shipbreaking yard called Jomuna. After that. The ship will be broken into scrap and sold at a healthy profit. which sold the ship for $3.495. (See report on Bhatiary Shipbreaking Yard on page 40. His co-workers were taking care of him the best that they could. Nor was he offered any compensation. He was staying and sleeping in the dorm rooms. Marine Management Services MC. a new worker was fired without medical care or any compensation. Helal.) carrying and unable to straighten his back. His life had come crash. The new worker thought he could do it as well. Aladdin. and the full weight of several-hundred pound plate came down on his back before he was knocked aside. He is permanently bent over and in pain. he earned a total of $10. including to the United States. which were dressed with rags to cushion the weight. owned by a Mr. Crushed to Death on April 11. he was paid 22 cents an hour and $2. Mr. As a helper. The injured worker had no idea what he would do next without any money. and the workers prepared food for him. 2009 While Dismantling the Greek Ship. Management fired him. Four of the more experienced workers knew how to hoist and slip out from under the weight.

worked as a “loader” carrying heavy metal plates cut from the ship to waiting trucks. 25 years old.m. instantly crushing 18-year-old Mr. on June 2. a cutter’s helper. United Moonlight sailed under a Liberian flag of convenience. 2008. This allowed the Greek shipping company to avoid Greek regulations and higher taxes and also to hire non-union workers from poor developing countries at less than half the wages and benefits as those in Greece. He was struck in the head by a falling piece of metal at 2:00 p. Habibur Rubel Rahman.dismantling the ship under some of the most dangerous working conditions anywhere in the world. The shipyard owner gave his family 3. was killed at midnight on June 27. M r. 2008.60) after their sons’ death. Roise Uddin Mridha. Hannan. At Mamun Enterprise. Shipyard officials sent the dead man’s body M M 16 r. 2008 and died on the way to the hospital. was just 18 when he was killed—in what the workers described as a “horrifying accident”— the night of June 16. 40 years old.000 taka ($43. On April 11. Helal to death. Another worker crushed to death in April 2009 Shipyard of Death to his parents’ village that same night. It was only under pressure from a local nongovernmental organization—Young Power in Social Action (YPSA)—that Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . when a heavy piece of metal he was cutting broke loose and crushed him to death. When it was active. Three workers killed in a single month in June 2008. r. 2009. without informing the police of his death. a huge metal plate fell from the United Moonlight ship.

both ships were owned by shipping companies in the United Arab Emirates. falling and crushing him to death. Mr. Red Sea. (See full report on Mamun Enterprise on page 39. also called S. April 21. 2009. a crude oil tanker measuring 796 feet long and 106 feet wide and the Gazelle. No safety precautions were taken to guarantee the security of the large steel plates being cut. At the time of the workers’ deaths. In the last year. Belal was assigned to cut sheets of metal from the side of the ship. on Tuesday.the shipyard provided further compensation. India. Seta by Emirates Shipping Co. Belal. Trading Corporation.m. the Gulf and South East Asia.) The National Labor Committee 17 . they were cutting apart two huge ships. and Gazelle by the Global Crown Shipping Co. which is owned by a Mr. Belal was more than half way through his cut when a huge piece of metal broke free. a 27-year-old senior cutter. M r. also a crude oil tanker. Shafi. LLC. Ltd. Mr. Seta and Gazelle carried crude oil to ports in the Mediterranean. 748 feet long and 106 feet wide. Before they were sold to the scrap yard. was crushed to death at 3:00 p. The name of the shipbreaking yard where the workers were killed is Mamun Enterprise. the SETA. Using a blowtorch.

it is common for They were experienced cutters who had been working in the yards for 11 years. They buy cheap sunglasses to protect their eyes and wrap dirty bandanas around their mouths and noses to protect their faces and ward off the fumes and flying bits of asbestos. Using a blowtorch. which can happen if they cut through the metal and hit a pocket of gas vapor. they cut the giant tanker ships into pieces. They were completely filthy. or from slipping and falling into the cavernous ship. the metal sparks from the flame 18 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . Nonetheless. they fear the explosions. and the Bangladeshi workers use cut up rags to wrap and pad their feet. Their arms were full of burn marks and welts. Instead of hard hats. they have to hammer away the asbestos. Rather than steel-tipped boots. They are sweating constantly. they wear two sets of heavy shirts. Management does not provide any safety gear other than the cheapest pair of welding gloves. To protect themselves from the flying sparks when they are using the blowtorch. Most of all. hoping that the sparks will not burn through both layers. In addition to the heat. The boots are far too big. they wore cheap baseball caps. Portrait of Shipbreakers O are flying everywhere. But it happens all the time. a second shirt.m. we ran into two shipbreaking workers who had just finished an eight-hour shift.” ne Friday in February. while earning just 31 cents an hour.” either from explosions. the melting iron and lead paint throw off a sickening stench which makes them dizzy.Senior cutters work one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. seven days a week. Sun glasses. a bandana and a cheap baseball cap are their only “safety gear. was “absolutely dangerous. they wore soft rubber “gum boots” that the owner takes from the ship and sells to the workers. When they use their blowtorches to cut. to 3:00 p.. from 7:00 a. they explained. given the combination of 95-degree temperatures. Their work. And before they can even begin to work on the metal.m. on what was supposed to be their weekly day off. high humidity and the heat of the blowtorches.” and it was “very common that workers die.

no religious Eid festivals. The kids worked barefoot or in flip flops.” –which was a gross understatement. maybe fewer than a dozen 12 and 13-year olds worked their shift. breaking his leg. All overtime is mandatory. supposedly their day off. There was never a paid holiday. Singapore and other countries. or even midnight.” They told us that the ships they dismantled came from Germany. When it rains. they said. “we can’t sleep. All overtime was obligatory. These workers received no national holidays. they responded. They worked seven days a week. it exploded and many died. no vacation days and no contract. or $4. The workers told us they had “no comfort. to 9:00.02 for the normal 13-hour shift and a total of $25. Nor did they shy away from work.. “No. they could not even prove they worked at the yard. The National Labor Committee 19 . The shipyard owner. For all their grueling and dangerous work. no May Day—nothing. these senior cutters were paid just 31 cents an hour. cocky and knew that they were good at what they did.” All they can do is to sit and try to cover themselves with rags or a light quilt. no life. Greece. They were thin. and a half-hour break from 5:00 to 5:30 p.m. There was no healthcare. when the workers were cutting apart a boiler. The company doesn’t want it and won’t accept it. from 8:00 a. When we asked if there was a union in the shipbreaking yard. 14 and 15-hour shifts. but workers are not paid the legal overtime premium which is supposed to be paid as double time.m.33 for working an 82-hour week.m.m. Like other worker hovels we have seen. Four workers slept in a small room. For us it is a dream. a piece of metal fell on a worker. If they were hurt or killed.the workers to get rashes and infections since the rubber boots do not breathe. lying on the dirty concrete floor. 10:00 or 11:00 p. their room had a paper-thin thatched roof which leaked when it rained. They were working over 80 hours a week and sometimes more. They told us that two weeks before. No one had even a mattress. they said. “doesn’t provide anything. regularly putting in 13.” These guys were great. There were not many children in their shipyard. including a four to eight or even ten-hour shift on Fridays. Three years ago. The workers were allowed an hour for lunch. from 1:00 to 2:00 p.

The tank.. cutting it to pieces with their blowtorches. and everyone smelled of oil. they work on the beach under glaring fluorescent lights. The yard operates 24 hours a day. “The environment is worse than a prison. Chittagong Using winches and wire cables.” Currently. around 9:00 a.m. When we met with them that morning. must have held oil. which was divided into several roomsized chambers.A Day in the Life of “Lucky” Shipbreakers here are a little over 1.. when management provides them with a cup of tea and a small biscuit. we had the chance to meet with a group of Lucky shipbreaking workers who had just come off the night shift.. Everyone was soaking wet from the rain. T M. with just three short breaks—a half hour at 10:00 p.M. running two 12-hour shifts. Shipbreaking Yard—which almost everyone calls “Lucky.m. During the entire night.M.000 workers at the M. On the night shift.m. no one works inside the ships.” On a hot and rainy July morning. Shipbreaking Yard (Lucky) Jahanabad Sitakundo. 20 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . and a 15-minute rest period at 6:30 a.m. We work here only to buy food to survive. Otherwise. the yard is breaking down three huge tanker ships. they get 55 minutes off. a huge holding tank—the workers said it was the size of ten of their dorm rooms—had been dragged from the ship onto the sand and mud. which the workers say costs the equivalent of about four cents.m. They had worked straight through.m. a ten-minute break at 2:00 a. each of which takes about six months to completely dismantle to be sold as scrap. the workers’ clothing was black with oil stains. and sixteen workers were assigned to spend the entire night inside the holding tank. from 8:00 p. to 8:00 a. rather. it is not a workplace fit for a human being.

and since the rubber does not breathe.81) for them. they had to knock off the asbestos. Inside the tank it is pitch dark except for the glare of their blowtorches. Their noses and throats were sore. First. Three or four times a night. almost all of the workers were coughing and spitting black. A few workers tried chewing betel nuts to remove the acid taste in their mouths. The only safety gear management provides the workers are gloves. pungent stinking odor. Some went outside to vomit. but since there were a lot of fumes inside the tank.” Management sells the workers soft rubber boots that were collected from the ships. We could hear coughing coming from the surrounding rooms. which was wrapped around the pipes and secured with wire. and some were near passing out. there could be a flash fire or explosion. all of them carried numerous scars from being burned.During our meeting. The workers said that inside the tank. Already soaked from the night’s rain. The workers are charged 400 taka ($5. and those are only issued to the cutters who handle the blowtorches. They felt dizzy. If they cut into a chamber with oil or gas fumes. However. The workers estimated that it would take two or three nights’ work to dismantle the chamber completely. They used hammers to break the asbestos apart. they had to fear explosions. Sparks were flying everywhere from the blowtorches. They have no socks. but also the melting metal and lead paint that added to the deadly fumes. no safety goggles or visors to protect against the glare and sparks. not to their helpers or the junior workers. they marked the metal to note the sizes of the pieces they wanted to cut. Instead. there was a sharp. They used their blowtorches to cut the metal. Their eyes were watering. bandanas wrapped around their nose and mouth and two sets of shirts in hopes of preventing the sparks from their blowtorches from reaching their skin. so they wrap their feet with torn pieces of dungarees. the workers’ feet stink and some get infections. when The National Labor Committee 21 . It was not only the oil. The shipbreakers do this work with no safety gear. The boots are too large for the Bangladeshi workers. no welders vests and no respiratory masks. “I have seen many workers legs and hands broken. the workers use sunglasses. Next. baseball caps. Many workers died. and the temperature inside the tank soared. no hard hats. they were also dripping in their own sweat.

They wash next to a manual water pump which they use to fill up small plastic buckets. rust and mud.. A 16-year-old Lucky worker we met with estimated that there were around 15 child workers between the ages of 10 and 12 on his day shift. Outside they stand in the mud and clay. and he had to take four days off—without pay. the asbestos dust and the grime. The workers have to wait their turns since just two primitive water pumps serve 50 or more workers. The rooms reek of Some child workers also work on the day and night shifts. as it continues to rain. several workers take turns sneaking outside to breathe. They use these plastic buckets to wash themselves. they need to wash off the oil. having worked through the entire night. wash their clothes and cook using water from the same pump. But these workers do not have showers or baths. “We have no life. just some old rags and sheets. along with children as young as ten. but they drink it anyway. The workers brush their teeth. The 16-year-old said injuries were common in the yard. eight-by-12-foot room. with two workers sleeping on a hard wooden platform and the other two sleeping right on the dirty concrete floor.m. which the workers say are infested with bed bugs. A similar number of kids worked at night. The Lucky workers told us. the stench of oil and gas clinging to their bodies. Desperately impoverished hovels not fit for any human being: When the shipbreaking workers return “home” sometime after 8:30 a. The shipbreakers sleep four to each small.they cannot stand it anymore. No one has a mattress. Another group of Lucky 22 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . a heavy piece of metal fell on his foot. The water is not potable.” workers thought there were about 100 young teenage workers between the ages of 16 and 17 in the yard. In June.

It is stiflingly hot and flies are everywhere. electricity. That has to cover rent for their room. vegetables like cabbage.45) a day. Some workers are so exhausted they skip breakfast and go right to sleep. $4. who earn just 30 cents an hour. is during the two major religious Eid festivals when middle class people give food to the poor. “We are fighting with death always. They work 12 hours a day under grueling and dangerous conditions to do this. and lentils. Those who stay awake eat the cheapest rice they can purchase.36—which is more than 14 hours’ wages for even senior cutters.45 a day— in misery: A senior blowtorch cutter can earn 250 taka ($3.63) for a 12-hour shift. The workers cannot even afford to buy used shirts or pants. In each room. There is no air. Food sits in open pots on the floor. “so how are we going to see a doctor and purchase medicines?” Seeing a doctor costs at least 300 taka. eating meat. The Lucky workers told us they try to survive on 100 taka ($1.31 a pound. fish or chicken is only a thing of their dreams. workers take turns preparing the food. For these workers. no radio. just some old clothes hanging from a string. which is mixed with pieces of potato. nothing.” We asked. There is no refrigeration. the cheapest food and lunch or supper at work.desperate impoverishment. Living on $1. This is a place of punishment and death. The workers deny themselves everything so they can save money and send their families the equivalent of $2. This is not work. the workers laughed. The cheapest mutton costs $1. no windows. The “kitchen” is a few pots on the floor in a corner with a tiny propane burner. and they cling to their rags as long as they can.18 a day.” they responded. the equivalent of eight hours of work given that the workers are earning just 22 to 30 cents an hour. which comes to 30 cents an hour. The National Labor Committee 23 . do they ever see a doctor? “We can’t afford food. just a single door. The only time they eat meat.98 to $2. There is no TV.

we can survive. We know the workers had no health care coverage. But not us. from 8:00 a.. a worker might get one day off.62 for the routine 12-hour shift. hard and dangerous.” “Here a dog is more important than a human being. On average. Illegally—and it has been going on for over 30 .m.” The workers’ goal is to work every day of the month.” “If we don’t work.m. even for serious workrelated accidents. to 8:00 a. on two 12-hour shifts. “is to invite death. but the work is grueling.” To work in the shipyard. to 8:00 p. If we get sick and can’t work. Their response was: “We have no time for fun. The shipbreaking workers live on the edge. “at best. and they get sick and injured. from 7:00 to 11:00. Some of the Lowest Wages in the World for some of the most Dangerous Work: 22 to 30 cents an hour The cutters’ helpers earn 15 taka (22 cents) an hour—$2. no matter how badly they are hurt.” We asked them what they did for fun. they work four hours.” 24 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh Seven Day Workweek The shipyards operate around the clock.“It is common here to get injured” the workers explained. they went on. we cannot live.m. most workers take three Fridays off a month. they have to be fed.m. And workers never get paid for a second day off. Sleep is our only fun. “If we are healthy. and only sometimes will management give you medicines. This puts the workers at the shipyards for an average of 73 hours a week. we don’t get paid. supposedly the workers’ weekly holiday. On Fridays.” they explained. they do not get paid. one day’s leave with pay. Usually we have to purchase our own antiseptic solutions.” “After a cow ploughs for one or two hours. We have to work 12 to 14 hours with nothing. and 8:00 p. So what do the workers do? “If injured. If they do not work.

the International Labor Organization and the International Maritime Organization.years in broad daylight—no shipyard owner pays the legal overtime premium. or two. they would be earning $8.63 for the obligatory 12-hour shift.$4.62 per 12-hour shift $2. but for the workers it would allow them to climb out of misery and into poverty where they and their families could survive with a modicum of dignity. three.36 for the legal regular shift. The very highest wage—which only the most senior and experienced cutters earn—is 22.91 per 12-hour shift $3.63 for the mandatory 12-hour shift.09 a day more than they are paid now.72 a day. even a senior cutter earns just 30 cents an hour and $3. $5.91 for their 12 hours of work. The workers say there is no relationship between the dangerous and grueling work that they do and the pitifully low wages they are paid.36 per 12-hour shift The National Labor Committee 25 . As things stand now.63 per 12-hour shift $4. $4. which is supposed to be twice the normal wage.36 for the 12-hour shift. and they were paid the legal overtime premium of 100 percent for the four hours of overtime they work each day. They also wield hammers all day. or 55 cents an hour. Some workers even know that in the United States or Europe. which includes overtime. banging and chipping away at the rust as the cutters mark the metal and cut it to the right size. the handful of major shipping companies. that is. Relatively new cutters—who handle the blowtorches—are paid 16.00 to $4.91) for the regular eight-hour shift. If these workers’ wages were modestly increased to just 55 cents an hour. Such Modest Demands: Workers Dream of Earning 55 Cents an Hour The shipbreaking workers at the Lucky yard know better then anyone that Bangladesh is a very poor country. highest paid cutters 22 cents an hour 24 cents an hour 30 cents an hour 33 .00 . Still.92 to 25 taka (33 to 36 cents) an hour--$4. but it would make a world of difference to them and their families. or 36 cents an hour. It is not a lot of money.7 taka (24 cents) an hour and $2. or Helpers Cutters Senior Cutters Most experienced. Senior cutters with many years experience are paid 20. workers doing similar jobs can earn in an hour what the Bangladeshi workers earn in a week. The shipbreakers’ dream is for cutters to earn 300 taka for eight hours work. The helpers carry or roll the heavy metal tanks of oxygen and liquid gas for the cutters.5 cents an hour.83 taka (30 cents) an hour and $3. Their wages would only average 72.36 cents an hour $2. Helpers dream of earning 200 taka ($2. their “demands” are so modest that one would think the shipyard owners would blush with shame—along with the ten wealthy shipping countries that dominate the world’s cargo trade.

Touhid Hosain Babul who was crushed to death at the M. 2009. “No. “The workers aren’t united. and if they were paid the proper overtime premium according to the law. Shipbreaking Yard on April 19.20 more per day than they are currently earning. The workers want health insurance to cover work injuries. Nothing has changed and no one has ever helped them. And they want the right to organize. If helpers earned just 36 cents an hour instead of the 22 cents they are now getting.” “What the owner says is the law. We can’t bargain. He also warned the younger workers that the grueling hours worked around toxic waste would make them impotent. 26 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . accidents and even some deaths are not investigated or reported. welding vests to block the sparks and proper respiratory masks when they are dealing with asbestos.” he said. as has happened to him. And they want basic safety equipment. If we tried to organize. If a worker is injured or even killed. Asked if the Ministry of Labor has ever assisted them.M. the owner can claim that the worker was never employed in his yard. we would all be fired and replaced.Referring to 18-year-old Mr. wages of just 36 to 55 cents an hour should not have to be a dream. goggles. “We don’t have a union. Surely the dominant shipping countries and companies.” Working at some of the most dangerous jobs in the world. gas fumes and other toxins. but there are no medical examinations or long-term studies to document how the workers’ health is affected.” They want sick days. Never!” He went on to say that it was impossible to have hope. real boots. including helmets. Workers are exposed to toxic wastes every single day. a small. he and the other workers responded. national holidays and annual paid vacation time to be respected according to the law. especially as the Bangladeshi government is not concerned about its own people. As things stand now. when a huge metal plate from the ship suddenly fell on him as he was cutting it into smaller pieces. “Our work is so risky that we always face deadly situations. full-time workers employed at a shipyard. very thin man who had worked 14 years in the shipbreaking yards told us there have been no improvements at all over these14 years. Caught in a trap One Lucky worker. lead paint. Right now. The shipbreaking workers also want a contract to prove that they are permanent. they would be earning $5. the ILO and the IMO can accomplish this much.82 a day for the 12-hour shift. which would be $3. they are treated as temporary workers with no rights.

59 for box of 50. If it would help them. denied their rights and recklessly exposed to injuries and death. but they cannot fight back alone.35 per pair.89 $ 100.Steel toe boots: . dual cartridge--$11.) Total Cost: $ 6.Hard hat: .Work gloves: . Cutters have the most dangerous job in the yards. $13. If it costs less than $350 to save a workers’ life. One group of workers got right down to business.The Struggle for Hope In several of the poor neighborhoods we visited.08 $ 15.00 per month) Total cost: $ 6.Steel toe boots: . new mask 365 days a year. The workers know they are being cheated.60 Necessary safety gear for helpers and loaders—as little as $81 a year: .3M Asbestos & lead dust respirators: (6000 series.Dust filter respiratory masks: ($7.000 shipbreaking workers if it could be held on a Friday afternoon when the workers had time off.Face shield: . The workers would come if they thought there was a chance to improve working conditions and wages.Safety harness belt: .00 $ 3.Welders apron: . new gloves every month) . saying they could bring together a meeting of 1. the workers would take the leap. isn’t it criminal not to do so? The minimal safety gear necessary to protect a cutter in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards would cost just $347.Welders gloves: ($8.20 $ 15. wielding blowtorches to cut the giant ships into pieces of scrap.60/respirator.Protective safety goggles: . workers from different shipyards told us that we were the first foreigners or Western people to come to visit them.68 $167.03 $ 1.08 $ 5.60 $347. Basic necessary safety gear for a cutter: .95 $ 22.60.41 $ 80.Hard hat: . The workers said it made them very happy and excited that foreigners cared enough to meet them.77 The National Labor Committee 27 .25 $ 55. they would take the risk despite everyone’s fear of the powerful and wealthy shipyard owners. and they hoped we could work together.00 $ 29. They are caught in a vicious trap. N100 white filters approx. But if international solidarity were offered.

” With the asbestos out of the way.” They hold the rope ladder with one hand and operate the blowtorch in the other. the workers are provided with a special 44-cent food allowance. Inside the ship. 2008 when a huge metal plate cut from a ship fell and crushed him. 2008. We are sweating. Najrul died on the way to the hospital.Jiri Subedar Shipyard • Mr. “If it gets on your hands or skin it is itchy. “If you work two hours. it is pitch dark.” The workers wrap dirty bandanas around their faces to cover their noses and mouths in an effort to not breathe in the asbestos dust.m. they can mark and begin cutting the metal plates. Mr. an experienced cutter who had worked at the Jiri Subedar Shipyard for four years.m. or later. The workers explained it is “very risky. putting in 14 to 15-hour shifts. which is the highest wage we heard of in any of the shipyards. a worker told us. though in February 2009 when we met with the workers. “They don’t give you [overtime]. They use their teeth to turn the liquid gas and oxygen valves on and off. several times each week. When they work to 10:00 p. was critically injured on August 12. and sometimes it tickles the face. they were being kept until 10:00 or 11:00 p. “It’s itchy. Everyone is soaked. “Hot! Very hot. was seriously burned at the Jiri Subedar Shipyard when a gas tank they were cutting exploded.. a 25-year-old “loader” was killed at the Jiri Subedar Shipyard on October 28. The first thing they have to do is to cut or break the asbestos.m. The electrical system is cut once the tanker is beached. We are sweating. • On February 18. while the most experienced senior cutters could earn up to 55 cents an hour. to 8:00 p. a cutter’s helper.” which are bamboo-rope ladders..” he standard shift at the Jiri Subedar Shipyard is 12 hours. you get two hours [regular wages]. They break the asbestos “with a hammer. it is…”Hot! Very hot. He died on September 6. which is attached to the steel plates and pipes. Jahagir Alam. Using winches and thick wire cables. Everyone is soaked. the cut plates fall either in the water or on the sand and mud. Abdul Halim. it is. 2008 when he was struck by a huge piece of falling metal.” Junior cutters earned 36 cents an 28 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh T . from 8:00 a. hour. The only light they have comes from their blowtorches. No one helps. 2009. As is standard in the shipbreaking yards—though illegal—no overtime premium is ever paid. We are in a trap. In teams. • Mr. When the workers enter the ship. banging it into pieces. The first thing they do is cut small openings in the side of the ship for light. Depending on where they are in the ship.m. Mr. the Inside the ship. the “loaders” carry heavy metal plates cut from the ships to waiting trucks for transport to the rolling mills.” they say.. Najrul Islam.” They often work on “floating stairs. the largest of which is 20 by 20 feet.

no overtime pay. We only work. no national holidays and no safety regulations. Most workers try to work seven days a week. • Access to clean drinking water. management holds back one month’s wages. We asked if conditions in the shipbreaking yard had improved over the last five or ten years. We can’t meet. It stinks. “No work. To control us and keep us in the shipyard…so we cannot quit. Could they at least eat half decently? For example. they may take off up to three days a month.e. Also illegal. doing the hard labor they do. but if a worker gets sick or is too exhausted. they get paid. “We only do the work. Other workers drill holes in the ship to drain the gasoline. no sick days. “[A bandana] is not enough.” they explain. Every time we breathe. They have gloves and hard hats. Our life is for work. There is not much else going on in their lives than work. every three months. • 14 paid sick days per year.” we were told. All overtime must be voluntary and paid at a 100 percent premium—i. The workers use the same bandanas they used when breaking asbestos to try to protect themselves from the dizzying fumes and stench coming from the melting steel and lead paint as they cut with their blowtorches. • Freedom to organize and form trade unions. Nothing. “Black oil…an oil and water mixture. • 11 paid national holidays.” Shipyards Violate Every Single Labor Law with Complete Impunity Bangladeshi labor law guarantees the following rights: • A 48-hour regular workweek. they do not get paid. but no respiratory masks. with a maximum of 12 hours overtime per week. it is not possible…maybe every two months. Not government.huge metal plates are pulled up on shore. no vacation.”— meaning that anyone who sought improvements would be fired. If they work. No change. Ministry of Labor. With our salary. Oh. The same as before.” “We are in a trap.” they say. “To hold the workers. “No. no. They have no health insurance. reaching their skin and burning them.” they told us. The response was. we breathe in the fumes. could they afford to eat chicken or mutton even if it was just two or three times a week? “No. “Workers are isolated.” The National Labor Committee 29 . If they do not work. oil and polluted water out of the hold.” Was anyone helping them? “No one. • 15 days paid vacation after completing one year of employment.” Despite the extreme heat—it is hotter inside the ship than outside—they also wear two sets of shirts to protect themselves from the flying sparks bouncing off the metal. at twice the normal wage. It’s “common” for some sparks to burn through both shirts. union. no pay.

00 an hour and to be paid the legal overtime premium. Photo by Ruben Dao/FIDH . Each tanker ship contains an average of 15. Black oil residues. fish. Child workers are also involved in removing the deadly asbestos. which is a separate operation where the large sheets of steel are cut into smaller sizes. Cadmium. nothing is going to change for these workers who in fact are doing one of the world’s most dangerous jobs. Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly advised that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos fibers and dust. Bangladeshi shipbreaking workers are handling—with absolutely no safety protections—1.68 million pounds of asbestos. A 2006 study by the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh. The Jiri Subedar Shipbreaking Yard is owned by Mr. As the shipbreaking yards are run now.000 pounds of asbestos.” Their wildest dream would be to earn 70 cents to $1. carcinogenic cutting fumes (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).) When workers cut apart the ship using their blow torches or scrape Woman sifting asbestos. Rice. The U. they might as well ask for the moon. He also owns Pupali Enterprises Jiri Subedar. Dioxin. The workers use hammers to break the asbestos. Shipbreakers Exposed Daily to Deadly Toxic Wastes orkers are exposed to: Asbestos. to have healthcare for work injuries. Md. Bangladesh: Towards Sustainable Management” by Dr. M. the Jiri Subedar Steel Re-rolling Mills. which they shovel into plastic garbage bags and carry out to the beach. Mercury. Lokman. In addition. There is no relationship between what we are paid and the hard labor we do. Lead. Arsenic. This means that for all 112 ships. Mahmudul Islam. Maruf Hossain and Md.S. (Lead paint is still used on ships. Solvents. he owns a rolling mill. the National Labor Committee counted 112 giant tankers and container ships run up on the beaches of Bangladesh’s Bay of Bengal near the port city of Chittagong.“We are doing hard labor. found deadly levels of toxic waste being released in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards. Zinc. We need to eat eggs. The University of Chittagong research also found that each container ship is covered with between 10 and 100 tons of lead paint. In July 2009. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl compounds). one day off a week and a contract that proves they are permanent full-time workers. which is used for thermal and sound insulation on the ship’s hull 30 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh W and pipes. meat. We have to consume more food. “Shipbreaking Activities and Its Impact on the Coastal Zone of Chittagong. Without international solidarity and pressure.

24 and 22. lubricants: Average 4. Goldman Environmental Prize The National Labor Committee 31 . May 8. These black oil residues mix with and accumulate in the beach sand.4 million pounds 146. getting cancer.4 million pounds of lead paint. or 473. Leading Bangladeshi Attorney Accuses Shipbreaking Yards of Ignoring Injuries. The tanker ships are also infested with rats and insects.000 lbs Up to 1. for an average of 4. they are also losing their hands and legs. These workers are dying.308 cubic yards All 112 Beached Ships Contain: 1. Child workers acting as helpers to the cutters are also breathing the fumes given off when the flame of the blowtorch melts the metal and lead paint.24 to 22. their bodies are in such a horrible condition that they can barely do any other form of labour. In the 30 years that shipbreaking has been going on in Bangladesh. bilge. hydraulic and lubricant oils and grease). Child workers also clean the metal plates by hammering off any residues or rust. Each tanker ship also holds up to 1.000 cubic meters (35. wiping out the livelihood and threatening the survival of nearby fishing villages. there has not been one long-term study tracking the health of the workers. getting skin diseases. cadmium. lead. It’s essentially a crippling way of life. attorney Director. Grease. Asbestos: Lead Paint: Residual oil: Each Ship Contains: 15. The shipbreaking beaches are laced with chemicals and toxic waste. After working in the ship breaking yards for a few years. There has been absolutely no attempt to conduct medical examinations of the shipbreaking workers to test for their level of exposure to toxins and carcinogens. bilge oil. mercury. and coastal waters are seriously degraded.228 quarts of oil per ship. The International Labor Organization also lists PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl compounds).228 quarts hydraulic. Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association Recent winner.536 quarts for all 112 ships. Fish populations have been destroyed.000 lbs 20. “The Environment’s Friend.496 cubic yards Average of 473.” Star Weekend Magazine.336 cubic feet) of residual oil. It would cost almost nothing for the shipyards to install proper showers where the workers could wash with clean water and soap. The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the fumes can be carcinogenic. 2008 Ms. dioxins and solvents as “hazardous substances” connected to shipbreaking. All 112 ships beached in Chittagong in July 2009 would contain between 2.68 million pounds 2. other lubricants) the metal to clean it. or nearly four million cubic feet of residual oil on all 112 ships. Syeda Rizwana Hasan. Each ship contains several thousand liters of oil (engine oil. copper. zinc and arsenic are released.536 quarts (engine. It is as if their lives do not matter. Diseases and Worker Deaths “I have not come across another sector where every two weeks a minimum of one person is dying and there is no labour unrest.000-200.

and Khokon. Abdul Karim (27 year old) Rign Road.m. Jahangir.k. A second worker. 2009 Struck by large iron plate Jomuna Shipbreaking yard Mr. Chittagong office. 2009 Cause: Crushed under large iron plate Yard name: MM Shipbreaking yard (a. Three other workers. 32. Coxs Bazar. Ashek. 20 years old.A Worker Dies Every Month in the Shipbreaking Yards As of September 8. Hossain was burned to death while breaking apart a huge Korean tanker ship at the Kabir Shipbreaking Yard.a. also suffered serious burns and are in the Burn Unit of the Chittagong Medical College Hospital. 2009 Cause: Fell from the ship Yard name: Mabiya Enterprise Owner: Mr. 2009 Cause: Struck by a big iron plate Yard name: S. Sitakund. 2009. 35-year-old Mr. (List of workers killed prepared by the NGO Young Power in Social Action (YPSA). Chittagong. Sitakund Chittagong Date: April 21. is in critical condition and just barely clinging to life.) Sakhowat (age unknown) Date: February 6. Lucky shipyard) Helal (18 years old) Date: Cause: Yard name: Owner: Ship name: April 11. Shafi Hossain (35 years old) On Saturday morning. Alauddin United Moonlight Belal (27 years old) Sub-district. Enamul Haque (20 years old) Date: February 24.Sandwip. Trading Shipbreaking yard Owner: Mr. 2009 Cause: Struck by Iron Plate falling from top of ship Yard name: Habib Steel 1 Owner: Mr. 28. 2009 Cause: Suffocation in tank full of toxic gas Yard name: Mac International Owner: Mr. Mr. Joinal Abedin Sunil (age unknown) Date: March 19. 22. 2009 Cause: Fall from the top of Ship Ship name: MT. September 5. Md Kuddus. Bangladesh Date: July 27. Yeasin Ali 32 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . 2009 Cause: Hit by Iron Plate Yard name: Habib Steel 2 Owner: Mr. Date: April 21. 2009 at 9:00 a. Yeasin Ali Tipu (20 years old) Date: February 24.. ADITI Place: Madambibir Hat. nine workers have been killed. Jahangir Babul (22 years old) Hasnabad. Bhatiary.

” authors Dr.000 Bangladeshi workers died in shipbreaking yard accidents between 1975 when the industry started and 2005. In a 2006 publication. This would mean a death toll of more than 16 workers per month over the last ten years. neither the International Labor Organization nor the International Maritime Organization have been able to effect any positive change. the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and GreenPeace estimated that 1. issuing new rules to regulate the shipbreaking industry. Mahmudul Islam of the University of Chittagong note that: conditions in the world. The Bangladeshi government plays almost no role. In the last 30 years. They are the law. The National Labor Committee 33 . Everything is as it has been. one shipbreaking worker dies at the yards in Bangladesh every week. which leaves the workers trapped in what are some of the most dangerous working New Shipbreaking Rules Fall Short The International Maritime Organization (IMO)—a United Nations body—recently concluded a convention. the new IMO convention fails to deal with pre-cleaning—the removal of toxic materials from the ships before they are beached and dismantled in Bangladesh or other less-developed countries.000 worker deaths in the shipbreaking yards since 1998. Md. The shipbreaking workers are very clear on this: “There has not been a single improvement. In a 2005 report. The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) estimates that there have been around 2. and every day one worker gets injured. M.” “On average. which means that a worker died every 23 days. the convention does require shipowners to build new ships without using toxic materials. This means that for the next 27 to 32 years.I n 2008. These figures would put shipyard deaths at nearly three workers killed each month. Nor does the convention call—even in the future—for safer and more environmentally sound dry docking of decommissioned ships rather than the highly destructive practice of beaching.” It is not possible to document every accident and death in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards because accidents and deaths are not even reported let along investigated. Starting in 2011. Young Power in Social Action documented that 16 shipbreaking workers were killed. The shipbreaking yard owners are very powerful and wealthy people who operate their yards as private fiefdoms. joined by the international NGO Platform on Shipbreaking and GreenPeace. Bangladesh. According to attorney Rizwana Hasan and the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA). Maruf Hossain and Md. toxic ships will continue to be dismantled on Bangladesh’s beaches. “Shipbreaking Activities and its Impact on the Coastal Zone of Chittagong.

no healthcare. banging chips of rust off the metal plates that the blowtorch operators were cutting. and at the end of the 12-hour shift. Though the overtime hours are mandatory.64 for the routine 12-hour shift. But the older workers quickly explained that he was really just 10. But all their visits are announced well in advance.m. Depending on its size. they can earn $19 to $22. All we do is work and sleep. no vacation.04 a week. he was worn out and exhausted. the cutters earn from $3. In the standard. and if they toil seven days a week. They have gone in and inspected the yards.” wielding a hammer all day. “We have no fun and no time to play.40 to $2. Senior cutters earn 25 to 29 cents [17. from 8:00 p. they say.m. who are responsible for breaking up the asbestos inside the ship. there is no overtime premium—no national holidays.5 to 20 taka] an hour. including four hours on Friday their weekly holiday.” -Child worker. shoveling it into sacks and taking it outside.00 to $3. where three giant tanker and container ships are being dismantled for scrap. Ministry of Labor officials claim that there are no children working in the shipbreaking yards. The work. no sick days. n July. we met a child worker from the Ambia shipbreaking yard who told us he was 14 years old. making it easy for the owners to keep the kids in their miserably primitive homes for the day of the visit. There are 500 to 700 workers at the Ambia yard. he told us. In fact. He was tiny.75 to 15 taka] an hour—$2. Every single labor law in Bangladesh was being grossly violated in broad daylight and with complete impunity.48. to 8:00 a. it takes six to nine months to completely dismantle a ship.. The child workers work alongside the cutters’ helpers. 34 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . was very hard. nothing. Ambia yard Senior workers estimated that there were approximately 60 children working in the Ambia yard. They guess that the owner sells the asbestos. grueling 12-hour shift. In every shipyard the workers told us the same thing— that the Ministry of Labor did absolutely nothing to help the workers. He worked as a “cleaner.I Ambia Shipbreaking Yard The child workers and helpers are paid 20 to 22 cents [13.

there were a few pieces of clothing hanging on ropes. his son recently cut down 125 acres of desperately needed mangrove forest to build another yard. as a second three-month deadline slipped by in September. “If we don’t work. meaning that the yards presented “extreme danger” to the environment. they wished they would earn 60 to 70 cents an hour! Instead of raising wages or paying the proper overtime premium. when wealthier people give food to the poor. Director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA). had a unique defense. There were a few pots lying on the floor in which they cooked their meager food. Two workers slept on a hard wooden platform. Moreover. He said the government had never declared shipbreaking as an industry. Monjurul Alam Monjo.40 is an indication of how desperately poor and on the edge these workers are. suffocatingly hot and airless. our family will die. The vice president of the Association. and the door opened into a covered hallway. Eid. measuring approximately eight by ten feet. The general secretary of Bangladesh’s Ship Breakers Association. as in other yards. Here too. Other than that. while the other two slept directly on the concrete floor. Standing in the room. The High Court extended the grace period from two weeks to three months. But there was no TV. owns a shipyard. The former mayor of Chittagong. no cassette player. Could they afford meat? They told us that the only time they ate mutton was during the religious holiday.” Four workers shared each small room. Quasem Master.” Working in the shipbreaking yards. the High Court in Bangladesh (equivalent to the Supreme Court in the U. The rooms were depressing. management always holds back five days’ wages—up to 1. BELA’s lawsuit was on its way to being a landmark victory. Mr.“This is our life. Without hope. and therefore they did not need environmental clearance. Just work and sleep. There were no windows. and reduces our lifespan to around 40 years of age. also owns a shipbreaking yard. “makes your life short. nothing. The first three-month deadline came and went in June with absolutely no change in the shipbreaking yards. they continued. Mohsin calmly observed that he is not aware of any government ban on shipbreaking. When the Ambia shipyard workers let loose and dreamed the impossible. no radio. yard Shipyard Owners in Bangladesh Defy Court Order In response to a suit filed by attorney Rizwana Hasan.) ruled in March 2009 that the shipbreaking yards should be shut down within two weeks if they failed to receive “environmental clearance” from Bangladesh’s Department of the Environment.” the workers told us. The fact that workers can be “bonded” and held in the yard for just $17. it was unimaginable how anyone could live here for more than a day or two.S. It pays to have powerful friends. The National Labor Committee 35 . dark. At least one member of Parliament. Mr. Mr. The Department had already found the shipbreaking yards to be a “Category Red” hazard. giving the shipyard owners time to frame rules guaranteeing environmental and worker safety and the safe removal and disposal of toxic waste. the country’s second largest city. the owner has a network of spies—workers who are paid a few extra dollars to monitor and crush any workers seeking to improve working and living conditions. Abul Kasheem. M.40) to “bond” the laborers to the yard. It was business as usual. The workers laughed when we asked if they could afford to eat anything other than rice and vegetables. MR.200 taka ($17.

SSMR October 2006 Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics 36 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . It is convenient for the major shipping nations and companies—who dominate global cargo trade—to present what is happening in Bangladesh as just another intractable example of the desperate poverty wracking the underdeveloped countries that the G-20. where they could forcefully raise this issue. miles of beaches and ocean have been irreparably degraded and overcome with toxic waste. Certainly the shipbreaking yard owners in Bangladesh are responsible. “nothing has changed. United Kingdom. cheated of their wages and denied every single labor right under Bangladesh law and the International Labor Organization’s core worker rights standards. and who have the means and power to implement change. the International Maritime Organization and the International Labor Organization are all racing to fix. Japan. In fact. United Kingdom . United States 7. And. Norway. The ten largest shipping nations control 72. in particular the Ministry of Labor. Hong Kong 8. burned.Who Is Responsible? F or the past 30 years. Ten Largest Shipping Nations “…[T]he shipping scene is determined by only a few shipping countries… The top ten shipping nations controlled.2 percent of all merchant cargo shipments worldwide. poisoned. And over the entire three decades. the Government of Bangladesh. the shipbreaking workers recently told us. Six of the largest shipping countries belong to the G-20. But there are much bigger fish out there who are also responsible. in terms of dwt. killed. the United Nations. Certainly powerful shipping countries. it is very possible to name those who are responsible for the human and environmental crimes in Bangladesh. 72. Singapore 10.” In addition to the extreme worker rights violations. They have grown fantastically wealthy and powerful on the backs of the exploited. has not lifted a finger to implement Bangladesh’s labor and environmental laws. South Korea 9. Germany. Greece 2. shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh have been maimed. including the United States. maimed and discarded workers. there have been no improvements. Germany 4. South Korea and Singapore bear a significant responsibility.2 percent of the total world merchant feet tonnage…” 1. Greece. China 5. Norway 6. China. Japan 3.

NYK – Japan 10. Cosco Container L. Hanjin/Senator – South Korea The National Labor Committee 37 . CSCL – China 9. – China 7. China and South Korea. people of faith. environmentalists. Japan. This is wrong and we cannot allow it. Italy. Nothing will change as long as respect for and enforcement of labor rights standards remain a gentlemen’s game. just ten container shipping companies control 60 percent of all merchant cargo shipments worldwide. Hapag – Lloyd – Germany 6.Moreover. Six of the 10 largest shipping nations (not counting the European Union) are G-20 members: United States. If they chose to do so. Taiwan & Hong Kong 5. World’s Ten Largest Container Shipping Companies 1. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) also bear a huge responsibility to end the abuse in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards. Evergreen Line – United Kingdom. Mediterranean Shg. women’s groups and others have the right to challenge the G-20 meeting to do more than just talk while young workers and children continue to die and be maimed in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards. students. politely played behind closed doors by powerful vested interests. United Kingdom. APM-Maersk – Denmark 2. GMA/GGM Group – France 4. Germany. Labor and human rights activists. However their track record has been extremely poor. The International Labor Organization has been working on improving conditions in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards for the last 20 years with absolutely no positive results. these major shipping companies could also have a powerful voice demanding an end to the decades of abuse and exploitation endured by Bangladesh’s workers. APL – Singapore 8. We have the right to demand concrete steps to improve the shipbreaking industry. These companies could support improvements in the shipbreaking industry. The G-20 meets in Pittsburgh on September 24 and 25. Co – Switzerland 3.

along with the ten largest container shipping companies. the International Labor Organization and the G-20 countries afford to end child labor in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards? Of course they could.42-$218) a year—or an average cost of $196. no one under 18 years of age should be employed in dangerous occupations that may damage their health.44 for two years. It is critical that we challenge these major players to do the right thing.000 to send their child workers back to school for two years. but credible estimates we heard from the senior workers were that there are approximately twenty 10 to 13 year-olds working in each yard. 12 and 13-year-old worker should be sent back to school. 38 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . along with the dominant shipping nations and companies. He was struck in the head when a large plate of steel from a ship came free. 2008. First. and one would think that the wealthy shipyard owners in Bangladesh. etc. the International Maritime Organization. If that is the case.22. The owner of the yard is Mr. the children will need a living stipend to at least replace their regular wages of $10. notebooks. pens. At a minimum. there are costs for purchasing necessary school materials.12 for the year. every 10.491. the International Labor Organization and the G20 nations. The ship being dismantled was the MT Rufazi. Thirteen-year-old Killed Thirteen-year-old Sultan Nasiruddin Molla was killed at the Sultana Shipyard on his first day of work on July 14. it would cost each shipbreaking yard less than $30. What is lacking is the will to do so. This would cost 12. could accomplish this much. $549. No one knows exactly how many child workers there are in the shipbreaking yards.56] In addition. As an aside. 11. pencils. although public schools are free. This is not a lot of money.56 a week. according to the ILO. Adnanur Rahman.Let’s send the child workers to school ere is the question: Could the shipyard owners in Bangladesh. school bags. joined by the ten wealthy nations that dominate shipping.72 a year and $1. H The 10 to 13-year-old child workers could return to school with a living stipend and the necessary school supplies for just $745.000 to 15. Surely shipbreaking is among the most dangerous jobs in the world—but the convention is completely ignored in Bangladesh. the International Maritime Organization. such as uniforms. [22 cents/hour x 48 hours = $10.000 taka ($174.

covering themselves with pieces of plastic. The workers can only afford to subsist on the cheapest rice and vegetables. When it rains. to noon. to 8:00 p. Helpers are paid just 22 cents (15 taka) an hour and $2. the workers sit up all night. We don’t have any life. miserable living quarters and some child workers: The “Shafi” yard operates 24 hours a day on two 12-hour shifts—from 8:00 a. from 8:00 a.m. dangerous conditions. The yard was always busy.m.m. no religious festivals.5 taka) an hour.61 for the standard 12-hour shift. Most of the helpers are so poor that they carry the heavy sheets of metal all day long in scorching temperatures.” e had the chance to meet with several groups of workers from the Mamun Enterprise shipyard. fish and meat is out of the question and only a distant dream. operating blowtorches to cut the ships to pieces. Working the mandatory 12-hour shift. The rooms have paper-thin roofs of woven bamboo slats. which leak when it rains. though on Fridays—the workers weekly holiday— the shift is ‘just’ four hours. Five workers share each primitive room. earn 29 to 33 cents (20 to 20. Chicken.92. Despite the forced overtime every day. sleeping on a dirty concrete floor. no public holidays. depending upon seniority and experience. Cutters. They have no paid sick days. and there were up to 1.Mamun Enterprise Shipbreaking Yard “We work. pitifully low wages. and from 8:00 p. The yard works seven days a week. up to a high of $3. to 8:00 a. no vacations. This puts the workers in the yard 76 hours a week. no overtime premium is paid. going barefoot or wearing the cheapest flip flops because they cannot The owner has started taking the workers’ timecards away at the end of each month so that there are no records of how many hours they work each week or month The National Labor Committee 39 .000 workers. The work is exhausting. The helpers told us they had to take one or two days off a month—unpaid—as they were too exhausted or sick. no mattresses. The living conditions are not fit for animals. The night shift workers knew of at least a dozen 12 and 13-yearold children who also worked the whole night through.m. which the workers called “Shafi” after the owners’ name. There are no beds. We sleep.49 a day. We eat. If the shipbreakers do not work.m. cutters earn $3. W afford shoes. which few workers earn. Grueling hours. they do not get paid.

to 12:00 noon. we have to die… We laugh to release our sorrow. the workers are often kept to 8:00. exhausted or injured that they take a day off. 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. only when they are sick. putting in a 13 to 15-hour shift. I n February 2009. Nothing has changed. a newly hired helper at the Bhatiary Steel Yard was seriously injured and crippled when a heavy sheet of metal crushed his back. On the dayshift. It is 40 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . while helpers are paid 18 or 19 cents an hour. the “Shafi” workers were adamant in saying that over the years. the workers get an hour for lunch at 1:00 p. This routinely happens four or five times a week. from 7:00 a. This way.m. -Worker. The legal overtime premium is never paid.m. when management provides tea and a small biscuit. to 7:00 p. He was fired with no compensation or medical care. If they do not work. Bhatiary Steel Shipbreaking Yard There are approximately 400 workers at the Bhatiary Steel yard. On the day shift.or of how many years they have worked at the yard. “Bhatiary Steel” Yard/Bhatiary Shipbreaking Ltd.m. to 7:00 a. from 7:00 a. Senior cutters—using blowtorches to cut the ship to pieces—earn 29 cents an hour.m. Get out. Like every other group of shipbreaking workers we spoke with. The shipbreakers work every day they can. if a worker gets badly hurt or even killed. The Bangladeshi Ministry of Labor never helps. and from 7:00 p. Go. there have been no improvements at all. The workers are trapped in danger and misery. such as respect for their basic legal rights. the response from the owner is: “The gate is open.” The workers estimate that there are about 15 children between the ages of 11 and 13 working on the dayshift. and a half-hour break at 5:00 p.. without timecards there is no way to document how many hours of legal overtime pay the workers are cheated of. The workers also report that “Shafi” management uses “spies”—workers who have been paid off—to make sure that the workers can never unify around a set of basic demands. To survive. they would be at the shipyard 80 hours a week. If they were healthy enough to work all seven days.m. the owner can claim that the worker never worked in his yard. they receive no pay. On Fridays—the weekly holiday— the workers toil five hours. If the workers dare ask for their proper pay.m. Also. working two shifts around the clock.m.

Whereas a ship’s normal sailing life is 25 to 30 years. bulk carrier and oil product tankers. More importantly. “We are going backwards. the companies are selling them for scrap to the highest bidder in countries like Bangladesh. where workers are paid pennies an hour. they were basically dressed in rags. It costs the workers 500 taka. Actually. as the cost of basic food was constantly rising. The total number of ships being scrapped in 2009 will be much larger for two reasons. or $7. According to industry estimates. many shipping companies are selling their ships for scrap before they reach their normal year end life cycle. mashed potatoes. They subsist on rice. Rather than paying to maintain idled ships. GreenPeace estimated that 700 ships a year were being scrapped in Bangladesh.” More than 700 Ships will be Scrapped this Year In 2000. Many vomit. They never eat meat more than once a month.Inside the ship. Pakistan. and dahl (lentils)— which they can afford twice a week. the situation may have even gotten worse. the most experienced Bhatiary workers. the cheapest of vegetables. burning metal and lead paint burn the workers eyes and make them dizzy.22 a month. and absolutely no improvements. worker rights and environmental standards are not enforced. the worst global recession in the last 70 years has led to plummeting imports and exports worldwide. So in some ways. worn-out MIT tee shirt. confirmed that there had not been any changes over the years. A pound of mutton costs $2. When we met with the workers. The National Labor Committee 41 . One older man was wearing a torn. fumes from gas leaks. who had been around the longest. India. the workers said. China and Turkey out of a total global fleet of 62. Four workers share a small room which leaks when it rains.91. the equivalent of nearly eight-hours’ pay.000 container. falling demand will result in the early decommissioning of some 10 percent of the global fleet. First. while health and safety. Similar to what we heard in other shipbreaking yards. many more ships were added to the global fleet between 2000 and 2009.

the night shift workers toil from 8:00 p.m. Everything else. and we have to accept this because we have to work. “The owner sees us as dogs. They use hammers to tear down the asbestos that is wrapped around the ship’s pipes. The workers use bamboo rope ladders both outside and inside the ships. while others wait for rain to wash it to sea. the workers have to buy. ur visit. the workers wear two sets of shirts to ward off the flying sparks of burning metal. On Friday—their supposed weekly holiday—the shift is reduced to four or five hours. to 8:00 p. The workers are allowed a half-hour break for supper from 10:00 to 10:30 p. It’s an 80-foot climb from the sand or water to reach the deck. they told us. wearing cheap sunglasses rather than proper goggles and wrapping their faces with bandanas in place of respiratory masks. and at 2:00 a. Some yards sell the asbestos. It was frightening to even watch. which the workers say costs the owner about four cents to purchase at a local store.m.m. -Shipbreaking worker “How can we see hope?” the worker said. Without welding vests. gas and other toxic chemicals into the sea. The owner provides a new pair of cheap welding gloves to the cutters every two weeks.m. Ministry of Labor officials had never come to meet the workers.” We don’t know when we will die… We have to take death into our hands. Inside.. He ignores us… hates us. to 8:00 a. We saw one thin worker standing in a small plastic bucket being pulled up to the deck with a rope tied around the bucket.. was the first time they had seen an outsider in over ten years. in response to our question. Another standard practice is to drill holes into the ship in order to drain used oil. seven days a week. There are no safety belts. cutters cling to the rope ladder with one hand while using their other hand to work the blow torch. The day shift is from 8:00 a. The young workers pile the asbestos on the sand.. the workers get a tea break when management provides 42 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh .Khaja Shipmaster Trading Shipbreaking Yard O A Clandestine Meeting with the Workers a cup of tea and a small biscuit.m.m. As in other shipbreaking yards.

there are about two dozen child workers who are 11.S. the workers first drill holes in the tanks and then put sand in the hole. Ships “Re-Flagged” to Export Toxic Waste In 1976. can be used to block the export of ships offshore for shipbreaking if they contain high enough concentrations of toxins such as PCBs. which is then “re-flagged” to sail under the flag of another country. but the owner often delays paying their wages for one or two weeks. Every worker is a specialist. commercial ship owners have been evading the law for years. In the shipyards. flagged commerce ships had been approved for re-flagging so they could be scrapped offshore. 13. you do not get paid. They go to the movies once every year or two. the workers related. At the Khaja Shipmaster yard. Oil is constantly leaking into the water and the workers suffer painful rashes. He will be unable to work and without pay for at least two months. it is the owner who feels abused and curses them. the Christian Science Monitor reported that between 2000 and 2008. and some workers spend the entire day in the water. the United States Congress banned the export of toxic materials abroad. On the day shift. They simply sell the ship. and it becomes perfectly legal to send toxic ships to be scrapped in the developing world. almost everyone is coughing. Everyone knows how extremely dangerous it is to cut apart a gas tank—or cut into any chamber where gas fumes could have built up—with a red-hot blowtorch. To protect themselves. roping together and pulling dozens of large metal barrels to land. When they breathe in too many gas fumes. senior cutters earn $3. the workers report. he lay crying in pain. the workers say it painfully swells their stomachs in addition to causing headaches. They cannot afford a TV or radio.44 for the standard 12-hour shift—or 25 to 29 cents an hour. 14 and 15 years old. Helpers are paid 19 to 20 cents per hour. and few have enough money to get married. Not only are shipbreakers’ wages pitifully low. U. However. at least 91 U. cutting and bruising his leg. if you do not work. “How is he going to survive? He can’t. In some parts of the ship.S. Deadly explosions are all too common. One worker we spoke with was idled for 15 days after a large piece of metal fell. In the beginning of February 2009. yelling. For two days. 12. dizziness and fever.For safety. The 15 days it took him to recover were unpaid.S. Injuries are common. which fractured his foot. which they believe may prevent an explosion.05 to $3. When the workers beg for their wages. the workers have to rely upon their own folklore. “Get out!” Six workers sleep in a single room. the Toxic Waste Substance Act. to poor developing countries where few protections exist for workers or the environment. In March 2008. The workers save every cent they earn U. another young teenage worker was struck with an iron rod. The workers took him in a bicycle rickshaw to see a doctor. no matter how bad your injury. The National Labor Committee 43 .” a worker told us. The bill.

so they can send $14. These workers’ dream is to earn 300 taka ($4. Masud worked in a “loader group” of a dozen or more workers who lifted heavy pieces of metal— typically measuring five by fifteen feet—onto their shoulders all day T “We have no security in our lives. Everyone wants to go home. Across Bangladesh. When they work 12 hours. following a rhythmic chant or grunt. and many of the shipbreaking workers are fasting for the month of Ramadan leading up to one of the most important religious festivals.80 home to their parents each month. 2008.” long to carry them from the ship to trucks waiting to take the scrap to nearby rolling mills. Kabir Steel Shipbreaking Yard wenty-five-year old Mr. they described Eid as a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas. earning $1. Eid Al Fitr. So. or 55 cents an hour. be paid double time for the four overtime hours. Masud was killed at the Kabir Steel shipbreaking yard on November 14.10 an hour. with approximately 1. paid just 29 cents an hour with no overtime premium—for doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.36) a day for the regular eight-hour shift. Their villages are in the north of Bangladesh. the workers will continue to be cheated. He was struck by a heavy piece of metal and died on the way to the hospital.76—an average regular and overtime wage of just 73 cents an hour. The metal sheets are so heavy that the workers must all step in perfect unison. When we questioned our friends in Bangladesh. to the villages of their parents. the heavy weight could crush them all. by law. The shipbreaking workers usually go home twice a year. If nothing changes to formally hold the shipyard owners accountable to respect Bangladesh’s labor laws. The Kabir shipbreaking yard is huge. If even a few workers were to move out of coordination with the rest. Watching them. it is traditional for government offices and many businesses to give their 44 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . we could not help but think of the slaves who built the pyramids in Egypt. they should. for the twelve-hour shift. staying each time for about ten days.500 workers and eight beached ships lined up to be dismantled. bringing gifts and food. Mr. Bangladesh is a Muslim country.50 to $21. they should earn $8.

Ltd. they will return to work immediately after the holiday. United States Size: 799 feet long. United States Size: 587 feet long.27 in withheld wages is enough to make some workers return on time. 148 feet wide.350 Danning Princess (IMO 8127660) Owner: Cosco. before Eid. 83 feet wide. 165 feet high Sold in Bangladesh for $4. environmental or labor rights standards. 179 feet high Flag of convenience: Liberia Cargo: Grain Trading area: East Coast. 161 feet high Blue Ridge (IMO 7818418) Owner: East Group. 180 feet high Sold in Bangladesh for: $4. 174 feet wide. China Size: 834 feet long Sold in Bangladesh for $4. 141 feet wide. If workers take off for the religious Eid holiday. A shipbreaking worker is injured every day and one is killed every three or four weeks. 203 feet high Sold in Bangladesh for: $6.585.421.” .733. management holds back the poor workers’ wages to bond them to the miserable conditions at the Kabir shipbreaking yard.295.Inguild Jenssen. 165 feet wide. China Size: 984 feet long.S.700 Hebei Dove (IMO 8020511 Owner: Hosco.workers time off for the Eid holiday and to provide an Eid bonus equal to one month’s pay. they are neither paid nor provided with the traditional Eid bonus. Mediterranean. Chinese Ships Being Broken Up in Bangladesh Hebei Century (IMO 8015685) Owner: Hosco.250 Caribbean Wind (IMO 8523101): Owner: Eastwind Group.940 The National Labor Committee 45 .350 “Dozens of Nations Sign Treaty on Shipbreaking” Swift Fair (IMO 7910773): Owner: Sterling Grace Corp. Director. Caribbean.S..27) in wages to assure that if the workers go to visit their family homes in northern Bangladesh. In fact. United States Size: 493 feet long.’ where regulations are stricter. May 15. 157 feet high Sold in Bangladesh for: $2. 91 feet wide.224.000 “[A ship owner will get] ‘more than 10 times the price by selling to a yard in Bangladesh than to a yard in the European union.377. 73 feet wide Sold in Bangladesh for: $4. 166 feet high Sold in Bangladesh for: $6. United Kingdom.426. NGO Platform on Shipbreaking Agency France Press.. China Size: 817 feet long. Kabir management holds back 500 taka ($7. 2009 Hebei Pioneer (IMO 8109979) Owner: Hosco.404. Co. China Size: 886 feet long. U.652 Hong Wan (IMO 7404592) Owner: Fuzhou Xingiahong Shpg. But the Kabir shipbreaking yard “celebrates” Eid a little differently. U. China Size: 922 feet long. 106 feet wide. Ships Being Broken Up in Bangladesh Profiting on 22 to 32-cent-an-hour wages and no safety. Far East Sold in Bangladesh for: $4.565 Hebei Hawk (IMO 7924944) Owner: Hosco. Rather than giving their workers the Eid bonus. China Size: 602 feet long. It speaks volumes about how poor and desperate these workers are that $7. East coast of South America.

the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization and International Labor Organization have all failed to produce a single improvement over the last 30 years in the lives of Bangladesh’s 30. One fact: For 30 years. the workers have no choice. In a global trading system where “free trade” is a sacred and immutable right trumping 46 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh What We Should Do: The ILO could work in partnership with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Labor and with local nongovernmental human and labor rights organizations—including providing sufficient funding when necessary— to bring the Ministry of Labor up to par so that it could effectively enforce Bangladesh’s labor laws.What Should Be Done he world is a desperate place for the poor. and as that desperation grows. if the rights—including worker rights—of the human being were afforded similar legal protections as are currently granted to corporate products and trademarks. 12 and 13 years of age employed in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards should be returned to school where they belong. Child Labor: Child workers 10. Second fact: The global institutions and bureaucracies that oversee the global economy are miserably failing workers across the developing world. T Global Trade Rules Fail to Protect Worker Rights all human rights. Even if the International Labor Organization (ILO) wanted to help. it would not be so difficult to improve conditions. we have to die.000 shipbreakers. Such is the desperation they face. 2. With no alternatives. they will fight to defend jobs that are exploiting. 16 and 17 years old should be relocated out of the shipbreak- 1. reports and videos have been distributed and money spent. The shipbreakers in Bangladesh do not want the yards to be shut down. “To live. the World Trade Organization. we might not see any improvements over the next 30 years either. A lot of conferences and meetings have been held on shipbreaking in the developing world. but to no end. 11. In fact.000 workers in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards have been trapped in danger and misery. Their families must survive. shipbreaking is just the last cycle in the race to the bottom in the global sweatshop economy. 15. A Common Sense Approach: In truth. What a track record! It is frightening to think that the way the global trading system is currently set up. it is as if they are starting out with their arms tied behind their back.” the shipbreakers told us. with no concrete improvements. Child and teenage workers 14. . The G-20 countries (and the G-7 before that). It would cost less than $750 a year—including a stipend to replace their wages and to cover all school costs—to do this. maiming and killing them. more workers are fighting to keep jobs that they know will kill them. 30.

Surely if these very modest steps were implemented in Bangladesh’s shipyards. The workers have two further dreams—to earn 60 cents an hour and to have health insurance for work-related injuries. 5. Pakistan. The National Labor Committee 47 4. international human and worker rights activists can take the lead. safety belts. concentrating our efforts. steel toe boots and respiratory masks and clean filters if they are working around asbestos. proving they are permanent. • All overtime must be voluntary and paid at a 100 percent premium. • Workers must be provided appointment cards. 3. • Paid sick days. • Workers must receive one day off each week. showers and clean water should be made available in the shipyards so workers can wash in case they are exposed to toxins and at the end of every shift. We have shown that for less than $350. Implementing basic safety provisions: It would cost almost nothing to provide workers with basic safety trainings. The ten countries and ten shipping companies that dominate global merchant cargo trade must guarantee that all toxic waste will be removed before ships are sent to Bangladesh—or India. with hardhats. Establish the rule of law in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking yards: Bangladesh’s labor laws are modest and clear: • A legal eight-hour day. and then moving on to the next campaign. yards and into less dangerous jobs in accordance with ILO convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor. So what is holding us back? If the anointed institutions and bureaucracies directing global trade are stuck in the mud. just as government workers have. the global economy would not collapse like a house of cards. national holidays and vacations must be respected. China or Turkey—for scrapping. welders’ gloves. Putting a human face on the global economy is far too important to leave to the bureaucrats. welding vests and protective visors. full-time workers at a particular shipyard. winning. • Workers have the right to organize independent unions and to bargain collectively. six days a week. It might prove very effective to focus on one high-profile campaign at a time. workers could be outfitted . lead or other toxic dust. for a regular 48-hour workweek.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan. May 8. which only removes 80% of its toxicity. What should the government do to deal with ship breaking? The government has to take a decision. many will lose their jobs. If they enter into Bangladesh after they are cleaned. I have not come across another sector where every two weeks a minimum of 1 person is dying and there is no labour unrest.000 labourers. getting cancer. To them I would say. On a different note. if it’s a choice between unemployment and gross exploitation then I would chose unemployment. That is where they do the manipulation and increase the price. We also have to do international lobbying with the EU and the US and with other developed countries such as Japan who are sending their dirty ships to Bangladesh. what about the rest of the countries? How are they meeting their iron demands? Are the people in Sri Lanka buying iron at a higher rate than us. but an international one. then what happens to the remaining 20%? Who will give Bangladesh funds for containing that 20%? The government must also come forward to protect the labourers. Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh . The government also has to take very strict measures against the defiant ship breaking yard owners. Goldman Environmental Prize To to you ship breaking is… To me ship breaking is not just a national issue.Star Weekend Magazine. And yet after a price rise in 2007 when the ship breakers were blamed for the increase. Then one could ask. the owners openly came out and said they do not supply 80% of the iron. Who owns the re rolling mills? It’s the ship breaking companies. These workers are dying. 2008 Excerpt of interview with Ms. and ensure that the labourers are given basic rights. My first fight was against converting our coastal areas into dumping sites. Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association Recent winner.000 workers. The right to from organisation. attorney Director. You have often spoken up against the two main ideas that the ship breaking industry uses to justify their existence. The second was about protecting the environment of our country as well as the labourers who are involved in the industry. “The Environment’s Friend. Because developed countries are sending their waste to our countries. if they did not artificially increase the price then who did? The answer is that whichever is the source of getting iron. the right to know that they are working in an environment that can end up giving them cancer. if yes than how does it ensure that toxic ships will not enter Bangladesh. it’s not only confined to the Government of Bangladesh. although we do the campaign (ship breaking) with our government. the other is that they employ up to 20. right to get compensation. does it want to continue with this ship breaking. But the point is clear. that they do not supply 80% of the iron. After working in the ship breaking yards for a few years their bodies are in such a horrible condition that they can barely do any other form of labour. It has got trans-boundary and international dimensions as well. Often people worry what will happen if this industry is shut down. Could you please inform us of your thoughts on those issues? 48 The ship breaking industry is currently operating on two main pleas. it has said that the ship breaking industry supplies 80% of the iron to Bangladesh. one is that they are supplying 80%of the iron to Bangladesh. It is essentially crippling them for life. whether its imported iron billet or from ship breaking. If you read the draft policy that the department of shipping prepared on ship breaking. Their second plea is that they employ 20. but when you ask them they will never be able to give you a list of those workers. but merely 25%. it’s not limited to national. all of it is sent to the re-rolling mills. getting skin diseases. the answer is no. they are also losing their hands and legs. So basically both the pleas on which they are operating are futile to say the least. and using our coastal areas as nothing more than dumping sites. So although it’s a national advocacy issue. Now there are only 14 countries in the world that have a natural supply of iron and only five countries in the world that are doing ship breaking.

Road # 13.greenpeace. 11 BE 1060 Brussels. France Tel : (33-1) 43 55 25 18 / Fax: (33-1) 43 55 18 80 The National Labor Committee 49 . Bangladesh Tel: International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) 17. passage de la Main-d’Or 75011 Paris.Key Organizations Working to Improve Shipbreaking Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) House # F10 (P).org Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) House # 446 (Ground Floor) West Rampura Dhaka-1219 Tel: 8802-7282025 Email: www.fidh. Dhanmondi Residential Area Dhaka-1205. route des www. Belgium Tel: +32 (0) 2 6094 419 http://www. Chandgaon R/A Chittagong-4212 .Bangladesh Tel: +88-031-672857 / Tel + Fax: +88-031-2570255 E-mail: info@ypsa.ypsa. 8618706 Email: bela@bangla. Block-B. Suite 300 Washington. D. Road # 3. Switzerland Tel: +41 22 308 5050 Fax: +41 22 308 5055 E-mail: NGO Platform on Shipbreaking Rue de la Liniere. Case Postale 1516 CH-1227 Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) House # 15/A .org GreenPeace 702 H Street NW.shipbreakingplatform.imfmetal. 20001 USA Tel: (202) 462-1177 or (800) 326-0959 www.C.

50 Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh .