Workers Rights – Danwatch https://danwatch.dk/en/ undersøgende journalistik Tue, 23 Oct 2018 16:10:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://danwatch.dk/dw-content/uploads/2017/09/cropped-Danwatch_fav-450x450.gif Workers Rights – Danwatch https://danwatch.dk/en/ 32 32 Vietnamese workers get chronical diseases from peeling shrimp for Danish supermarkets. Antibiotic residue has also been found in the shrimps, which poses a global threat https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/vietnamese-workers-get-chronical-diseases-from-pealing-shrimp-for-danish-supermarkets/ Thu, 13 Sep 2018 09:30:35 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/vietnamese-workers-get-chronical-diseases-from-pealing-shrimp-for-danish-supermarkets-antibiotic-residue-has-also-been-found-in-the-shrimps-which-poses-a-global-threat/

The full story (almost) in 48 seconds

Play Video
A Danwatch investigation

Vietnamese workers get chronical diseases from peeling shrimp for Danish supermarkets. Antibiotic residue has also been found in the shrimps, which poses a global threat

A Danwatch investigation
Tiger shrimps in Danish supermarkets is produced under outrageous conditions in Vietnam. 17 hour shifts at the assembly line and chlorine gas leaves workers with chronic, physical disorders. Supermarkets claim they did not know about the conditions.
Christian Erin-Madsen

Journalist

Redaktør:

Christian Erin-Madsen

Journalist

Redaktør:

In collaboration with P1 Orientation
Tiger shrimps in Danish supermarkets is produced under outrageous conditions in Vietnam. 17 hour shifts at the assembly line and chlorine gas leaves workers with chronic, physical disorders. Supermarkets claim they did not know about the conditions.

In Danish

Læs undersøgelsen på dansk.

Find den her

The full story (almost) in 48 seconds

Play Video

37-year-old Ngoc Anh is working 83 hours a week on average, peeling shrimp at a Vietnamese shrimp factory. She has chronic sinusitis due to vapors from the chlorine at the factory and her body aches from dragging heavy boxes of shrimps that are sold to Danish consumers in supermarkets such as Rema 1000, Føtex and Netto.

Danwatch has been in Vietnam and interviewed researchers, doctors, health professionals and shrimp workers who paint a picture of a billion kroner industry with massive human costs.

Shrimp workers suffer from chronic sinusitis due to the hard assembly line work, they are sent home for days of fatigue and dehydration, and every month employees faint at the factories. These are the workers who help to secure Vietnam’s booming industry of tiger shrimps.

3F: “Lousy Employer Practice”

Danwatch has asked experts on working environment how they would assess the conditions of the Vietnamese shrimp workers:

“This should only occur under unusual circumstances, such as in disastrous situations, where you have to work long hours, and that is a horrible practice by employers”, says Jesper Nielsen, Head of the International Department at 3F.

Overuse of antibiotics on shrimp farms

Over the past twenty years, global demand for tiger shrimps has led to an intensified shrimp production in Vietnam and this has led to diseases in the dams. This is why antibiotics have been mass-fed to healthy as well as shrimp with diseases.

Therefore Danwatch asked The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to test 13 different packs of frozen shrimps in their laboratory. All were shrimps bought in Danish supermarkets and produced in Vietnam.

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration found antibiotic residues in 3 out of 13 packs – more specifically in Coop’s Kæmperejer, Planets Pride Vannamei Shrimp (sold in Meny) and Crown Seafood’s Ocean Delight (sold in Nemlig.com).
All samples were below The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s limit values, and the governing body therefore sees no need to follow up.

Antibiotic residues constitutes a problem

Still, every finding of antibiotic residues in food is problematic, says Hans Jørn Kolmos, professor, MD in Clinical Microbiology at The University of Southern Denmark.

“This could lead to increasing treatment difficulties. The more resistance, the more difficult the infections are to treat, the more people die from it. That’s the very elementary calculation”, he says.

Niels Frimodt-Møller, professor, MD in Clinical Microbiology at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, also estimates that overuse of antibiotics can have global consequences:

“Resistance is spreading in southern Europe, Africa and Asia and it is happening with a greater speed than new antibiotics is being produced. Especially in India, China and Africa there has been bad examples. This all boils down to not controlling the use of antibiotics, “says Niels Frimodt-Møller.

BACKGROUND

We love shrimps from Vietnam

Danish import of frozen tiger shrimps from Vietnam in 2017

190 millioner kr
2.542 ton

We import most of tiger shrimps from Vietnam (2017)

The import of frozen tiger shrimps is growing

Source: Danmarks Statistik

What is being presented here does not match our Code of Conduct, and we have already started a dialogue with our supplier to ask for an explanation.

Kasper Reggelsen, media relations manager, Salling Group Tweet

Supermarkets will scrutinize the problems

2.500 tonnes of shrimps was last year imported to Denmark. Of this, about 50 tonnes of prawns ended in Coops stores and 70 tonnes of prawns in Rema 1000 stores.

Danwatch has presented the findings of poor working conditions and overuse of antibiotics to supermarkets and importers. They all say they did not know about the problems before Danwatch contacted them. This even though they all have control mechanisms in place to prevent it from taking place.

Kasper Reggelsen, Media Relations Manager, Salling Group, writes in an email:

“What is being presented here does not match our Code of Conduct, and we have already started a dialogue with our supplier to ask for an explanation.”

Similarly, Kristian Lauge Jørgensen, Director of the shrimp importer Company Lauge Seafood Selection writes in a reply to Danwatch:

“In collaboration with the producer, we will follow up on the conditions you refer to, regarding the social conditions of the companies you have visited. It is important to ensure that employees have organized working conditions that complies with applicable rules in the area”.

]]>
Chairman of banana exporters: “We comply with all regulations” https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/formand-for-banan-eksportoerer-vi-overholder-alle-regler/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:35:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22636
A Danwatch Investigation
Eduardo Ledesma, chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, has been working in the banana industry for twenty years and receives us in his office at the port of Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
Eduardo Ledesma, chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, has been working in the banana industry for twenty years and receives us in his office at the port of Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.

"We uphold internal rules to protect employees, we pay them above the minimum wage of course, we uphold environmental standards, social agreements, banana laws, and social insurance."

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

The banana industry is one of the most important in Ecuador, and a great many people are dependent upon it.

More than 200,000 people pick and pack bananas on the country’s 5737 banana plantations, which sit on about 163,000 hectares of land. According to the industry’s trade organisation in Ecuador, the country accounts for 29% of banana exports worldwide.

Eduardo Ledesma is the chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, and he speaks of the pride Ecuadorians feel for the industry.

“Bananas are a point of reference both nationally and internationally, but it is a constant struggle between the government and the producers and exporters.  The country does not appreciate us.  Yes, Ecuadoreans are proud of their bananas, but the government does not give the proper attention to the banana industry.”

What about exports? Will it be better with the EU from now on?

Last year, we exported 319 million boxes of bananas, and this year we will probably be up around 323.  We expect to grow by 2 or 3%.

Who are your most important customers?

We sell the most to Russia, with 25%. To the EU as a bloc, we sell 33%, and then the US with 9%.

"There may be one report or many reports, but it’s not the case. Why have you not gone to Colombia, Costa Rica or Guatemala? The Philippines? India?"

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

How much does a banana cost in Ecuador?

They pretty much give them away in the supermarkets.  They are not sold individually, and a kilo costs about $0.50.  Let’s say about 10 cents per banana.  The supermarkets are the big winners, but they are also the most demanding.  Ecuadorian banana production complies with all international regulations.  We uphold internal rules to protect employees, we pay them above the minimum wage of course, we uphold environmental standards, social agreements, banana laws, and social insurance.  The bananas satisfy EU requirements regarding pesticide tolerance.  The tendency in Ecuador is to remove pesticides corresponding to particular countries’ needs or requirements.  Ecuador does not use products that are not permitted in the EU or the USA.

I can guarantee you that some of the plantations we visited were using pesticides forbidden by the EU.

I don’t know what plantations you visited where you saw pesticides not approved by the EU, that you can make that accusation.  I am not surprised, because anything is possible.  As a trade organisation, we try to persuade our partners to uphold the rules.  All I know is, this is some kind of European terrorism, coming to disrupt and influence the Ecuadorian banana sector.  Why don’t you go to Guatemala, where they pay six dollars, when we pay nearly thirty? Why don’t you go to Guatemala, to influence and annoy them?  We have asked the Foreign Ministry to look at the situation and complain about these organisations trying to damage Ecuador.

Do the pesticides used in Ecuador affect people’s health?

Some do and some don’t.  They must be used according to pesticide regulations. The pesticides that are used here are the same as those used in Guatemala, Colombia, in all countries.  If they are forbidden by the EU, then I can assure you they are not used here.  And in that case, tell me the name of the product and the banana producer.  Tell me who they are.  If you are a good journalist, tell me that.  My partners do not use pesticides that are forbidden in the EU.

"Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie. I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that."

Eduardo Ledesma, Chairman of banana exporters in Ecuador Tweet

We have spoken with workers who find themselves under crop dusters when they are spraying pesticides from the air.

That’s a lie.  That’s a lie, because the workers are notified.  Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie.  I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that.  I tell you, it is a lie.  If you really want to make the truth into a lie (pounds on the table), then let’s end this interview.  I tell you, it is a lie.

We have visited villages where current and former employees of banana plantations live. They say that the planes spray their homes.

It’s not true.  It’s not true… It’s a lie.  There is more pollution in other products than in bananas.  Bananas do not contain contaminants, because it’s not people doing the spraying.  The pesticides come from planes using GPS to control where they [the chemicals] land, and how they land.  If they were spraying over populated areas or in an irresponsible way, then people might be hit with it. But this is probably false information from competing countries that want to hurt Ecuador.

Let’s turn to the issue of illness.  The Manuela Espejo report demonstrates that the incidence of illnesses like cancer is significantly higher in banana-producing regions than in others.

That has not been proven.  I do not trust the report from the institution in question.

The Manuela Espejo report also looks at the incidence of cancer and birth defects near banana plantations.

That is not true.  If you continue to ask me about cancer and birth defects, I will continue to deny it, because it is not the reality.  There may be one report or many reports, but it’s not the case. Why have you not gone to Colombia, Costa Rica or Guatemala? The Philippines? India?

What kind of documentation would you require to admit that this is a real problem?

I am certain that there is no such [documentation], and if there is, it has been falsified.  I cannot imagine why I should want to shut down the businesses you have examined.  No.  I believe that my banana farmers uphold all the rules.

The investigation is devided in to articles. You decide where to begin.

]]>
The banana’s journey from Ecuador to the supermarket https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/the-bananas-journey-from-ecuador-to-the-supermarket/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:30:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22464
A Danwatch investigation
The banana has been on its way long before you buy it for a few bucks a pound at the store. The fruit hangs on plants in the tropical regions of Ecuador for up to a year before it is hand picked, packed and sailed over the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. There, it waits to ripen until it is yellow and ready to eat.
Sarah Scheer Pedersen

Journalist

Photo: Esteban Barrera/Danwatch & Jesper Nymark/Danwatch

Editor:

Sarah Scheer Pedersen

Journalist

Photo: Esteban Barrera/Danwatch & Jesper Nymark/Danwatch

Redaktør:

I cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
The banana has been on its way long before you buy it for a few bucks a pound at the store. The fruit hangs on plants in the tropical regions of Ecuador for up to a year before it is hand picked, packed and sailed over the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. There, it waits to ripen until it is yellow and ready to eat.
Cultivated for up to 12 months

Ecuadorean bananas come from one of three provinces: Guayas, Los Rios and El Oro. The fruit is cultivated here for 9-12 months until it is hand picked and packed by the workers on the banana plantation.

Source: “How bananas are grown”, BananaLink
Cultivated for up to 12 months
Across the Atlantic

The green bananas are placed in containers that are cooled to under 14ºC in order to delay ripening. Then they are loaded onto cargo ships that take two weeks to cross the Atlantic and reach European ports.

Across the Atlantic
The world’s largest exporter

Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas. Last year, the country exported 6.7 million tons of bananas. Many of them end up in Europe, where in 2016, 1 in 4 bananas came from a plantation in Ecuador.

Source: EU-rapport, 2017
The world’s largest exporter
The fruit companies and the supermarkets

The major exporters in Ecuador are Chiquita, AgroAmerica, Dole Food, Grupo Wong, Cipal, Fyffes, and the Ecuadorean family-owned business Noboa.

Increasingly, however, large European supermarket chains are circumventing the big fruit companies and buying bananas directly from the plantations.

The fruit companies and the supermarkets
Ripening in Europe

When bananas arrive in European ports, they are still green and unripe. They are placed in ripening chambers for about a week, where ethyl gas turns the bananas ripe and yellow to make them ready for supermarket shelves.

Ripening in Europe
Transportation through Europe

Over half of all bananas travel via Germany before coming to Denmark. A smaller fraction arrives from Holland, Belgium, or other countries.

Source: Baseret på tal fra UN Cpmtrade Database
Transportation through Europe
At your supermarket

In Denmark, conventionally farmed bananas from Ecuador are sold by the Coop, Dagrofa, Lidl and Aldi chains.

So far in 2017, Coop has bought 379 tons of bananas from supplier Chiquita. Dagrofa, whose supermarkets include Meny and Spar, has sold 19 tons of bananas from Ecuador this year. Lidl and Aldi both sell Ecuadorian bananas, but “for the sake of commercial considerations” preferred not to disclose how many.

Source: Own survey
At your supermarket
The green frog

Coop, Lidl og Aldi oplyser, at de kun importerer sprøjtede bananer, der er Rainforest Alliance certificerede, hvilket betyder, at de farligste pesticider ikke anvendes.

Rainforrest Alliance oplyser dog til Danwatch at kun to bananplantager i Ecuador rent faktisk er blevet monitoreret i efteråret 2017, da vi besøgte plantagerne.

The green frog

More articles from this investigation. Where to start is up to you.

]]>
“The chemicals were like a slow death for me” https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/the-chemicals-were-like-a-slow-death-for-me/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:20:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22553
A Danwatch INVESTIGATION
Working with bananas ruined his life because the pesticides made him sick, or so the doctors told him. They would not give Efren Velez Cedeño a written medical assessment saying that the pesticides caused his illness, however. According to several workers who spoke to Danwatch, this is a widespread problem.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch) / Translation: Aileen Bramhall Itani

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch) / Translation: Aileen Bramhall Itani

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norge)
Working with bananas ruined his life because the pesticides made him sick, or so the doctors told him. They would not give Efren Velez Cedeño a written medical assessment saying that the pesticides caused his illness, however. According to several workers who spoke to Danwatch, this is a widespread problem.

At three-thirty in the afternoon, he began to vomit blood.  Then he collapsed.

“I threw up blood five times. The last time I can’t remember,” says 56-year-old Efren Velez Cedeño, describing his last day of work four years ago.

For thirty years, he performed quality control on bananas being exported to places like Denmark and other countries in the EU.  That February day in 2013 was his last on the job.

Cedeño received a diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver.  Since he seldom drinks alcohol, some other cause had to be at work.  One possible cause is pesticides, and his doctors advised him not to resume work, because his condition could be worsened by ongoing contact with the chemicals.

“The doctors said that it was probably the pesticides that had ruined the inside of my body and ruined my life.  They also said they would examine my case more closely, but they never did,” says Cedeño.

A slow death

Even though the doctors advised him not to return to work because of the presence of pesticides, they would not provide Cedeño with a written assessment to this effect.

“The chemicals were like a slow death for me, they said.  It would be better to take precautions and not be exposed to the pesticides again.  But they wouldn’t give me a written certificate to confirm that it was the chemicals that made me sick,” he says.

“One doctor told me they were just following orders from above,” said Cedeño, but they would not say anything more about what that might mean.

All the people we spoke with who have become ill because of pesticides used in banana production tell the same story: that their doctors tell them unofficially that their illness is caused by pesticides, but when the time comes to get it in writing, the doctors demur.  Bananas mean big money in Ecuador, and few dare to cross such a powerful industry, especially if they live and work in one of the country’s banana-growing provinces.

Cedeño has a wife, two daughters and five grandchildren.  The family lives in a poor neighbourhood in Quevedo, one of the main cities in Ecuador’s banana region.  They live together in one room, which also functions as a kitchen.

On a number of occasions while working on the banana plantations, he was caught in a mist of pesticides, he says.

“It burns the skin.  Stings and itches.  We were never told ahead of time that the planes would be spraying.  Never. We had to try to hide under some plastic or overhang.”

He tries to remain calm as he tells his story.  He must be careful for the sake of his health not to become overexcited.

Danwatch contacted several banana plantations in an attempt to interview their owners.  None was interested in speaking with journalists.

Dreams that never came true

These days, Efren Velez Cedeño worries about his colleagues on the banana plantations.

“There are 200,000 of us that work directly in the banana export business in Ecuador.  How many thousands of us got sick?”

But like all the other workers we spoke with, he feels that he had no other choice.

Cedeño is not a man who wears his heart on his sleeve.  But when we ask him if he regrets having worked on the banana plantation, he swallows an extra time before answering.

“On the one hand, it was worth it, because I provided for my family and it was enough to live on.  But on the other hand, it has been my undoing, because of this sickness.  I hope that if we fight today, while we still live, the coming generations can be spared what happened to me.  I hope they won’t all be contaminated like I was, and that pesticides won’t kill them.  My dreams could not come true. Now I just hope that theirs will.”

The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin. 

]]>
They live and die by bananas https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/they-live-and-die-by-bananas-2/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 04:15:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22644
A Danwatch investigation
A Danwatch investigation
The village of San Pedro de la “Y” is surrounded by banana plantations. Most of its residents work in the banana industry. The bananas are both their livelihood and their curse, because everyone that makes their living on the plantations risks becoming ill as a result. Some even die.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
The village of San Pedro de la “Y” is surrounded by banana plantations. Most of its residents work in the banana industry. The bananas are both their livelihood and their curse, because everyone that makes their living on the plantations risks becoming ill as a result. Some even die.

San Pedro de la “Y”, like any other typical Ecuadorian village along the coast, is surrounded by banana plantations. The sound of the crop dusters spraying the fields with pesticides is routine here.

So are serious illnesses. San Pedro de la “Y” is in one of Ecuador’s three banana-growing provinces, Los Rios, where most of the country’s bananas come from.  There is a markedly higher share of cancers and mortality among pilots here, and more infants born with birth defects than in any other province.

Experts agree that there is a connection between these serious conditions and the planes that spray toxic pesticides over the banana fields.

Toxic pesticides

Several studies document a health risk by living close to and working with pesticides in Ecuador’s banana production

Increased risk of cancer

%

So big is the cancer risk in the banana producing provinces against a 2.4 percent risk in general in Ecuador.

Source: Defensoría del Pueblo, 2007 and environmental organization Acción Ecológica, 2007

Children born with defects

%

of children born in the banana-producing provinces are born with malformations. At a national level the figure is 0.22%

Children born with mental handicaps

%

of the children in the El Oro province are born with a mental disability due to genetic damage. The national level is 0.19%.

It is very difficult to be 100% certain that a specific illness or injury can be blamed on pesticides, but these types of genetic problems are typical consequences of these chemicals. And the significantly higher rates of illness are very striking in these regions.

Adolfo Maldonado, tropical disease specialist from the environmental organisation Acción Ecológica Tweet

In one of the houses lives a woman named Sara.

Like the rest of the people in the village, the family lives humbly. A framed photograph of a man hangs on the wall just inside the door.

“I am his sister,” says Sara. He died as a result of getting pesticides on his face.

A family affected by pesticides

Sara begins to talk about her brother, who is buried in the church cemetery. Shortly before he died, he went to work on the banana plantation.

“It was almost as if the fluid had eaten half of his face. He died shortly after getting pesticide in his face on the banana plantation. The doctors didn’t say anything about what he died from, or whether it had anything to do with the pesticides,” she says.

Sara is 40 years old and has lived here in the village for 13 years. She has trouble holding back her tears when she speaks of her brother. And then she talks about her son, born with multiple handicaps, like many other children in this village among the banana palms.

“My son has heart problems, his testicles did not descend properly, and he has a tumour in his head. It’s all very complicated. He has been operated on once, and needs three more surgeries. Where am I going to get the money for all these treatments?”

Sara’s handicapped son Brandon is ten years old. From a distance, he looks like a five-year-old.

“That’s him. He doesn’t grow very much.” Brandon was born prematurely and spent his first weeks in an incubator.

Some of the health consequences of pesticides, according to toxicologists and epidemiologists, are miscarriages, premature births, birth defects and other handicaps.

But the villagers say that the doctors will not confirm the experts’ assessments, especially not in writing, so it is difficult for local residents to react.

The hardest question

Brandon is in the sixth grade and has just learned to write his name.

“I take him to school so he can make friends,” says Sara.

Her tears begin again as we talk about her son’s future.

“That is the hardest question.  What will become of him when I’m not here any more?  I don’t have an answer to that.”

As we are talking with Sara, we hear planes overhead.  They are spraying the banana plantations around the little village.  According to experts and the villagers themselves, this is where the problems start.

“When we hear the crop dusters, we stay inside.  But they should warn us before they spray.  And yes, they shouldn’t spray over our village, but over the banana plants,” says Sara with a resigned expression.

“We are surrounded by banana plantations, that’s the problem.  I think my son’s problems are connected to the chemicals they’re spraying.  They used to spray right down our well.”

Sara’s husband works on a banana plantation.  “It’s the only work there is around here.”

Sara has never attended school, and can neither read nor write.  She wants to show us the documents from the doctor and the hospital, but cannot understand what they say.  The medical papers do not describe a direct connection between the pesticides and her son’s conditions, something we hear from a number of the other workers and families we interview in the area.

Can there really be no connection between the pesticides and the illnesses and injuries experienced by banana workers?

The experts consulted by Danwatch believe there is a strong connection.

Significantly more illness in banana regions

Adolfo Maldonado nods at the description of Sara’s lack of information about the reasons for her son’s and brother’s injuries.  He has heard it before.

He is a tropical disease specialist and the author of several studies regarding the health consequences of pesticide use experienced by banana workers and local communities in Ecuador.

“It is very difficult to be 100% certain that a specific illness or injury can be blamed on pesticides, but these types of genetic problems are typical consequences of these chemicals.  And the significantly higher rates of illness are very striking in these regions,” says Maldonado.

In 2007, Maldonado was a co-author of a report examining the effects of environmental contamination resulting from these pesticides in the region of Las Ramas-Salitre-Guayas. The report showed that newborns in Ecuador at that time had a 0.22% risk of being born with a birth defect. In the banana provinces, however, the risk was 2.58% – more than eleven times higher.

Sara’s dreams are for her children – that they will go to school and have the choice to work somewhere other than on the banana plantations.

“I just want my children to get an education, so they don’t end up like me.  I hope they won’t end up working on a banana plantation where they spray pesticides, and where the same thing might happen to them as happened to my brother.  He didn’t go to school either – couldn’t write his name – and that’s why he ended up on the banana plantation.”

Outside, the heat is dry and penetrating.  A woman sits nursing her baby just a few meters from edge of a banana plantation.

My child’s illness was caused by the pesticides

In one of the neighbouring houses lives Gregoria Ramírez.  She is 45 years old and worked for 11 years on a banana plantation.  She has four children.

On March 9, 2011, her life and the life of her family changed forever.  Gregoria’s fourth child, Taison, was born with multiple birth defects – a hole in the spine, a missing testicle, and a twisted foot.

“I asked at the hospital what had caused it, and they said it was the chemicals.  They asked me if I had worked with bananas.  I said that yes, I worked on a banana plantation, and so did my husband.  The doctors told me that was the cause.  That if you work with those chemicals and become pregnant, the baby will be born with deformities.”

Like Sara, Gregoria was unable to get the doctors to put their assessment that her son’s conditions were related to pesticides in writing.  But when we show her son Taison’s medical records to specialist Maldonado, he has no doubt.

“These are absolutely typical symptoms of effects from these pesticides,” Maldonado says.

Gregoria has not been back to work on the plantation since Taison was born. She dedicates all her time to caring for her son, who is now six years old.  He still uses a diaper, and probably will for the rest of his life, Gregoria says.

“Who knows how long he will live,” she says.

Her husband and two of their children still work on the plantation.  He declined to be interviewed by Danwatch, because he is afraid of losing his job or getting into trouble for speaking with a journalist about such things.

“It is wrong of them to spray”

Here in the village, the community is accustomed to the weekly flights of the crop dusters.

“It is wrong of them to spray.  When the crop dusters come, we hurry into the house because it stinks.  The smell gets into the house as well.  The fluid sticks to the plants and floats on the water in the river like oil.  I think it’s wrong, but there’s no other work here.  They have to work there.”

So says another of Gregoria’s neighbours, Cerilo Calderón.  He was fired from the banana plantation a few years ago after losing his sight.  He believes it was because of the pesticides, but he has no written diagnosis to back him up.

All the houses in the village have similar stories to tell, and all the stories revolve around the words sickness, bananas, and pesticides.

“I just hope my son doesn’t end up like me”

We also meet a 28-year-old banana worker, whom we will call David, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of losing his job and getting in other trouble.  He has worked clearing out damaged banana plants for three years.

David lives 200 meters from a banana plantation and sits facing the road with his sleeping three-month-old son.

“I want the best for my son.  I don’t want him to end up like me, working on a banana plantation,” David says.

He is very aware of the many chemicals involved in the work he does.

“When they spray from the air and we are working down below, our entire body starts to itch.  They spray some really strong chemicals.”

Gramoxone, Basta, Glyphosate. David knows the names, and knows it’s poisonous stuff, he says.  But what good does that do him?

“There is no other work for us poor people with no education.  It is the only way I can earn enough money to provide for my family.”

The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin.
]]>
The poison comes from the sky https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/the-poison-comes-from-the-sky/ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:35:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22623
A Danwatch investigation
A Danwatch investigation
A cocktail of pesticides, of which a number are illegal in the EU and Denmark, is sprayed every week – not only over banana plantations, but also over banana workers and residents of small villages in Ecuador. Studies have shown 26 pesticides are used in Ecuador. Of these, eighteen are illegal in Denmark and seven are illegal in the EU, many of them because they are too dangerous. Meet one of the pilots who got sick because of his job flying crop dusters.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Redaktør:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch)

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
A cocktail of pesticides, of which a number are illegal in the EU and Denmark, is sprayed every week – not only over banana plantations, but also over banana workers and residents of small villages in Ecuador. Studies have shown 26 pesticides are used in Ecuador. Of these, eighteen are illegal in Denmark and seven are illegal in the EU, many of them because they are too dangerous. Meet one of the pilots who got sick because of his job flying crop dusters.

Anonymity

Names of persons and plantations have been hidden or changed in some cases to protect the workers’ safety. Their real names are known to Danwatch.

There is quite a collection of kegs, tubs and buckets of pesticides in the little shed beside one of the many runways for crop-dusting aircraft in Ecuador’s banana-growing provinces. The many containers bear witness to what is actually in the sticky drizzle that rains down over the banana regions. The day’s spraying is almost over, and the last crop dusters are sent up.

The name Dithane 600 appears on many of the tubs. It is the most common chemical spray in Ecuadorean banana production, and is permitted in both the EU and Denmark.

Another of the pesticides, one we see in a shed on a banana plantation, is Gramoxone. Its active ingredient is Paraquat, which is prohibited in both Denmark and the EU.

Jorge Acosta is a former crop-dusting pilot. He has sprayed plenty of pesticides over the Ecuadorean banana plantations – and on whatever else was directly under his plane.

Toxic pesticides

There are 26 active ingredients sprayed from the air in Ecuador’s banana production, but they are obscured by a host of commercial names. 18 of these active ingredients are not approved for use in Denmark, and 7 are not approved in the EU.

See the list

“In the beginning, I didn’t know about these risks. There was a toxicologist who told us we could drink a gallon of Mancozeb, and nothing would happen to us.”

Now Acosta knows that is nonsense.

“The worst pesticide still in use”

Before we come to Acosta’s own story, we will look a little more closely at one of the seven chemicals that are forbidden in the EU, but that are commonly sprayed over Ecuador’s banana plantations: Paraquat.

Alexander Naranjo is an environmental engineer. In 2017, he published a study called The Other War: The Pesticide Situation in Ecuador for the environmental organisation Acción Ecológica, which showed that there were 26 active pesticide ingredients used in Ecuador’s banana production. Eighteen of these are not approved for use in Denmark.

“Paraquat is really toxic. It is the worst pesticide still in use in Ecuador,” says Naranjo.

Gramoxone is the commercial name for Paraquat.

”Paraquat og diquat er i familie, de er begge ukrudtsmidler, og de ætser og irriterer. Paraquat er det farligste, og når det ikke er tilladt i EU og DK, så er det især fordi det skader lungerne, og den effekt kan være ret vedholdende.”

Helle Raun Andersen, ph.D. in environmental medicine from Syddansk Universitet Tweet

A 2016 study by the US Environmental Protection Agency showed a link between Paraquat and the risk of chronic bronchitis, metabolic disorders, and even incidence of Parkinson’s disease. In Denmark, Paraquat has been prohibited since 1994. A number of European countries had prohibited Paraquat before 2003, but since 2007, it has been illegal throughout the EU.

Paraquat is highly toxic and causes immediate damage if it comes in contact with the mouth, stomach or intestine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Paraquat causes toxic chemical reactions in the body, primarily in the lungs, liver and kidneys, and can also cause cellular mutation. Depending on how much is ingested, it can take between a few hours and a few weeks before the consequences of exposure to the toxin are apparent. These can include heart, kidney and liver failure; scarring of the lungs; coma; pulmonary oedema; and death. There is no counteragent that can treat patients poisoned by Paraquat, according to the CDC.

The American disease prevention authority recommends that if Paraquat gets on clothing, it should be removed as quickly as possible – and if it is on a shirt, it should not be removed over the head, but rather cut off and put in a bag. If the substance comes in direct contact with skin, it should be washed off as thoroughly and quickly as possible.

Both Paraquat and Dithane 600, with its active ingredient Mancozeb, are familiar to Helle Raun Andersen, an expert in environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark.

“Mancozeb is a fungicide, and it is suspected of affecting thyroid function. If pregnant women are exposed, it can affect the foetus, because its developing brain is dependent upon hormones from the mother’s thyroid gland. This has been demonstrated in studies of pregnant women and in animal studies,” says Raun Andersen.

Paraquat, on the other hand, is an herbicide, she explains. “Paraquat and diquat are related. They are both herbicides that burn and irritate. Paraquat is the most dangerous, and the reason it is not permitted in the EU and Denmark is because it damages the lungs, and its effect can be very long-lasting.”

The lasting injury

But it is not only the immediate physical and perceptible injuries that are the most serious, according to epidemiologist Jaime Breilh, rector of the Universidad Andina in Quito and author of several studies of the effects of pesticide sprays on the health of banana workers in Ecuador.

Jaime Breilh explains that a carcinogenic compound may not manifest itself immediately, but may first become apparent one or even ten years later, depending on how dangerous it is.

The danger of a particular pesticide is one thing; another is the method used to apply them to the banana plants. Approximately once a week, a small plane flies in wide circles over the banana plantation – close to the banana plants, but not close enough, because the spray often falls over nearby villages.

Villages and plantations are very close to each other.

Villages and plantations are very close to each other.

On average, the number of applications of pesticide by crop dusters has risen from 22 to 45 per year per plantation in Ecuador. That adds up to nearly one application per week, according to the report by Alexander Naranjo.

The EU recognizes that aerial spraying can have serious negative consequences for human health, and seeks to avoid these consequences among EU citizens. Therefore, aerial spraying of crops with pesticides is discouraged unless exceptional conditions are present that would make the spraying an advantage instead of a risk for humans and the environment.

Nevertheless, European consumers risk buying bananas that are sprayed from the air with pesticides so dangerous that they risk making workers and their children ill.

As a rule, it is illegal to spray pesticides from the air in Denmark out of concern for health and the environment, according to the Ministry for Environment and Food. In certain circumstances, dispensation can be given, but no such permission has been granted at this time.

“There are no biocides approved for delivery via aircraft at the moment. There are therefore no pesticides being sprayed from planes in Denmark today,” according to the environment ministry.

Sprayed pesticides on children

When Jorge Acosta’s wife died, it was a wake-up call for the crop duster pilot. He quit his job as a pesticide pilot and created the trade union Astac, which attempts to organise Ecuadorian banana workers, who live in fear not only of losing their jobs, but sometimes even for their safety.

The banana regions of Ecuador are at the top of national statistics on birth defects, according to a report from Defensoría del Pueblo, the country’s human rights ombudsman. Numerous experts believe this is tied to the pesticides that are sprayed from crop dusters over the banana plantations.

The former spray pilot began to have a crisis of conscience on the job.

Former pilot Jorge Acosta (57).

“Once in El Oro province, I had to spray over a two-story house. There were two little girls outside playing. When the plane came close, I saw they were taking the laundry in. I refused to spray over that house, the girls, and the laundry. Later, the banana producer complained that I hadn’t sprayed his plantation.”

Acosta also began to worry about the health of the pilots spraying pesticides.

“Many of my former colleagues had trouble with rapid pulse, blurred vision and dizziness. When we spoke about our experiences, we all had the same symptoms. There was one pilot who fainted on his way out of the plane after he had sprayed a combination of Mancozeb and Calixin,” he says.

Calixin is also on the list of chemicals not approved for use in Denmark or the EU.

“I also experienced quick pulse, blurred vision and fatigue, but I thought it was a heart problem. I went to the doctor, but he said everything was fine, and that it was likely due to poisoning – pesticide poisoning in all probability, because the symptoms were the same as all of us crop-duster pilots were feeling. I began to worry because one day, just after I had flown and sprayed Mancozeb, I nearly fainted,” Acosta says.

Environmental engineer Alexander Naranjo has heard stories like Acosta’s before.

“Mancozeb is one of the most common causes of poisoning. When it is sprayed, people should avoid the plantation for at least 24 hours afterward. It doesn’t help to just go away for a moment,” he explains.

The banana workers Danwatch spoke with never leave the banana plantation for a full day after pesticide is applied. Some leave in the afternoon when the spraying takes place, and begin work again early the next morning. Almost all reported being regularly forced to continue working on the plantation while the crop duster was spraying pesticides over the banana plants and the workers themselves.

Naranjo confirms that it is not only the banana workers that are at risk, but also members of the communities that live nearby.

“The chemical sprays move with the wind. Mancozeb, for example, has been found a kilometre away from banana plantations. Pesticides are dynamic – they move with the rivers, rain and wind,” he says.

A dangerous cocktail

Naranjo harbours deep concerns about the use of pesticides.

“People don’t understand what it means to be largest banana export country in the world. They are proud of our bananas, but these pesticides are used haphazardly. It is really a terrible situation,” he says.

“The chemicals that are prohibited in the EU are used on all conventional banana plantations in Ecuador,” explains Naranjo. Which is not to say that Ecuador is unique among banana-producing countries.

“The circumstances are the same in other countries, such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru,” he says.

Part of the problem with the pesticides in banana production is that they are never sprayed just one at a time from the crop dusters.

“It is a whole cocktail of pesticides. Several are mixed together, and one of them is always Mancozeb. The problem is that very little is known about the effects of combining pesticides in that way,” Naranjo says.

Chronic health effects

Patricia Polo Almeida is a health geographer who has conducted a number of studies on the health and working conditions of banana workers in several provinces in Ecuador.

Her studies show that the workers are aware that the pesticides affect their health. They remain in their jobs in order to provide for their families, but they do not want their children to follow them into the business.

“They feel there are no other choices available to them besides working with bananas, because they have families and have to work,” says Almeida.

She says that local residents and banana workers have reason to be concerned.

“They are spraying down a cocktail of chemicals. It affects not only the workers’ health, but also the rest of the population that lives in the banana areas. Spraying with pesticides from aircraft affects everyone. It moves with the wind. There are many handicapped children whose parents work with bananas,” Almeida says.

“The problem is when the planes do the spraying. It has a nasty smell, and it pollutes everything. You get dizzy, and it stings in your nose. The banana plantations are close by. But people need to work. If they don’t work, what will they eat? The people working out on the plantation when the crop dusters come – what can they do? They have to keep working, or they’ll be fired.”

The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin.
]]>
Danish bananas may be sprayed with highly toxic pesticides https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/danske-bananer-kan-vaere-sproejtet-med-livsfarlige-pesticider/ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 21:48:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22598
A Danwatch investigation
Danwatch has documented that pesticides are being used on Ecuador’s banana plantations that are illegal in Denmark and the EU in part because they are known to cause illness. In Ecuador’s three banana-growing provinces, there is markedly higher incidence of cancer, higher mortality among pilots that spray pesticides on bananas from the air, and more children born with birth defects than anywhere else in the country. We spoke with banana workers who report becoming seriously ill after contact with these dangerous pesticides. Danish supermarkets cannot guarantee that the bananas being sold in their stores were not grown using these toxic chemicals.
Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editor:

Rebeca Calabria

Journalist

Editing: Amalie Linde / Photo: Esteban Barrera (Danwatch) & Jesper Nymark (Danwatch) / Translation: Aileen Bramhall Itani

Editor:

In cooperation with Dagbladet (Norway)
Danwatch has documented that pesticides are being used on Ecuador’s banana plantations that are illegal in Denmark and the EU in part because they are known to cause illness. In Ecuador’s three banana-growing provinces, there is markedly higher incidence of cancer, higher mortality among pilots that spray pesticides on bananas from the air, and more children born with birth defects than anywhere else in the country. We spoke with banana workers who report becoming seriously ill after contact with these dangerous pesticides. Danish supermarkets cannot guarantee that the bananas being sold in their stores were not grown using these toxic chemicals.

In brief 

Danwatch interviewed 34 banana workers, pilots, and family members of those sickened or killed by pesticides, and presented our documentation to experts in pesticide use and doctors familiar with pesticide poisoning in Ecuador.

Pesticides in Ecuadorean banana production

Danwatch acquired a list of the 26 most commonly-used pesticides in Ecuador’s banana-growing regions.  

The list is a compilation of data from the Ministry of Agriculture in Ecuador and a list of pesticides from the Pesticide Action Network.  

See the list

These data were then processed by environmental engineer Alexander Naranjo.  

Experts confirm that these pesticides are in widespread use in Ecuadorean banana production. We asked Danish pesticide experts to evaluate the chemicals’ toxicity.

Read more

The poison comes from the sky.

This is what some of the workers on Ecuador’s banana plantations told Danwatch.

From small crop-dusting aircraft, pesticides and fungicides are sprayed over miles of banana plantations and anything that may lie between them: villages, schools full of children playing, and the banana workers themselves.  Everything is coated with a fine layer of sticky dust when, approximately once a week and without warning, the planes spray the bananas.

And the poison that comes from the sky is highly toxic.  According to a new report from Acción Ecológica, of the 26 chemicals that were most commonly sprayed on Ecuador’s banana plantations in 2017, seven are illegal for use in the EU.  The Danish Ministry of Environment and Food, meanwhile, says that eighteen of the pesticides on the list are illegal in Denmark.  Experts tell Danwatch that, in many cases, this is because they are dangerous to the people who must work with them.

Several scientific studies link a number of these spray pesticides with cancer, birth defects, and higher mortality rates – and in the banana-growing provinces of Ecuador, these conditions are markedly more prevalent than in the rest of the country.

Ecuador’s three banana provinces – Guayas, Los Ríos, and El Oro – share a toxic first-place distinction.  They are not only the hub of banana production in a country that exports more bananas than any other in the world, they are also at the top of Ecuador’s rankings for children born with birth defects, according to national statistics from 2012.

Toxic pesticides

Several studies document a health risk by living close to and working with pesticides in Ecuador’s banana production

Increased risk of cancer

%

So big is the cancer risk in the banana producing provinces against a 2.4 percent risk in general in Ecuador.

Source: Defensoría del Pueblo, 2007 and environmental organization Acción Ecológica, 2007

Children born with defects

%

of children born in the banana-producing provinces are born with malformations. At a national level the figure is 0.22%

Children born with mental handicaps

%

of the children in the El Oro province are born with a mental disability due to genetic damage. The national level is 0.19%.

Two pesticide experts, environmental engineer Alexander Naranjo and health geographer Patricia Polo Almeida, say that the 26 pesticides on the list are in widespread use in Ecuadorian banana production.  

Unless the bananas are organic, some combination of these pesticides are sprayed on all Ecuadorean bananas sold in Danish supermarket chains. Coop, Meny, Spar, Aldi and Lidl all tell Danwatch that they import conventional bananas from Ecuador.

Coop, Aldi and Lidl respond furthermore that all the conventional bananas they sell are certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an environmental sustainability organisation.  As we shall see later, however, this is no guarantee that the most dangerous pesticides are not used in their production.

Crop-dusting over people is not acceptable

We asked Helle Raun Andersen, an associate professor in environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, to examine the list of the twenty-six most common pesticides in Ecuador, as well as Danwatch’s photos from the banana plantations.

Raun Andersen notes that when a pesticide is not approved for use in the EU or Denmark, this may be because approval may not yet have been sought for the chemical.  But she emphasises that all pesticides are dangerous if they are not handled correctly, and that some indeed are prohibited in Denmark because they are too dangerous.  Of these, she points to three specific examples from the list: terbufos, cadusafos and chlorpyrifos.

“These are insect sprays with relatively high acute toxicity, so there is concern about injury to those working with them.  The last of them were banned in Denmark around 2011.  They are neurotoxins – from a chemical point of view, they are related to gasses used in chemical weapons – and in the worst case, you can die from exposure to them via the skin, inhalation, or getting them into your body by other means.”

Erik Jørs, an associate professor in occupational medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, agrees.

“Some of these substances are acutely toxic and have been prohibited for that reason (cadusafos, terbufos and paraquat). Others are less acutely toxic, but are suspected of interfering with reproduction, causing harm to the developing foetus, or being carcinogenic, and are prohibited for that reason (benomyl, carbendazim, flusilazole, tridemorph),” he writes.

Raun Andersen also notes deficiencies in the safety equipment used by banana workers in photos taken by Danwatch at the plantations.  

“If there is pesticide in that, then they should be wearing gloves and masks, which they are not.  Most of these compounds are absorbed by the skin, so the man holding that container could be breathing in small droplets, and will get it on his skin.  You can certainly be harmed by exposure to pesticides over time.  All pesticides are toxic, which is why there is so much regulation of them.”

Children born with birth defects

Nearly twice as many children are born with birth defects in the banana-growing region of El Oro compared to the rest of the country, according to a national survey carried out in Ecuador in 2012.

There are also significantly higher mortality and cancer rates in these regions, according to two 2007 reports, one from Defensoría del Pueblo, Ecuador’s human rights ombudsman, and the other from Acción Ecológica, an environmental organisation.

Pilots of crop-dusting aircraft experience 40% higher mortality than the rest of the population; among other banana workers, mortality is 25% higher.  The risk of cancer in the banana-growing provinces is 5.5 times higher than in Ecuador generally.

Several experts link these outcomes with the pesticides that are sprayed from the air onto banana plantations – and onto everything else that is adjacent to them.

One of these experts is epidemiologist Jaime Breilh, rector of Universidad Andina in the capital city of Quito.  He explains the relationship between mortality, cancer and pesticides.

“There is a very large number of pilots with cancer and liver damage, and when we compare their mortality with similar population groups, theirs is significantly higher,” says Breilh.

According to Breilh, there is no doubt that the chemical sprays have a negative effect on banana workers’ and local residents’ health.

“The chemical sprays affect the nervous system – not just of workers, but of their families, because of their contact with the pesticides.  In areas where spraying occurs, the pesticides fall not only on the bananas, but also on the workers.  It is sprayed over schools, children and water.  And it banana regions, those sprays are a mixture of toxic and carcinogenic compounds along with an extremely poor psychological work environment,” he says.

Spraying from the air over residences or people is never acceptable, says environmental medicine specialist Helle Raun Andersen.

“No matter what, you cannot spray from the air on top of people, that much is clear.  It is against the law in Denmark, because it is very, very difficult to avoid hitting people. But in addition to that, it pollutes the environment and the surrounding areas.”

The coming catastrophe

Another expert is doctor and tropical disease specialist Adolfo Maldonado.  He is the author of several reports on the harms done by pesticide, including one written in 2007 dealing specifically with the banana industry in the region of Ramassalitre-Guayas.

“It is very difficult to be 100% certain that a specific illness or injury can be blamed on pesticides, but genetic problems are typical consequences of these chemicals.  And the significantly higher rates of illness are very striking in these regions,” he says.

In addition, little is known about the effects of mixing these different chemical compounds together – what in the banana regions is known as the “deadly cocktail.”

“It is a quiet catastrophe, the scope of which we are only beginning to realise.  If you have poison in your nervous system, it will be apparent in three days.  But if you have carcinogenic chemicals in your system, you may not be able to tell for one year, or ten years, depending on the dangerousness of the product,” says Jaime Breilh.

He believes there is reason to be concerned.  “If you inhale these pesticides or get them on your skin, you can develop cancer, or your immune system can be compromised through your bone marrow.  If the chemical affects the bone marrow, the immune system cannot function properly.  If you have children, they can be born with birth defects.  And if children are exposed to pesticides, they can develop leukaemia.  It is a vicious cycle,” he says.

In addition, little is known about the effects of mixing these different chemical compounds together – what in the banana regions is known as the “deadly cocktail.”

“It is a quiet catastrophe, the scope of which we are only beginning to realise.  If you have poison in your nervous system, it will be apparent in three days.  But if you have carcinogenic chemicals in your system, you may not be able to tell for one year, or ten years, depending on the dangerousness of the product,” says Jaime Breilh.

He believes there is reason to be concerned.  “If you inhale these pesticides or get them on your skin, you can develop cancer, or your immune system can be compromised through your bone marrow.  If the chemical affects the bone marrow, the immune system cannot function properly.  If you have children, they can be born with birth defects.  And if children are exposed to pesticides, they can develop leukaemia.  It is a vicious cycle,” he says.

Danish supermarkets have an obligation

According to the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which apply to all businesses, Danish supermarkets have an obligation to know whether the products they sell harm people or the environment.

Who sells conventional bananas from Ecuador
– and how many?

Ton (2017)
Ton (2017)

?

Confirms that they sell conventional bananas from Ecuador but will not disclose how many, for business reasons. 

?

Confirms that they sell conventional bananas from Ecuador but will not disclose how many, for business reasons. 

"The results are frightening. We think this is an important problem to expose and discuss, and it has offered an opportunity to have internal discussions about they way we handle this area."

Anne Mette Brasen, responsible for CSR in Coop Tweet

Troels Børrild, political advisor to ActionAid Denmark with special focus on corporate social responsibility, emphasizes the supermarkets’ obligations in this regard.  

“If they buy bananas from farms where pesticides are used, they are at the very least involved in the problem.  So under international guidelines for corporate social responsibility, there is an expectation that they do something about it.”

Ecuador exports nearly a third of its bananas to the EU, of which a portion is shipped on to Denmark, where they are sold in Danish supermarkets.

Four Danish supermarket chains – Coop, Lidl, Aldi and Dagrofa (Meny and Spar) – cannot guarantee that bananas in their stores have not been sprayed with highly toxic pesticides.

Dagrofa says that less that 1% of its bananas come from Ecuador.  In 2017, that came to 19.3 tons.  It is not possible to know exactly which pesticides were used on them, since that would depend on which pests and fungi were active in the region in which they were grown.

“For that reason, we cannot rule out the possibility that in some cases, pesticides may have been used that would have been prohibited in Denmark.  But as we know, bananas are not grown in Denmark,” says Mogens Werge, who oversees corporate social responsibility at Dagrofa.

Aldi and Lidl would not disclose how many bananas they purchase from Ecuador or how they are sourced.  Coop, Lidl and Aldi say that their Ecuadorean bananas are certified by the Rainforest Alliance, a sustainability organisation.

The Rainforest Alliance itself, however, says that out of the 168 banana plantations it certifies in Ecuador, it has only been able to audit three in order to confirm that they are in compliance with the new certification standards. One farm failed the audit. The other farms are in compliance with the 2010 standards.

At Lidl, Head of Corporate Communications Morten Vestberg says, “A certification is not a guarantee against bad practices. If the Rainforest Alliance receives a complaint regarding a significant breach in the standards regarding pesticide use, for example, an investigation will be launched.”

The corporate social responsibility director at Coop, Anne Mettte Brasen, says that less than 1% of its bananas come from Ecuador.  In 2017, that number represented 379 tons.  

In reference to Danwatch’s investigation, Coop commented, “The results are frightening.  We think this is an important problem to expose and discuss, and it has offered an opportunity to have internal discussions about they way we handle this area.  We are aware of the challenges involved with spraying from the air, which why it is one of the matters we naturally and continually address in our dialogue with the supplier.”

At Aldi, says CSR Manager Pia Halldorson, its bananas are certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which ought to guarantee a gradual phasing-out of the most dangerous pesticides.

“Should that prove, against expectations, to be insufficient, we will look at what other initiatives may be necessary,” writes Halldorsson.

Industry denials

The environmental organisation Acción Ecológica in Ecuador documents in a 2017 report that twenty-six different pesticides are in use in banana production in the country.  Eighteen of these are illegal in Denmark, and seven are illegal in the EU.

The banana industry in Ecuador is not just any business. Of the country’s 16 million citizens, 2 million work directly or indirectly with bananas, according to the national banana export trade organisation, Asociación de Exportadores de Banano del Ecuador. 200,000 are employed directly in banana production, which is the second-largest sector of the economy after oil.

The trade association’s chairman, Eduardo Ledesma, denies outright the conclusions of Acción Ecológica’s report.  

“The bananas satisfy EU requirements regarding pesticide tolerance.  The tendency in Ecuador is to remove pesticides corresponding to particular countries’ needs or requirements.  Ecuador does not use products that are not permitted in the EU or the USA,” says Ledesma.

While Danwatch was in Ecuador, however, we observed illegal pesticides in a shed at a banana plantation.  We describe this to Ledesma.

“I don’t know what plantations you visited where you saw pesticides not approved by the EU, that you can make that accusation. (…) As a trade organisation, we try to persuade our partners to uphold the rules,” he says.

We have also spoken with workers who find themselves under crop dusters when they are spraying pesticides from the air…
“That’s a lie.  That’s a lie, because the workers are notified.  Stop insisting on that, because it’s a lie.  I have obviously been present when they are spraying, and no one is so stupid as to do that.  I tell you, it is a lie.  If you really want to make the truth into a lie, then let’s end this interview.  I tell you, it is a lie,” says Ledesma.

 
The investigation is divided into articles. You decide where to begin.
]]>
They live and die by bananas https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/they-live-and-die-by-bananas/ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 21:47:31 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?post_type=undersgelse&p=22608
A Danwatch investigation
Danwatch has documented that pesticides are being used on Ecuador’s banana plantations that are illegal in Denmark and the EU in part because they are known to cause illness.
A Danwatch investigation

Get the whole picture in 2.44 minutes

Play Video

På dansk?

De lever og dør af bananerne

Denne undersøgelse findes også på dansk.
Se den her
  • Bananas from Ecuador are sprayed with highly toxic pesticides, of which seven are outlawed in the EU and eighteen are outlawed in Denmark, according to the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food.
  • The pesticides are applied by crop-dusting planes, which spray the poison over more than 5000 banana plantations in Ecuador, affecting both agricultural workers and local communities. The practice of crop dusting is not permitted in Denmark out of concern for human and environmental health.
  • According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), several of the pesticides being used on Ecuador’s banana plantations are either carcinogenic or have other serious side effects.
  • Cancer and mortality rates are significantly higher in banana-growing provinces than in the rest of Ecuador. Pilots of crop-dusting aircraft have 40% higher mortality than the population at large. Among banana plantation workers, mortality rates are 25% higher compared to other Ecuadoreans.
  • The risk of developing cancer is 5.5 times higher in the banana-producing provinces than in the rest of Ecuador.
  • In the banana region of El Oro, nearly twice as many children are born with birth defects than in the rest of the country.
  • A survey taken by Danwatch shows that Dansk Supermarked, COOP, Aldi, Lidl and Dagrofa (Meny and Spar) all purchase bananas from Ecuador.
  • Dansk Supermarked states that it imports only organic bananas from Ecuador, while Lidl and Aldi say they only purchase bananas from plantations certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which is working to phase out 150 of the most dangerous pesticides as identified by the WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
  • The Rainforest Alliance informs Danwatch, however, that it has only managed to audit pesticide use in 2 of the 168 banana plantations it certified in Ecuador in 2017. According to new standards for Rainforest Alliance, only 6 of the 26 most used pesticides are prohibited.
  • None of the four Danish supermarkets that import conventional bananas from Ecuador can guarantee that highly toxic pesticides are not used in their production.
  • Similar conditions have been reported in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru, but these have not been documented in this investigation.

All of the articles from this investigation. Where to start is up to you.

]]>
Mass faintings afflict the women who sew our clothes https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/mass-faintings-afflict-the-women-who-sew-our-clothes/ Sat, 24 Jun 2017 22:52:52 +0000 http://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/mass-faintings-afflict-the-women-who-sew-our-clothes/

Mass faintings afflict the women who sew our clothes

  • Young women are fainting in large numbers at garment factories that manufacture clothes for world-famous brands like Puma, Asics, Nike, Bestseller and VF, which owns Vans and North Face.
  • In 2016, the Cambodian authorities reported that 1160 garment workers had fainted in 18 factories. In the last six months alone, 500 garment workers fainted and were hospitalized.
  • Danwatch and The Guardian interviewed fourteen garment workers at five factories in Cambodia who have fainted or have witnessed mass faintings.
  • Experts in work environment and nutrition call conditions “analogous to slavery”, and say that the international brands are in conflict with established guidelines as well as their own policies for occupational health and safety.
  • According to experts in corporate social responsibility, Puma, Asics, VF, Nike and Bestseller have responsibility with respect to wages, contracts, and working conditions – including food and drink, breaks, and temperatures – at the factories.

A coorperation with

Mass faintings afflict the women who sew our clothes

Clothing and shoes from brands like Bestseller, Nike, Puma, Asics, Vans and North Face are manufactured at textile factories in Cambodia, where garment workers faint by the hundreds every year. Doctors, experts and the women themselves blame exhaustion, malnutrition, overheating and panic.

Get the whole picture in 2 minutes

Play Video

På dansk?

Mode & Massebesvimelser

Læs hele undersøgelsen på dansk.
Klik her
Louise Voller
Journalist
Nikolaj Houmann Mortensen
Journalist
Jarl Kaldan
Photographer
Louise Voller
Journalist
Nikolaj Houmann Mortensen
Journalist
Jarl Kaldan
Photographer
Clothing and shoes from brands like Bestseller, Nike, Puma, Asics, Vans and North Face are manufactured at textile factories in Cambodia, where garment workers faint by the hundreds every year. Doctors, experts and the women themselves blame exhaustion, malnutrition, overheating and panic.

Please share. We have put a lot of work into this.

Our investigation:

Along with The Guardian, we interviewed 14 seamstresses working in Cambodian factories where mass faintings occurred in 2016-2017. We asked about working conditions, transport, food, housing, and how the women experience their working conditions. The garment workers’ names have been changed, and the factories’ names have been replaced by the brands they are associated with to protect the workers.

One by one, they slump over their sewing machines or onto the ground outside the factory.  Their bodies go limp, their legs give way, and their lifeless arms cannot break their fall as they hit the factory’s concrete floor.

Hundreds of seamstresses lose consciousness more or less simultaneously.  In the last six months alone, more than 600 garment workers at five factories have been treated at hospitals following mass faintings.  Some collapsed but remained conscious.  Others were unconscious for up to an hour.

One of the largest incidents occurred in November 2016 at a factory making running shoes for Asics, where 140 garment workers fainted and were sent to the hospital for treatment.  The next day, 70 workers fainted, and 150 more the day after that, forcing the factory to shut down temporarily.

In February of this year, 28 garment workers fainted at a Nike factory, and shortly thereafter, 36 were hospitalized after fainting or collapsing at a Bestseller factory.  Most recently, in March, approximately 40 workers fainted at a Puma factory. These numbers have been confirmed by Cambodia’s National Social Security Fund, the nationwide health insurance scheme.

Mass faintings

According to the Cambodian Ministry of Labour, there were 1160 reported incidents of workers fainting at 18 different factories in 2016 alone.  

In 2015, 1806 incidents were reported at 32 factories.

Source: National Social Security Fund, Cambodia

There are nearly as many explanations for the mass-fainting phenomenon as there are people making a living in Cambodia’s most important industry.  Textiles are this small developing country’s largest export, and in less than 20 years, the industry has made it possible for 700,000 women to enter the workforce and become economically independent of their husbands.  Nearly all garment workers in Cambodia are women.

Danish fashion brands such as Bestseller and PWT Group, like their international counterparts Puma, Nike, Gap and H&M, have moved to Cambodia, which offers quick and cheap manufacturing. But do these low prices come at great cost?

Interviews with garment workers, labour unions, NGOs and trade associations offer an inside look at Cambodia’s closely-guarded textile factories and paint a picture in sharp contrast to the sustainability strategies and ethical guidelines touted by these international brands.

In these factories, where hunger and exhaustion are a constant, one isolated incident can unleash a communal feeling of anxiety and resignation that causes bodies to fall limply to the factory floor.

Danish brands in Cambodia

Bestseller and PWT Group do not publish their lists of suppliers, but confirm to Danwatch that they manufacture clothing in Cambodia. Bestseller produces clothes at just under 40 factories. PWT has approximately 25% of its production in the country. They would not identify the factories they use.

A fire

It is still early in the morning of February 24, 2017, at the factory that manufactures clothes for Bestseller in Takeo Province, but the women have already been sewing for two hours.  The silent smoke that billows through the factory is the first sign that a fire has broken out in the factory.

Panic spreads among the terrified women, who run back and forth between each other looking for a way out of the factory and away from the spreading fire.  But the doors are locked.  They find a way out into the courtyard, but the Chinese line supervisor sends them back in again.  The fire is not dangerous, he says; it’s nearly extinguished.  But flames and smoke continue to curl through the long hall with its hundreds of abandoned sewing machines and brightly coloured fabrics.  The seamstresses run out of the factory three times, and are ordered back in each time.

One worker mentions the logo VILA, manufactured by the Bestseller corporation, and shipping documents confirm that Bestseller did produce clothes at the factory in July 2016.  Bestseller estimates that it has 50-60 suppliers in Cambodia, but declined to name them.

They are paralysed with fear, according to 28-year-old Thida, who was at work at the Bestseller factory the day the fire broke out.

“I felt like I couldn’t move at all.  When I heard the alarm again, we ran out of the building for the third time, and then the workers began to faint one after another, at their machines and outside.  My legs were shaking, I couldn’t move my feet.”

Tomiko, aged 18, has not been working at the factory very long.  She is performing quality control at her station when she hears the alarm.  She begins to run.

“The last thing I remember is running for the exit.  I was certain I would die in the fire.  Then I collapsed,” says Tomiko.

Tomiko and the approximately 40 other garment workers who faint wake up either shortly afterwards or at the hospital.  A third woman who was at the factory that day, 32-year-old Sohtia, wakes up at the clinic with an IV drip in her arm.  No one asks how she is, and no one tells her what has happened or what kind of treatment she has received.

“I was so scared when I woke up that I had trouble breathing.  Even though I was receiving treatment, I kept thinking about what had happened, and my heart was filled with fear. I had no energy, I couldn’t move my arms or legs.  I was completely exhausted,” says Sohtia.

Bestseller: We saw the faintings

Bestseller tells Danwatch that they happened to be at the factory for an unannounced visit the same day that the fire and mass faintings took place.

“The fire broke out at 9:45 a.m., and all the workers in the entire factory were evacuated to an assembly point in front of the factory, as they had practiced during fire drills.  At 10:15 a.m., the fire was extinguished,” wrote Bestseller in a statement to Danwatch.

According to the brand’s communications director, Jesper Stubkier, workers told Bestseller during a follow-up visit several weeks later that approximately 40 had fainted and 12 were taken to the hospital.

“We have been working with this Chinese supplier for more than ten years, and have been in dialogue with them about the incident in Cambodia,” he said.

Bestseller has been manufacturing clothing there since 2015, and at the brand’s first visit to the factory, it noted “conditions that would have to be remedied before a partnership could begin.”

These included an inadequate number of fire extinguishers, no standpipes, improperly labelled emergency exits, and deficient electrical systems.  In addition, there was only one nurse on the premises, whereas Cambodian law requires a doctor and two nurses on site at a factory that has as many workers as this factory.

Bestseller did not note the issues that the workers have mentioned; heat, lack of or turned off cooling systems, lack of water, food or breaks for employees, or the short-term contracts that are renewed beyond two years.

Terrified garment workers are treated in the hospital after faintings at a Bestseller factory in February 2017.

Day two: more faintings

That day, everyone got a half-day off from work, but the next morning, when the women punch in at the factory again, more workers begin to faint.

“I felt dizzy and my head hurt, and then I became afraid and felt very weak, so I got a half hour to recover before I went back to work,” says Sohtia.

She has fainted before.  A few years ago, at another factory, an unpleasant smoke filled the factory, and she didn’t know if it was toxic or not.  The same fear, the one that paralysed her arms and legs, is also the last thing she remembers before fainting on that occasion.

The seamstresses believe that they collapsed because of smoke inhalation and panic during the mass fainting at the Bestseller factory in February. At other factories, it might be a light bulb that explodes and sets off an alarm, or a sewing machine that gives a woman an electric shock that sends her to the floor – partly from the shock, and partly from fright.

The brain short-circuits, causing the women’s bodies to become immobilised when their lives are in danger.

But if it is panic that causes the women to faint, why are mass-faintings not documented in other parts of Cambodian society?  Could it be the conditions inside the factories that cause the women to faint all at once?

The fashion industry is extremely competitive, which means that clothing companies are constantly increasing the number of collections they offer in order to tempt consumers to buy more goods. On average, the number of collections offered by clothing companies increased from two to between four and five in the years 2000-2011.

H&M now launches between 12-16 collections per year, and Zara tops 24, according to a 2016 report by McKinsey.  Both brands manufacture in Cambodia, but were not a part of this investigation.

Sophea Norea had management measure the temperature at an Asics factory, where she works. It was 37 degrees, which is dangerous to the health, experts say.

Behind the factory walls

Production targets used to be lower: eight pieces per hour.  But in the last two months alone, they have risen so high that Sophia Norn and the other seamstresses at the Asics factory must produce 24 items per hour.  That makes 240 items per day, which is hard, she says. 

An item can be a pocket, a hemmed sleeve, or a zipper.  The seamstresses do their best to avoid tricky stitching tasks, since the production targets do not always reflect an item’s degree of difficulty.  For this reason, these tasks are favourites of the line supervisors: assigned as punishment when they believe the women are not working fast enough, or when they complain about working conditions.

Because of the ever-increasing number of collections offered by brands, the factories are extremely busy from April to September, when garment workers are expected to work overtime.

The sun is searing in May.  The temperature outside can easily reach 37ºC, with humidity at 80-90%.  In the village where Sophia Norn lives, the neighbours sleep in hammocks among the stilts that elevate their wooden houses; the air is still, and only the flies swirl about.

She appears to be unaffected by the heat as she welcomes us in jeans, a short-sleeved pink blouse, and perfect makeup.  Like most of the garment workers, she is used to wearing several layers of clothing and long pants, even when working inside factories without air conditioning or even ordinary fans – either because they don’t work, or because they are only turned on when visitors are present, the women report.

The clothing protects their arms and legs against contact with chemicals and fibres in the items they produce.

“Temperatures inside the factories are quite high,” says Norn.  Last year, as the union representative at the Asics factory, the 28-year-old asked the management to measure the temperatures at the factory.

That was after watching 139 of her colleagues fainted on the job.

At 11:30 a.m., the temperature was between 32 and 34ºC at the factory; a few hours later, it had risen to 35-36ºC, and in one building it was 37ºC.

“Certain departments have small fans to cool the area, but in others, the fans are only designed to remove dust from the factory.  So it gets very hot,” she says.

At another factory, which manufactures clothing for Puma, union leader Kim So Thet of CCAWDU measured the temperature at 35ºC using an app on her telephone.

Leakena, aged 22, works at a third factory, which manufactures for the Vans label.  She requests paracetamol a few times a week to treat her headache and dizziness, but also because she believes the pills can lower her body temperature.  But in February, after 20 women fainted at the Vans factory, something happened.

“Recently, two workers fainted again, one in the morning, one at 4:00 p.m., and then 10 to 20 more, I heard.  They got three days off to rest.  After that, I noticed that the cooling system was cleaned, and now it works a bit better,” says Leakena.

Garment workers get off work. They work 8-12 hours a day, Monday to Friday. In high season, they work Sundays as well.

The legal workday is 8 hours, plus 2 hours voluntary overtime, 6 days per week.  Sunday is usually a day off.

In reality, however, the many changing fashion collections have increased pressure on manufacturing so much that seamstresses often work 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week.

When the workday is done, they stand crammed along with their colleagues in the back of a truck for the 1-2 hour ride home, where they get little sleep before the workday begins again.

Source: CENTRAL, Solidarity Center

Dangerous temperatures

When the temperature tops 35ºC, demanding physical labour puts a strain on the body, says Jane Frølund Thomsen, Senior Hospital Physician in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Bispebjerg Hospital, in response to the seamstresses’ reports.

She explains that when we sweat, the perspiration must evaporate for the skin to cool off.  This requires energy.  But if the humidity rises above 60%, our bodies are unable to cool off because our sweat cannot evaporate.

“Yes, we have access to drinking water, but there isn’t enough.  We are allowed to bring our own drinking water, but not energy drinks,” says Samnang, a 28-year-old employee at a Puma factory.

It is critically important to have access to lots of water, but that is not all, says Dr Thomsen.

In 2016, Cambodia’s workers received health insurance, called the National Social Security Fund, which pays for treatment at clinics for injuries and illnesses, whether they were contracted on the job or not. Treatment of certain serious illnesses is not covered, however. The insurance is funded with equal contributions from workers and employers representing 1.3% of salary.

A study by Better Factories Cambodia and the ILO, in which 3302 workers were interviewed by staff from Angkor Research, showed that nearly half of all workers – 46.5% – had recently felt dizzy, lightheaded, tired, or had cold hands or feet, all of which could be signs of anaemia, low blood sugar, poor circulation, or reactions to chemical cleaning agents. The ILO study concluded that if the symptoms are not treated, they can lead to fainting.

Garment Workers’ Health and Nutrition Status, and Food Provision in Factories.

“When you sweat profusely, you lose not only fluids but also salts, which are not present in drinking water.  So if you don’t replace the lost fluids with juice, milk or something else containing salt, you thin the blood.  This creates an imbalance that can affect the brain. Blood pressure falls because the body is trying to give off heat, and symptoms like headache and dizziness set in.  If you continue to work at high temperatures and humidity, your core body temperature rises. This can lead to circulatory collapse, or what is known as heat stroke,” she says.

Several of the seamstresses say that there is not enough drinking water at the factory, or that they make do without water because there is not enough time to get it.  And then there is the hunger.  All the garment workers Danwatch spoke with say that they are hungry at work.  Outside of the lunch hour from 11:00-12:00, they may not eat on the job, because they risk damaging the clothing. 

“I don’t eat between noon and 8:00 p.m.,” says Sohtia from the Bestseller factory. “I’m hungry most of the day, so sometimes I hide a snack in my clothes, but it’s not allowed to have snacks inside.  If they catch you, you can be fired.”

By 4:00 p.m., her stomach is screaming, says Leakena. “I tell myself to forget it, but on the way home I am completely exhausted, and my body hurts.”

Dr Thomsen characterises the seamstresses’ descriptions of their working conditions as “analogous to slavery”.

“The combination of physically demanding work, high temperatures, and humidity, along with lack of access to food, water or rest, would never be accepted in a Danish context.  These are slavery-like conditions, if they are not allowed access to food, drink or rest,” she says.

"We are of course aware of the fact that there is room for improvement. That is why we work every day to improve the workers environment through dialogue, follow up, training and audits in the factories".
Jesper Stubkier
Head of Communication, Bestseller.
Many garment workers come from rural areas and live in dorms next to the factories. They often only see their children and parents 3-4 times a year.

Erik Jørs, a senior researcher in occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, agrees.

Heat, lack of water, inadequate food, and exhaustion can lead to faintings, even mass faintings, he says.

“It is well known that illness is contagious.  We frequently see epidemics among employees at the same workplace with the same symptoms because a rumour of cancer or mould allergy spreads after just one person is diagnosed.  This could be the case with the faintings as well: you’re exhausted, you see your neighbour pass out, and suddenly you’re on your way down, too.”

These “slavery-like conditions” would not be acceptable in neighbouring Vietnam, which experiences similar temperatures and humidity, but has rather different occupational safety regulations.

This is according to Garrett Brown, an expert in work environment with the California branch of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, who has inspected garment factories in Asia.

At factories in Vietnam, the indoor temperature may not exceed 32ºC.  If it does, the factory must install mechanisms to regulate ventilation and temperature, according to guidelines from Better Work Vietnam, a subsidiary of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Brown agrees with Dr Thomsen.  “If the body continues to lose fluids, there is a likelihood of serious symptoms of heat stroke: general discomfort, lack of coordination, muscle pain and cramps, fatigue, blurred vision, headache, dizziness and fainting,” he says.

“So if these illnesses, which begin at one level and have a step-by-step progression based on workers’ exposure and activity level, the result can be life-threatening heat stroke.”

The garment workers drive to and from work in trucks, where they stand closely together, 50-70 workers at a time. Every week there are accidents involving trucks and wounded garment workers.

These are slavery-like conditions, if they are not allowed access to food, drink or rest.
Jane Frølund Thomsen
Expert in work environment, Department of Public Health, Copenhagen University

Not a living wage

She gets up at 4:30 a.m., when darkness still hangs over the rice paddies and the neighbouring houses a little farther off.  She fills the rice cooker with rice and water, and reheats leftovers from last night’s dinner over the fire in the little kitchen beside the house.  Children and adults sleep in the same room on the upper floor, at the top of a steep ladder. All is still quiet.

The kitchen is a wooden shed with a corrugated metal roof.  It has neither walls nor floor, just the clay earth below and flowered saris that sway gently in the breeze.  It is already hot.  Nineteen-year-old Ary helps her mother feed the chickens before eating a little breakfast and walking to the truck that will drive her to work at 5 a.m.

“I have to be at the factory at 7 a.m., and if I have time, I eat before I start work.”

Ary jumps up onto the flatbed of the truck that carries the garment workers along the country road to the factory.  There are neither seats nor roof on the truck bed, so the women must stand for the entire trip, some for up to 2 hours.  When the truck is full, 50-60 women stand on the flat bed, holding onto a railing above their heads as the truck rocks back and forth through Phnom Penh’s chaotic traffic.

24-year old Putrea works in a Puma factory. She has a 4-year old son, whom she only sees 3-4 times a year. This is where she lives.
"Cambodia’s occupational safety laws say little with respect to heat in the workplace. There is one law, Prakas 147, which says that if employees’ health or work is affected by elevated temperatures, the employer must ensure that the workplace is cooled with fans or air conditioning. The law does not specify limits for temperature or humidity".
Heng Bon
Attorney, Solidarity Center Cambodia

The trucks are extremely dangerous, and in 2015, almost 700 were involved in traffic accidents – almost two per day.  The women are well aware of the danger, but there are no other choices.

The alternative is to leave their children and move into a room near the factory in Phnom Penh or in the huge industrial parks in other provinces.  Putrea, who works at the Puma factory, chose to do this.  The 24-year-old seamstress has a four-year-old son who lives in her hometown of Siem Reap.  She seems him about four times a year.

Putrea earns $210-220 per month, of which she sends $100 home to her parents.  It is quite normal for women to support their families in this way, whether they live at home or not.

Ary still lives at home, and she gives almost her entire wage to her mother.

“Every month when I get paid, I keep about $10-20, and give the rest to my mother.  When we built this house, I took out a loan that I am repaying now.  I have no other income,” says Ary.

The paradox is clear.  The garment industry has gotten the women into the work force, offering them an income that ought to make them financially independent.  But in reality, they are now even more trapped, since their husbands do not make as much money driving a tuk-tuk or working in construction.  This means the women have to cover expenses for the entire family, including their parents. 

It is out of the question for them to give up their jobs.  Most of them exhaust their salaries before the month is up, and only those who grow their own rice and vegetables can be sure that their families will have enough to eat.  If a parent becomes ill and must go to the hospital, the family’s fragile financial situation is thrown into chaos.

Thida would rather not work at a factory.  Her husband drives a tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh, where he sleeps in his vehicle at night and only comes home once in a fortnight.  And when he comes, he does not always bring money with him.

“I would rather have my own business.  I wish I could make more money selling vegetables or meat – then I would have time to take care of my children. But my income must sustain my family. We have debts to pay, so I have no other choice.”

In an April, 2017 study, 10,000 female textile workers report that the most common health problems they encounter are colds, fever, flu, headache, dizziness, fatigue, and fainting.

Health Needs, Health Seeking Pathways, and Drivers of Health Seeking Behaviors of Female Garment Factory Workers in Cambodia

A living wage is a salary that can provide decent living conditions for a worker and his/her dependents within normal working hours (not including overtime) from one source of income, including a modest savings.

Basic necessities include food, clothing, housing, personal and medical items, utilities, education, transport, communication, and anything else that is needed to meet a basic standard of living.

Source: Living Wage Survey for Cambodia’s Garment Industry (2009)

A 2013 study from the Worker Rights Consortium showed that garment workers in 15 countries, including Cambodia, had less purchasing power in 2011 than in 2001 because of increases in the prices of food, housing and other basic necessities.

Vi har overnattet hos en syerske, læs hele reportagen: “Jeg er ligeglad med, hvad de kalder mig, jeg kan ikke undvære mit arbejde”.

“You can be excused from overtime”

The seamstresses work Monday to Friday from 7:40 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and on Saturdays they often work until 4:00 p.m.  There is a one-hour break from 11:00 to 12:00, when the women eat lunch.  The two hours from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. are overtime.  Overtime is not compulsory; “you can be excused,” as several of the seamstresses put it.

But it is rare that they do.

“On payday, most of my salary disappears,” says Sohtia quietly.  Even though her poverty is obvious, it is still shameful to say it aloud.

Sohtia earns a base salary of $175 per month, and earns extra for the 10 hours of overtime each week.

“My husband doesn’t earn as much, so most of our expenses are my responsibility.  That’s why I can’t save any money at all.  I give $40 to a relative to take care of my child, and spend $2.50-5.00 on food for myself, my husband and my son per day,” she says.

“I still don’t have enough money at the end of the month.  So I borrow from my co-workers to buy food.  And even though the food I can afford doesn’t taste good, or doesn’t have proper ingredients in it, we eat it in order to fill our stomachs.”

The organisation Asia Floor Wage has calculated that in order to meet the most basic living expenses in Cambodia, a person must earn $430 per month.  The seamstresses we spoke with earn approximately $190-210 per month if they work 12 hours of overtime per week.

In other words, they make less than half of what it costs to live in Cambodia.

This is confirmed by Bent Gehrt, Field Director for Southeast Asia at the Worker Rights Consortium, who has been monitoring textile factories in Asia for more than thirteen years.

Nearly a third, or 31%, of the garment workers in Krawinkel’s study were malnourished, which is double the rate of the rest of the population, in which only 14% are underweight.

Source: Nutritional and Micronutrient Status of Female Workers in a Garment Factory in Cambodia.
If the heat becomes too strong, there will be a lack of oxygen, and the workers will not get enough oxygen in their blood. That can contribute to the faintings
Sao Chanta
Doctor, Bati District Referral Health Care

“The workers earn far from enough to nourish themselves and their families,” he says.

“We once investigated the typical midday meal for a garment worker here in Cambodia.  They buy a soup made from old vegetables that are sold cheaply.  We measured its calorie content, and it’s not nearly enough.  If you assume that a person needs 2200 calories per day, then there should be 700 calories in each meal – but there are only 400 calories in that sort of meal,” says Gehrt.

The workers’ salaries are the fundamental reason for many of the problems, says Erik Jørs.

“They must work many hours in order to earn enough, but they still can’t afford to feed themselves adequately.  This causes health problems that can result in exhaustion and malnourishment.”

The low pay causes another problem, too. Overtime – which the seamstresses themselves say that they want to do, and in principle do voluntarily.

“They can’t just say no to overtime because they have short-term contracts, typically lasting three months.  So simply the threat of losing their job means that no one can turn it down, even if they’re tired,” says Gehrt.

The Diagnosis

Heat.  Overtime.  Hunger, thirst and plain exhaustion. And suddenly, panic.

Perhaps the mass faintings are not so difficult to understand.  A phenomenon that seems most of all to be a healthy reaction to an unhealthy environment calls for a medical opinion.

At Cambodia’s National Social Security Fund (NSSF), which pays for the workers’ treatment at hospitals, we hear yet another assessment of why the mass faintings take place. 

Director Cheav Bunrith says, “In the first place, we have the workers’ health.  They don’t know how to eat in an appropriately nutritious way.”

“Some factories do not have sufficient oxygen levels, because there are too many machines and workers in the same room, so the workers do not get enough oxygen.  This can be compounded by chemicals that are sprayed on the clothes or used to repel insects,” says Bunrith, noting that the Ministry of Labour advises factories in how to make improvements.

There is some indication that the cause of the faintings can be found in the minimal food the women eat in the course of the day.

"We found a relatively large number of women with anaemia, which can also be a predisposing factor in fainting. When you suffer from anaemia, you have a reduced oxygen supply to the brain. And if you work, this can easily lead to fainting or collapse. Anaemia can be caused by malnutrition, especially iron or certain vitamin deficiencies".
Michael Krawinkel
Professor and author of 'Nutritional and Micronutrient Status of Female Workers in a Garment Factory in Cambodia'.
"Panic over a sudden danger, like a fire or electric shock, is the trigger. Most importantly, if you are already weak and don’t eat much, and your heart is not strong enough, then you are likely to be the first to faint".
Rah Sokheng
Doctor, Sokha Bati Clinic
Hospital Director, Dr Sao Chanta at Bati District Referral Health Care treated the fainted garment workers from the Bestseller factory. They were dehydrated and exhausted, he says.

Doctors: Malnutrition, oxygen deprivation and anaemia

At Sokha Bati Clinic, it was Dr Rah Sokheng who received approximately half of the 40 workers that either felt poorly or had fainted after the fire broke out in February at the Bestseller factory.

The treatment was the same.  If a seamstress was unconscious, she would receive first aid and be examined for elevated blood pressure.  All received an IV-drip with glucose.

“And then there are those who are faking because they want a half-day off.  It’s maybe 10 out of 100, but honestly, the vast majority of them are exhausted and malnourished,” says Dr Sokheng, confirming Gehrt’s description of the poor quality of the women’s lunches.

“They buy food from the carts outside the factories, so they live off cheap food without protein, and because they earn so little money, they try to limit what they spend on food, which is why they get so little nourishment.”

A lack of food and oxygen combined with exhaustion might explain one or two faintings.  But can it explain nearly 40 or even 100 like it happened at the Puma factory at the same time?

“Panic over a sudden danger, like a fire or electric shock, is the trigger. Most importantly, if you are already weak and don’t eat much, and your heart is not strong enough, then you are likely to be the first to faint,” says Dr Sokheng.

A little while later, we drive to another hospital in the area that received seamstresses from the same factory in February.

Hospital director Dr Sao Chanta at Bati District Referral Health Care receives us warmly.  He is proud of his hospital, a part of the national health insurance programme that began last year to treat workers for free – and to send the bill to the factories via the government.

“As I see it, it is most important that the ventilation at the factories be improved to ensure sufficient air supply.  It is especially important to install fans, preferably air conditioning.  If the heat becomes too strong, there will be a lack of oxygen, and the workers will not get enough oxygen in their blood. That can contribute to the faintings,” says Dr Chanta.

“Finally, the workers must eat and drink enough, with clean drinking water.  If these things are implemented, the mass faintings will be radically reduced.”

Better Factories Cambodia was founded in 2001 as a collaboration between the US government, which offered a favourable trade deal with Cambodia regarding textiles – the US-Cambodia Bilateral Textile Trade Agreement – in exchange for upholding ILO conventions on workers’ rights in the country.  The BFC monitors garment factories in Cambodia and offers guidance to businesses, but does not have legal authority.

Sky-high food prices

The pay for Cambodian garment workers has in fact risen quite a bit recently, from $50 in 2007 to $153 in 2017. At the same time, however, the price of food has risen more than 84%, according to calculations Danwatch made based on figures from the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture. According to Asia Floor Wage, $153 is still far below the “living wage” in Cambodia of $430.

Additional food leads to clear improvements

Among those paying attention to the garment workers’ nutrition is Professor Michael Krawinkel, who does research into malnutrition at the University of Giessen’s Institute of Nutritional Sciences in Germany.  He recently issued a report on malnutrition among Cambodian garment workers.

“I was most surprised by the high incidence of malnutrition and anaemia among the workers, as well as by the amount of money they spend on food.  Even by Cambodian standards, it is a surprisingly small amount of money to spend on food purchases.  The women try to spend as little as possible on their own lives in Phnom Penh,” says Professor Krawinkel.

“The low calorie intake could easily be a contributing factor to fainting, and therefore offers of food and drink could certainly help prevent the faintings.  But of course that costs money, and so the brands that manufacture here would have to accept the additional cost.”

According to the seamstresses interviewed by Danwatch and The Guardian, only the factory that manufactures clothes for Nike offers its workers a free meal.

The organisation Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) was founded as a collaboration between the USA and Cambodia, in which the USA offered favourable trade agreements to Cambodia’s garment industry if the country promised to uphold the ILO’s core conventions on workers’ rights.  BFC’s job, therefore, is to visit factories and attempt to correct problems like the mass faintings.

Arianna Rossi of Better Factories Cambodia says that the organisation experimented several years ago with free lunches at selected factories. 

The report concluded that the workers who received snacks or meals showed “significant improvements” and achieved markedly better food security.

  • Need for daily, weekly and perhaps annual limits on working hours
  • Importance of keeping overtime exceptional, limiting the number of additional hours and providing adequate compensation
  • Right to regular and uninterrupted weekly rest
  • Right to paid annual leave
  • Need to keep night-time work exceptional and warranting special protection
  • Importance of enterprises’ needs in respect of flexible working-time arrangements
  • Right to collective bargaining and the full and genuine consultation of employers’ and workers’ representatives on working-time regulation
  • Need for an effective labour inspection system or other enforcement measures to prevent and punish abusive practices
Source: ILO
Some of these cases are mass-acting. If they see an official, they faint.
Ken Loo
Generalsekretær for Cambodjas tekstilindustris brancheforening, Garment Manufacturers Association Cambodia

Cambodian trade association: “It’s an act”

The Cambodian garment industry consists of just over 800 factories, worth in excess of $5 billion.  Nevertheless, it is vulnerable to a phenomenon like mass faintings.

Every day that a factory must shut its doors, its owner loses $100,000 on average, according to Ken Loo, general secretary of the national garment industry’s trade association, Garment Manufacturers Association Cambodia.

He also doesn’t quite believe in the mass faintings.

“To begin with, the term ‘mass-faintings’ is imprecise.  It’s not 100 people fainting at once.  You have perhaps 100-150 people who become nauseated or feel unwell, and they are all sent to the hospital for treatment.  Then the reports say 150 faintings.”

Loo believes the faintings have only one thing in common.  “Low blood sugar,” he says.

“Of course there are cases where there has been inadequate ventilation or overheating, but these are the exception, not the rule. By and large the main cause has been poor health and low blood sugar.”

Don’t you have any responsibility as an industry?

“Of course it’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure decent working conditions, or at least make sure that they don’t cause the workers to faint.  So a decent temperature level and proper ventilation.  But if the workers don’t eat breakfast, and for one reason or another faint at 10:00 a.m., that’s not the employer’s fault.”

A fair amount of research suggests that they are in poorer health and have lower BMI than other Cambodians. What do you say to that?

“I don’t know anything about that.”

What about anaemia?

“Well, anaemia, I don’t know if it’s high compared to the rest of the population, but if you say you’ve seen research…”

I’m just wondering if there’s a connection here.

“Well, obviously there’s a connection, they’re skipping meals!”

The workers say they are not allowed to eat snacks during the day, because it can damage the fabrics…

“Not alone damage the fabrics, they’re supposed to be working!”

Yes, but if the reason they’re fainting is low blood sugar, perhaps an idea would be to allow them snacks and water?

“A number of these are cases of mass-acting.  If they see a government official, they faint.  But as soon as the official isn’t looking at them any more, they’re talking on their mobile phones again, full of energy.  It’s just an excuse for a day off for them.”

Loo continues, unprompted.

“Perhaps you would like us to comment on the unions’ accusations that workers are not paid enough to eat properly or to live in proper houses, but this is total nonsense.  They all have smartphones.  If I choose to use public transport or walk to work and live in a big house, I can’t claim that I don’t earn enough to own a BMW.  It is a life choice, and it’s the same for the workers.  They can’t say they don’t earn enough when they all have a smartphone.  You say that communication is a necessity? Fine. But you don’t need a smartphone.  And some of them take out loans to buy motorcycles.  If the banks give them a loan, then their household income must be at a certain level.  If you don’t eat properly, I’m sure you can get a loan from a micro financing institution.  So I won’t accept that assertion. It’s nonsense and stupid,” he says.

“We take faintings seriously”

Bestseller, Puma, Nike, VF and Asics confirm that the mass-faintings happened, and all brands have conducted an inquiry either right after the faintings or in relation to interview requests from the Guardian and Danwatch.

We have asked for specific interviews, but unfortunately this has not been possible according to the brands. Instead, they have answered our questions in writing.

All brands claim to be in compliance with ILO regulations, and that the worker environment at their factories is in compliance with their own policies on occupational health and safety.

At Asics, whose factory experienced 290 workers faint in November 2016, they state:

“Overall, fainting is a complex situation in Cambodia with multiple factors to consider. ASICS takes all cases involving its supplier base very seriously, as compliance with international safety and ethical working standards is of utmost importance to us”.

At Puma, whose supplier factory experienced 150 workers faint in March this year. Head of Communication Kerstin Neuber writes:

“We recognise that Cambodia presents unique challenges from a compliance perspective; we have never been confronted with this type of issue in the other countries, in which we source”.

At Nike, whose supplier factory experienced 28 workers faint in February this year, Communications Director Alex Smiddy, writes:

“We take the issue of fainting seriously, as it can be both a social response and an indication of issues. Therefore, we’ve continued to review the incident from February 2017 to more deeply understand the factory’s adherence to the Nike Code of Conduct and Code Leadership Standards”.

At VF, whose supplier factory experienced 20 workers faint in December this year and 21 workers faint in September 2016, Director for Public Relations, Vanessa McCutchen, writes:

“It is of absolute importance to VF that all workers in our supplier factories are operating in safe, healthy environments where human rights are respected. Our teams work hard to make certain that working conditions in our contract supplier factories, including temperature or working breaks, are followed per local laws and regulations”.

At Bestseller, whose supplier factory experienced 40 workers faint in February, Head of Communication, Jesper Stubkier writes:

“It is of course regrettable, and as described, we have addressed this specific incident. We are currently looking into how we can further address some of the issues, which are causing mass-faintings”.  

Mass faintings afflict the women who sew our clothes

A Danwatch investigation in cooperation with

There are no more english articles in this investigation.

]]>
The Hidden Cost of Vanilla: Child Labour and Debt Spirals https://danwatch.dk/en/undersoegelse/the-hidden-cost-of-vanilla-child-labour-and-debt-spirals/ Thu, 08 Dec 2016 10:27:01 +0000 http://danwatch.dk/undersoegelse/the-hidden-cost-of-vanilla-child-labour-and-debt-spirals/ Maersk scraps ships at dangerous shipyards in India https://danwatch.dk/en/maersk-scraps-ships-at-dangerous-shipyards-in-india/ https://danwatch.dk/en/maersk-scraps-ships-at-dangerous-shipyards-in-india/#respond Sat, 08 Oct 2016 13:02:14 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/maersk-scraps-ships-at-dangerous-shipyards-in-india/ 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.

Not a valid elementor page

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”

Not a valid elementor page

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.

Not a valid elementor page Not a valid elementor page ]]>
https://danwatch.dk/en/maersk-scraps-ships-at-dangerous-shipyards-in-india/feed/ 0
Brazilian coffee is sprayed with deadly pesticides https://danwatch.dk/en/brazilian-coffee-is-sprayed-with-deadly-pesticides/ https://danwatch.dk/en/brazilian-coffee-is-sprayed-with-deadly-pesticides/#respond Thu, 10 Mar 2016 14:19:41 +0000 https://danwatch.dk/?p=18950 Skin contact with the chemical known as terbufos can kill you. Symptoms of poisoning are involuntary muscle contractions, drooling, visual disorders, reduced coordination, dizziness, vomiting, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness. In the EU, it is illegal to use pesticides that contain terbufos because the chemical is so toxic. On Brazilian coffee plantations, however, it can be used to fight insects.

Half of all the coffee produced in Brazil comes from the state of Minas Gerais. In 2014, over 364,000 kg of pesticides containing terbufos were sold in the three regions of the state that are home to the most coffee plantations. Terbufos is just one of thirty active pesticide ingredients that are prohibited in the EU, but approved by Brazilian authorities for use on Brazilian coffee plantations. Tons of chemicals like aldicarb, fenpropathrin and carbuforan, which European authorities have determined to be too dangerous to workers and to the environment, were sold in 2014 in the three regions of Minas Gerais state where the majority of its coffee plantations are located.

Coffee worker Francisco Paulo Pereira applied pesticides on a Brazilian coffee plantation without protective equipment. Today he is extremely ill.

“These chemicals are outlawed in the EU because they are extremely toxic and can cause serious acute and long-term health problems”, says Erik Jørs, a senior consultant on the Clinic of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, who has spent many years studying the use of pesticides in developing countries.

“Many of the chemicals are neurotoxins that affect both insects and humans”, says Jørs, explaining that researchers suspect that the substances damage reproductive systems and cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms such as coordination problems and trembling hands.

Risk of cancer

The chemicals that are sprayed on Brazilian coffee are not only acutely toxic; some of them may also cause cancer. One of the most common herbicides used on Brazilian coffee plantations is glyphosate, which is sold under the brand name Roundup and used around the world as a weed killer.

In the three regions of Minas Gerais state where most of its coffee plantations are located, 1,800 tons plus 18,000,000 litres of glyphosate were sold in 2014. In March 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) changed its classification of glyphosate to “probably carcinogenic to humans”, in part because the chemical has been shown to cause cancer in research animals.

Glyphosate’s dangers include damage to DNA, according to Fabio Gomes, an expert working at the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA).

“Even in small doses, glyphosate can cause cancer twenty to thirty years later”, says Gomes.

The question of whether glyphosate causes cancer is still debated, and in November 2015, the European Food Safety Administration determined that the chemical is unlikely to damage DNA or to cause cancer in humans.

Applying pesticides without protection

Even though workers on Brazilian coffee plantations are handling toxic, disease-causing pesticides, they often apply them without or with insufficient protective equipment, according to experts, coffee workers, and union officials.

Several of the coffee workers encountered by Danwatch during the harvest described how they applied pesticides wearing their own clothes and without necessary protective equipment.

Coffee worker Elisabete Vitor da Costa describes how empty pesticide bottles are used to store food and drink.

Coffee worker Elisabete Vitor da Costa is helping to coordinate an awareness campaign about pesticides on coffee plantations in Minas Gerais. She lives in the city of Três Corações in southern Minas Gerais, in a neighbourhood that is home to many of the area’s coffee workers. She says that it is very rare that workers wear all the necessary protective gear when they are applying pesticides.

“There are about 700 coffee plantations in Três Corações and São Bento Abade. I have seen only one plantation where the workers wore protective equipment”, she says. Another problem, according to Costa, is that workers are not properly trained to use the pesticides before they are required to spray them on plants or soil.

Eduardo Garcia Garcia is a pesticide expert and researcher at the Brazilian research institute Fundacentro, which is affiliated with the Brazilian Ministry of Labour and Employment. According to him, there are plenty of laws in place that require workers to wear protective equipment when applying pesticides.

“The problem is a lack of compliance”, he says.

Handkerchiefs instead of masks

Proper protective equipment should primarily keep workers from inhaling the chemicals and from getting drops of it on their skin. Equipment regulations depend on the type of product being applied, how poisonous it is, and whether it is in powder or liquid form, as well as on the type of plant being sprayed (whether it is a tall or short plant, has many or few leaves, etc.). Pesticides are labelled with a description of the necessary protective equipment, but according to Garcia, these recommendations are very general and do not take the aforementioned considerations into account. Usually, the product labels recommend that workers should wear a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, hat, face mask, glasses and boots.

Not a valid elementor page

“The recommendations seldom take heat and the risk of dehydration into consideration. As a result, workers often fail to use all the equipment, and improvise instead”, says Garcia.

Rodrigo Carvalho Fernandes, an inspector from Instituto Mineiro de Agropecuária (IMA), the state agricultural institute in Minas Gerais, agrees. IMA carries out inspections related to the use of pesticides on coffee plantations.

“The workers often don’t want to use the safety equipment because it has a tendency to be uncomfortable and hot”, says Fernandes.

According to Eduardo Garcia Garcia from Fundacentro, it’s also a question of money. “Instead of using expensive gloves, they may use a plastic bag to cover their hand, or a handkerchief to cover their mouth and nose. This gives a false sense of security. The poison gets into the material. A handkerchief can actually do even more harm than good, since it spreads the poison around on the skin.”

Garcia thinks that it’s problematic to focus only on the responsibility of workers to use the correct protective equipment. Meanwhile, workers’ resistance to the equipment is not the only problem, if you ask the largest agricultural labour union in Minas Gerais, the Federação dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura do Estado de Minas Gerais (FETAEMG).

“Some plantations simply do not offer it”, says FETAEMG’s leader, Vilson Luiz da Silva.

Nothing protects 100 %

Even if the workers wear all the approved protective equipment, they cannot be sure they are safe.

“The problem is that no kind of safety equipment protects you 100 percent. The equipment reduces the impact of pesticides, but it does not eliminate it”, says Eduardo Garcia Garcia from Fundacentro.

“We don’t believe that protective equipment solves the problem”, says Fabio Gomes from the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA). He explains that when it comes to cancer risk, even small doses over a long period of time can be problematic.

Pesticide poisoning is widespread

The use of acutely toxic pesticides leads to pesticide poisonings and deaths in the coffee state of Minas Gerais. The latest numbers from Brazil’s national toxicological information system, Sistema Nacional de Informações Tóxico-Farmacológicas (Sinitox), record 21 deaths and 817 poisonings caused by agricultural pesticides in Minas Gerais in 2012.

According to Dr Jandira Maciel da Silva from INCA, an expert in pesticides and farm workers, the hidden numbers are considerable. “Many cases are never reported”, she says.

A survey of coffee workers taken in southern Minas Gerais in 2011 hints at the scope of the problem. Out of a group of 412 workers, 59 percent experienced at least one typical symptom of pesticide poisoning. The study was carried out by researchers from the Universidade Federal de Itajubá in Minas Gerais.

“Many coffee workers complain of dizziness and stomach pain”, says Jorge Ferreira dos Santos Filho of the organisation Articulação dos Empregados Rurais de Minas Gerais (Adere), which works to improve conditions for coffee workers. Santos has also noticed an increasing incidence of rash on workers’ arms.

Marluce Silva Braz describes how she got a severe rash when harvesting coffee

When she harvested coffee, the skin on Marluce Silva Braz’s hands began to burn and develop fluid-filled blisters that later turned into open sores.

Many of the other coffee workers in Braz’s neighbourhood in Três Corações in southern Minas Gerais have symptoms like dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing and stomach pain.

Sixty-three-year-old Goncalo de Sousa Barbosa, who for years applied pesticides without protective equipment, reports difficulty breathing and episodes of dizziness. Others who worked with pesticides have trouble walking and describe feeling like their feet are asleep.

According to Dr Jandira Maciel da Silva, pesticides have been linked to a wide range of other serious health problems.

“A pervasive problem among farm workers, including coffee workers, who are exposed to pesticides is the incidence of children with birth defects”, she says, adding that miscarriages, suicide and fertility problems also appear to be correlated with pesticide exposure.

Increased risk of cancer

When coffee workers experience symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning like dizziness, stomach pain, tremors, sweating and headache while they are applying pesticides, it is not very difficult to demonstrate a connection between the pesticides and the symptoms. It is much more challenging to do so when illness first arises days, months or years later.

“It is very difficult to prove causality between the use of pesticides and cancer, because cancer takes so many years to develop”, says Eduardo Garcia Garcia from Fundacentro.

Even though protective equipment is required by law, many workers apply pesticides on Brazilian coffee plantations without it. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.

Fabio Gomes from INCA describes similar difficulties when trying to measure the connection between cancer and pesticides. He says that the number of unreported cases is very high because it is rarely noted that a cancer patient has a risk factor like pesticide exposure.

“When you speak to health personnel in agricultural areas where the use of pesticides is increasing, they report that the incidence of cancer is also increasing. They see a connection, but it is very difficult to prove it in a scientific way”, he says.

In 2007 his colleague at INCA, Dr Jandira Maciel da Silva, was able to show a correlation between cancer and the pesticides that are used by agricultural workers in southern Minas Gerais. Her study showed that workers who had been exposed to pesticides that are used on coffee and other crops were four times more likely to develop lymphoma.

“The study showed a significant correlation between cancer and work on coffee plantations, mainly among those who applied pesticides, but also among temporary workers who picked coffee at the harvest,” says Silva.

Family members also at risk

Workers on coffee plantations are not the only ones who risk illness as a result of contact with pesticides. They may also expose their families to small amounts of the dangerous chemicals when they come home from work in the same clothing they wore while applying pesticides.

“New research has shown that workers who bring their equipment home to wash it expose women (in the home, ed.) to the poisons. A lack of awareness about these things is a serious and widespread problem”, says Garcia from Fundacentro.

“The workers often put their pesticide-contaminated work clothes in with the rest of their laundry. They just take a bath when they come back from their plantation work, and usually don’t take any other precautions”, says Dr Silva from INCA.

Drinking water from pesticide containers

Another problem is that empty pesticide bottles are sometimes used for other, dangerous purposes.

Before Jorge Ferreira dos Santos Filho became a coordinator and advocate for coffee workers with the organisation Adere, he was a coffee worker himself. Today he travels around to coffee plantations, reporting irregularities to the authorities.

“Often, workers will take a five-litre pesticide container down to the river to get drinking water”, he says.

Not a valid elementor page

Years ago, when he worked on coffee plantations, Jorge Ferreira dos Santos Filho also used to drink from empty pesticide bottles. He didn’t know that it could be dangerous.

Rodrigo Carvalho Fernandes, one of the agricultural inspectors from IMA in Minas Gerais, says that, earlier, empty pesticide containers were frequently used to store drinking water without being properly cleaned first.

“This issue has improved somewhat,” but irregularities still remain, he says.

According to coffee worker and pesticide-awareness campaigner Elisabete Vitor da Costa, it is still quite common for people to use empty pesticide bottles to store drinking water or milk.

Traces of dangerous pesticides in waterways

Ordinary people who live near coffee plantations also risk ingesting small doses of dangerous pesticides.  Once pesticides have been sprayed on plants, rain washes some of the chemicals into the earth and onwards into streams and rivers, where they pollute the environment.

In 2013, Alexandra Fátima Saraiva Soares, a Brazilian civil and sanitation engineer and PhD who studies pesticides and water contamination, published as part of a team of researchers an investigation into pesticide residues in waterways near coffee plantations in Manhuaçu, Minas Gerais. In their water samples, the researchers found traces of twenty-four different pesticides, including the acutely toxic substance terbufos, which is outlawed in the EU. Terbufos is used to kill insects. If the chemical is being rinsed into rivers and waterways, it will also kill insects and water-dwelling animals there.

The EU’s official classification says Terbufos is “very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects”.

According to Soares, water purification facilities are not able to remove pesticide residues, and she worries that they may pollute the drinking water in local homes.

“We do not know the health effects of exposure to low concentrations of pesticides over long periods of time”, she says.

Not a valid elementor page Not a valid elementor page ]]>
https://danwatch.dk/en/brazilian-coffee-is-sprayed-with-deadly-pesticides/feed/ 0