European firms complicit in exploitative, polluting shipbreaking in Bangladesh, HRW says

Dhaka, Sep 28 (EFE).- Nonprofit Human Rights Watch alleged on Thursday that European shipping firms were violating security norms by knowingly sending their end-of-life ships to dangerous and polluting scrapping yards in Bangladesh that lack environment protection norms and violate workers’ rights.

In a joint report with the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, HRW alleged that many companies exploit loopholes in international regulations to dump toxic waste on the coasts of the South Asian nation, where scrapping yard workers are denied basic necessities such as living wages, breaks or compensation in case of injuries.

“Companies scrapping ships in Bangladesh’s dangerous and polluting yards are making a profit at the expense of Bangladeshi lives and the environment,” Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Since 2020, around 20,000 Bangladeshi workers have taken apart more than 520 ships, amounting to more tonnage than in any other country, according to the report, titled “Trading Lives for Profit: How the Shipping Industry Circumvents Regulations to Scrap Toxic Ships on Bangladesh’s Beaches.”

During this time, these workers were not provided with adequate protective equipment, training, or tools to safely do their jobs, the report said after talking to 45 ship scrapping employees and their families.

The laborers said they were forced to use socks as gloves to avoid burning their hands as they cut molten steel and resorted to wrapping shirts around their mouths to prevent the inhalation of toxic fumes, apart from being forced to physically carry chunks of steel.

HRW and Shipbreaking Platform said that around 13 percent of the workforce in the industry is made up of minors, a figure that rises to 20 percent in the illegal night shifts.

The document said that in order to circumvent international norms, the companies use a “flag of convenience” from another country, as “ships sailing under an EU flag are required to recycle their ships in an EU-approved facility, none of which are in Bangladesh.”

The terrible working conditions have evoked strong criticism by activists, who have accused developed nations of using Bangladesh as a dumping yard and violating sustainable recycling laws.

“The developed world considers us dumping grounds. Europe, the US, Australia, and Japan, everyone knows their ships are coming to our country. They know that the ships are being scrapped in Bangladesh, they could never do this in their country,” Syeda Rizwana Hasan, the chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, told EFE.

However, Abu Taher, president of the Bangladesh Ship Breakers and Recyclers Association, denied any hazardous working conditions within the industry or practices such as child labor in the country’s shipbreaking yards.

“Shipbreaking in Bangladesh has now become much better. No European ship comes to us; it is very rare,” he insisted.

When asked for comment, a European Commission representative said that the authorities were working to ensure compliance with EU regulation and adopting laws that require criminal sanctions for illegal ship recycling in non-EU listed facilities.

End-of-life ships are considered toxic waste under the Basel Convention because they are full of toxic materials, including asbestos, which is used for insulation.

A 2010 World Bank study projected that between 2010 and 2030 Bangladesh would import 79,000 tons of asbestos, 240,000 tons of cables containing Polychlorinated Biphenyls, and nearly 70,000 tons of toxic paints via end-of-life ships. EFE


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