India – Danwatch undersøgende journalistik Tue, 19 Feb 2019 10:09:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 India – Danwatch 32 32 Maersk scraps ships at dangerous shipyards in India Sat, 08 Oct 2016 13:02:14 +0000 Right now, the two nearly 300-metre long container ships Maersk Georgia and Maersk Wyoming are lying on a beach in India and being cut into pieces by Indian shipyard workers. The 20,000-ton steel ships have sunk into the sand off Alang beach on India’s west coast, where the Shree Ram shipbreaking yard has been hired to scrap the ships for Maersk.

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This must be done responsibly and in accordance with Maersk’s own standards, according to the company’s stated policy. Maersk also requires that the shipyard uphold the so-called Hong Kong Convention, which was created in part to ensure that scrapyards meet the necessary safety measures for their workers. Safety measures, that are supposed to put an end to gruesome statistics like the 69 who died at the shipyards in Alang between 2009 and 2013, according to the findings of Geetanjoy Sahu, assistant professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who has studied conditions there.

Danwatch chose to travel to India to investigate how Maersk’s ships are recycled. We have documented the shipbreaking process at the specific yard, and have interviewed ten shipyard workers who report that neither they nor their colleagues have employment contracts – in direct violation of Maersk’s internal standards and of international conventions.
In addition, the shipyard workers report that they work without necessary personal protective equipment in an industry that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called the most dangerous in the world.

Maersk Georgia and Maersk Wyoming are beached by the Shree Ram yard in Alang, where they lie wedged between other end-of-life vessels in the intertidal zone. The tidal range is 13 meters. Photo: S. Rahman.

Expert: “The shipyard should be shut down”

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We showed photo documentation from the shipyard in India to a series of experts in occupational safety and health, including Hasse Mortensen, the former lead inspector consultant at the Danish Working Environment Authority, who has a thorough knowledge of occupational environment at shipyards. He was shocked by the conditions at the shipbreaking yard handling Maersk’s ships.
Hong Kong Convention
The Hong Kong convention is a global agreement adopted by the International Maritime Organisation. It’s purpose is to ensure that ship dismantling does not pose unnecessary risks to humans and the environment. The convention has not yet entered into force as this would, among other things, require a minimum of 15 countries ratifying the convention.
So far only five countries (Norway, France, Belguim, Panama and the Republic of Congo) have done so. According to the Danish Minister for Environment and Food Esben Lunde Larsen a Danish ratification of the convention is underway, which Maersk is an advocate for.
“There can be a sudden, imminent danger of explosion in the circumstances you’re showing me. I have almost no words to describe how wrong things could go for those workers if these gas lines get damaged and the gas ignites,” says Mortensen, looking at a picture from Shree Ram that shows unprotected gas cables near an open flame.
“In a Danish setting, this would be grounds to close the work site until the lines were hung properly and secured. You have to remember, these are extremely flammable gasses they are working with,” emphasises Mortensen.
Jane Frølund Thomsen, a senior consultant with the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Bispebjerg University Hospital, agrees. She evaluates work-related illnesses among labourers, including shipyard workers, in Denmark.
“Torch cutting involves safety risk. It uses pure oxygen, which is liable to explode if there are sparks around, especially if the sparks get near the gas lines. If the insulation is burned off the lines, and oxygen leaks out, there is a serious danger of explosion and fire,” declares Thomsen.

“I barely have words for, how badly it can get for those workers, if those gas lines are damaged or ignited,” says former chief supervisor and -consultant of the Labour Inspection, Hasse Mortensen. Photo: S. Rahman.

Maersk admits error

Many of the employees at Shree Ram work without necessary personal protective equipment like respirators, safety glasses, work clothes and hearing protectors. This, too, shocked Hasse Mortensen, who has seen many accidents caused by a lack of protective equipment in his 20 years at the Working Environment Authority.
“That is really poisonous smoke they’re breathing. Meanwhile, some are not even wearing flame-retardant clothing. This could be a life-threatening situation if the sparks hit their shirt,” insists Mortensen.

Several of the workers at Shree Ram yard wear flammable cotton shirts, despite working with open fire reaching 1500 degrees celsius. Photo: S. Rahman.

Maersk concedes in an interview with Danwatch that there are areas in need of improvement in order to ensure worker safety.
“We have found few examples where dismantling is being undertaken without the necessary safety equipment. The situation is being addressed by the shipyard. It is of course unsatisfactory if the equipment is not being worn, even in isolated cases. This is one of the issues regarding safety equipment that the shipyard is addressing,” said Annette Stube.
The shipyard workers at Shree Ram earn their pay by cutting the ship into small pieces that can be recycled in the steel industry. They do this by mixing oxygen and gas in a device that can cut through steel and paint with a flame that can reach up to 1500 degrees Celsius. The process is called torch cutting, and it gives off a number of harmful substances, according to Mortensen.
“When you are torch cutting with black steel, microscopic particles and gasses are given off that are extremely dangerous to inhale. It can therefore have disastrous, damaging health effects on the body if you are not properly protected,” says the former lead inspector of the Working Environment Authority.

On the beach in front of the Maersk ships, workers cut the bow of Wyoming, spreading toxic fumes across the yard. Photo: S. Rahman.

Poisonous smoke can cause cancer

Over the years, Danish metal workers have contracted serious illnesses and even died as a consequence of not wearing the necessary safety equipment. Jane Frølund Thomsen of Bispebjerg University Hospital knows exactly how this kind of smoke affects the body, since she sees Danish metal workers in her practice who are suffering from lung disease and cancer.
“The rules here in Denmark require an exhaust system when doing that kind of work. It’s hard to say whether there is an acute danger, but if they perform torch cutting in a confined space for long enough, there is a real risk of suffocation,” says Thomsen.
Protection from welding and cutting smoke is not only a central element in Danish workplace law, it is required by both Maersk’s own standards and the Hong Kong Convention, which both Maersk and Shree Ram claim to uphold.
Some of the workers who spoke to Danwatch reported that they use a white mask when they are welding in the ships at Shree Ram. But an ordinary mask is far from enough to keep dangerous gasses out, says Thomsen.

3M N95 8210. “That mask is not sufficient to protect against particles and smoke from torch cutting,” says former chief supervisor and -consultant at the Labour Inspection, Hasse Mortensen. Workers at the Shree Ram yard wore this type of mask while torch cutting. Photo: S. Rahmann.

“A mask offers hardly any protection. It doesn’t filter out toxic gasses at all, and not much of the smoke, either. The smoke can contain formalin when you’re dealing with painted surfaces, and we know that formalin causes lung cancer, because it’s carcinogenic. But it would have to be present in a certain concentration,” says Thomsen.
Thomsen could not comment on the particular mask used by the workers, but Hasse Mortensen could. He has a thorough expertise in protective equipment, and knows the 3M model N95 8210 mask used by the workers well.

“This mask is not sufficient to protect against particles and smoke from torch cutting. It is specifically designed to protect against dust. Smoke from torch cutting can contain particles that 1000 times smaller than dust. So if the mask cannot filter out particles this size, they pass through, straight into the lungs of the affected worker,” says Mortensen.

Clear breach of the Hong Kong Convention

Kanu Jain is a researcher at the Delft University of Technology in Holland, where he studies shipbreaking. He is about to complete his PhD on the subject, for which a large part of his research has been focused on shipbreaking methods. He agrees with the experts’ assessments of the dangerous working conditions at Shree Ram, and emphasises that it is not only a case of noncompliance with Maersk’s internal standards, but also of clear breaches of the Hong Kong Convention.
“Workers seem to be missing breathing and eye protection during cutting operations, which violates Regulation 22 – ‘Worker safety and training’ – of the Hong Kong Convention,” says Jain, who has authored with Professor J.J. Hopmann from the same university and others a scholarly article on the Hong Kong Convention itself.

The Convention is also the focal point of Maersk’s own standards for responsible shipbreaking. The standards are based on the Convention, but go a step further and are more specific in their requirements of shipyards.
The more specific requirements please Peter Hasle, professor of occupational environment at the Centre for Industrial Production at Aalborg University. He has for many years carried out research in the field of occupational environment management, and has also been a professor at the National Research Centre for the Working Environment.
In his opinion, Maersk’s requirements with respect to safety at the shipyards are an appropriate reflection of the firm’s size and responsibility. But after a careful review of the documentation from the shipyard, he reaches a different conclusion.
“It makes you wonder why Maersk chose this shipyard, because it is obvious that it does not fulfil the company’s requirements. My assessment is that the shipyard was not able to show that they meet Maersk’s standards, and so maybe they prepared some nice paperwork to explain how they plan to make improvements along the way. But the problems I see here are so significant that it seems completely meaningless. They are not even close to meeting the requirements. It’s the absolutely baseline conditions that are the problem,” underscores the professor.
Annette Stube reports that Maersk has invested a great deal in hiring competent people to represent the company at the shipyard.
“We have several people at the shipyard who have the power to stop the work if it does not comply with the standards. They are specialists, employed by us, with their own office at the shipyard so they can be on site.”
Peter Hasle believes that this is a healthy approach, but has a hard time understanding what those specialists are doing at the shipyard if such dangerous conditions are to be found.
“Maersk has a tremendous responsibility here. If they are present and observe these things without taking action, then they are communicating to the local management and employees that these dangerous situations are acceptable. If Maersk is present, but does nothing, then Maersk employees learn that it’s acceptable to conduct business that way – and that Maersk’s requirements do not matter,” says Hasle.
Expert: The standards are not being met at all
Danwatch has interviewed more than ten workers from Shree Ram who were able to document that they are employed at the shipyard. They report that they have no contract and that they do not know what their rights are as employees. This is one more issue that surprises the professor about Maersk’s actions, especially since the company’s standards explicitly emphasise how important it is that all workers have a contract and know their rights.
“When employees don’t have a contract, then they are not in a position to object if they feel that conditions are unsafe. Likewise, they won’t stop working even if they become seriously ill from torch cutting without a respirator, for example, as they apparently do.”
Hasle continues, “It seems that Maersk is using its standards as an image of how nice and tidy their shipbreaking operations are. But in reality, the standards are not being met at all.”
Again Maersk recognizes, that there are conditions that have not been in order, but that they have taken actions on this since Danwatch’s visit to the yard.
“The contractual situation is one of the factors that were not completely in order when we started our cooperation with Shree Ram, and which has recently been brought to order,” said Stube.

The Shree Ram shipyard declined to comment on the documentation collected by Danwatch. Maersk would not say when the company expects the shipyard to be in compliance with their standards.

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Maersk and the Hazardous Waste Sat, 08 Oct 2016 11:35:23 +0000 Drowning the Grain Mon, 08 Sep 2014 13:16:56 +0000 Poison is literally surrounding him. As the 25- year-old farmer walks quietly through his field, he sprays toxic pesticides on this years crop of Basmati rice. No gloves or even a mask to cover his skin from the poisonous liquid.

We are in Punjab, India, part of the ‘Basmati Belt’ where the majority of the world’s Basmati rice is produced every year and exported to the Middle East and Europe or consumed in India.

Every year during rice season, thousands of liters of pesticides, fungicides and fertilizer are sold to poor farmers, fighting to build a business and save enough money to survive a poor harvest.

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Behind cryptic titles like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (which is forbidden in Europe in accordance with the EU pesticide database but however still manufactured in India for malaria control), Lindane and Endosulfan lies the fact, that these insecticides and pesticides are known to affect the nervous system, liver and kidneys, and may be carcinogens. And they are only a few of many heavily used chemicals in Indian rice production.

Aggressive marketing from agribusiness market leaders like Monsanto and Syngenta is persuading the farmers to spend hundreds of indian rupees on fertilizer and pesticides. If the farmers can’t afford to buy the products, the companies offer them loans with high interests.

Eventually, many farmers find themselves trapped in a vicious circle, digging themselves deeper into debt.

Suicide rate in India is among the highest in the world, and according to Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, indebtedness is a major and proximate cause of farmer suicides in India. Many farmers, ironically, take their lives by ingesting the very pesticide they went into debt to purchase.

Despite this, Kulvindar Singh is still spraying his field of rice in the hope of getting richer. The pursuit of a higher yield from this year’s harvest is ongoing. But he has a plan B. We’ll get back to him.

The Power of Promotion

From a small shop in the city of Jaitu, pesticide trader and rice commissioner, Parveen Gayal, is successfully selling loads of fertilizer, pesticides and fungicides. He explains how agribusiness companies promote their products in offices like his, on fairs and through on-the-field-marketing.

Parveen Gayal has been on several incentive trips paid for by the companies whose products he is selling, due to great sales results. He is quite aware of the key to his own success in selling expensive agro products to poor farmers.

“I am like the reserve bank of India”, he says and explains how this is a part of his business; lending money with interests to the farmers, so they can buy his products – with the aim of improving their harvest. Should the crops fail, and the farmers not be able to pay back their loan, they can work off the money, he says.

When labour is demanded as a means for repayment of a loan, a person becomes a bonded labourer, which is prohibited by Indian law. It doesn’t seem to interfere with Parveen Gayals business model though.

As we speak, a farmer comes into the shop to buy ‘something against fungus’. Parveen Gayal hands the farmer two small bottles, one with a yellow triangle for ‘poison’ and one with a blue triangle for ‘danger’.

“Farmers touch all kinds of dirt and then eat with those same hands, so for them it doesn’t matter”, he says, as an explanation to why he didn’t inform about safety measures like masks or gloves.

A poisonous cocktail

Most of the farmers can not read the warnings on the bottles, because they are illiterate, says Anita Rana from the Janhit Foundation, an organization that works with marginalized communities to improve environmental conditions and human rights.

“Pesticides, fungicides, insecticides are all used together in conventional Basmati production and it is a poisonous cocktail leading to all sorts of damage; neurological, respiratory system, skin diseases or deformations, and they are especially affecting pregnant women and infants”, she explains.

There are certain areas, like Kerala in the South and Punjab, which are especially affected. In Punjab, cancer rates are way above national average (90 cancer patients out of 100.000 inhabitants opposed a national average of 80 patients out of 100.000 inhabitants), according to government statistics. “The ‘cancer train’ from Bathinda to Bikaner has become famous for transporting patients to affordable treatment”, Anita Rana says.

The heavy use of toxic chemicals is not only affecting the health of farmers, but also the environment. In India, a country that faces a major water crisis, yet has the world’s largest rice cultivated area, 80 pecent of the surface water is utilized for agriculture, according to WWF.

Traditional farming needs 3,000 to 5,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of rice, which makes rice one of the “thirstiest crops” alongside cotton, sugar cane and wheat.

“This region has been heavily affected by water contamination, not only from basmati production, but also by textile, agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries”, Anita Rana says.

“And of course, this level of chemical use leaves residues in the rice, soil and water, but testing is marginal or non-existent”.

Rice is big business

Rice shipments from India, the world’s largest producer after China, will probably expand to a record as buyers from Iran to Saudi Arabia boost purchases of aromatic basmati grain used in biryani and pilaf dishes.

Thousands of small scale farmers in India are contributing to the massive export, but few of them are gaining enough to support their families, while at the same time saving enough money for a bad harvest season.

If one harvest turns bad, money from the sale of the crop might not cover the costs of the inputs or the suffice to pay the interests on loans. Often, the only way out is to loan more money, which leads into greater debt.

Economic reforms and the opening of Indian agriculture to the global market over the past two decades have increased costs, while reducing yields and profits for many farmers, to the point of great financial and emotional distress, says a report from Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (NYC).

This is one of the reasons, why suicide death rates in India are among the highest in the world.

According to a study from the American medical journal, The Lancet, public health interventions such as restrictions in access to pesticides might prevent many suicide deaths in India.

Going back to organic

On six acres of rice fields in Punjab, basmati farmer Kulvindar Singh, has come up with a plan B. Burdened by the high prices of spraying pesticides, insecticides and fertilizer for 2500 INR on each acre, this year, he has decided to grow organic rice on one acre. Will he grow less rice?

Other farmers are doing similar experiments. Taluar Singh has 19 acres, and within 20 days, one acre will provide him his first organic rice harvest. If it goes well, he will expand the area with organic farming to five acres.

Kulvindar Singh used 2500 INR per acre on chemicals, and he uses only 500 IND on his organic acre. And it is much less work, since spraying the field is very time consuming. So far, there have been no problems with pests.

“I am very happy with the results”, he says, “I’ve had much less work than all the seasons before, and I have reduced the input”.

Taluar Singh has spent 10.000 INR on pesticides, money he lent, and he is selling through a commission agent. All say, the yield is not lower. They have plans to enlarge the organic area next year.

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The Price of Rice Mon, 08 Sep 2014 13:10:45 +0000 The Basmati Belt stretches along the foothills of the Himalaya. Here, Indian basmati farmers grow rice for the entire world and every time a bag of rice is sold for 2 euros in a European supermarket, nearly 25 percent of that price will reach the rice farmer and Jogander Singh from Haryana.

However, the price of Jogander Singh’s rice is high. When the basmati season is over, and Jogander Singh has paid for the costs for land, seed, chemicals, machinery and labour, he is left with nothing but red numbers and debts.

Even so, Jogander Singh is a fortunate man who can feed his family and still afford to send four children to school. Millions of Indian migrant workers are less privileged and remain in poverty.

At the bottom of the rice chain

Narashima, who does not wish to disclose his last name,is a contract worker at the rice factory Shiv Shakti Inter Globe Exports, where he loads and unloads trucks with heavy bags of rice for 11 hours a day, 6 days a week for five months straight.

To save money for his family, Narashima lives with 15 other migrant workers in a small room in the dark and filthy dormitories of  the factory. Narashima is at the bottom of the global Basmati rice production chain. He and  other migrant workers bear the heaviest burden but see the smallest profit, if any at all.

We’re in Haryana, India, part of the ‘Basmati Belt’ where the majority of the World’s Basmati rice is produced every year and exported to the Middle East and Europe. The livelihoods of one billion people worldwide depend upon rice production.

This year Narashima has been lucky and found work as a carrier at a rice mill in Haryana. Narashima receives 0.02 € per bag. On a good day, when the season is at its highest,  he is able to carry more than two hundred 25-50 kg bags and gets 3,40 € in return.

Migrate to survive

Narashima is one of a million Indian migrant workers, who travel to India’s Northeastern provinces in search for seasonal work every year. It is estimated that 30% of the Indian population are migrants. Each rice season, men from the poorest rural areas leave their villages and families for four-five months, explains migration expert Parimal Maya Sudhakar, Society from Labour and Development in Delhi.
“The people working in the rice fields are the most deprived. If they don’t migrate, they won’t survive. They do not have sufficient means to support their families, therefore part of the family moves and part of the family stay in the villages,” he says.

“Working at the rice fields does not improve their situation. After five months of hard labour the workers may be able to take 640€ back to their families. That is only enough to survive for 4-5 months,” says Parimal Maya Sudhakar.

Audits are manipulated

The Labour department in Haryana is responsible for monitoring that labour laws are implemented and workers rights are not violated at the rice mills. Dalbir Singh, part of a team of three inspectors, says they manage to visit two to three mills per month out of 70 under their authority.

“The managers at the factories are responsible for registering their workers, so there is no problem with contractors and migrant workers. We monitor whether people receive their pay according to the labour laws,” he says.

However, Dalbir Singh and his team do not inspect whether living conditions for migrant workers are up to standard. The inspections are not sufficient, says Parimal Maya Sudhakar.

“No one is interested in solving the problems many migrants have. The workers have no agency and audits are manipulated. The law is in favour of the workers, but it is not being implemented.”

Contracting is a shady business

For Basmati traders, rice is not a question of survival. In the parking lot of Dunar Foods LTD – one of Haryana biggest Basmati rice traders, migrant workers like Narashima can witness how others gain value from his hard work.

Basmati is the only rice crop with no price regulation by the Indian government. Therefore, the trade is almost entirely in the hands of the traders, who control the prices.

By hiring migrant workers to process and pack the rice, traders keep their costs low, while doubling the prices when selling to European and Middle Eastern markets. Traders and farmers hire migrant workers through contractors without contracts. Farmers pay contractors to find migrant workers to plough and sow their fields, 28€ per acre in Jogander Singh’s case, but he does not take responsibility for the workers.

“I have no responsibility for them, I pay him and tell him to finish on time”

Many contractors are not registered and operate without a license. Thousands of migrant workers never sign a contract which guarantees their rights.

“Contracting is such a shady business. Many contractors do not have any kind of license and don’t want the government to interfere, because they fear to be held responsible. It is completely uncontrolled,” says migration expert Parimal Maya Sudhakar.

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