Anyone writing about a disaster has to be extremely cautious to avoid being insensitive and arrogant and so it is with extreme humility and sympathy for the suffering of those affected by the combined earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan that I venture the following thoughts. In fact, it is out of respect for the Japanese people that I raise the issue of human rights and the social responsibility of companies operating nuclear power stations.
Right now a few hundred of the bravest people on the planet are trying to prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power station. They are being exposed to extremely dangerous levels of radiation and their rights at work have had to be sacrificed to save hundreds of thousands of people from harm. At the same time the policy makers and company directors who took the decisions that made the disaster possible insist that they could never have foreseen such a series of events. Or could they? Did they plan for the worst-case scenario or did they take calculated risks based on some mathematical model and cost-benefit analyses? Most importantly for the future, will they learn the lessons of this disaster and will they be held accountable for any negligence?
Read Auret’s full article here.
On March 25, 1911, a fire engulfed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City, claiming the lives of 146 workers – mostly immigrant women. One hundred years later, the safety of workers in many factories around the world is still at risk.
A recent report on The World examines the impact of the tragedy on labor in the U.S. and abroad. From the article:
Garment jobs have been shifting to lower-cost operations in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Asia for decades, as have dangerous working conditions. “Effectively what we have done is exported our sweatshops and exported our factory fires,” said Robert Ross at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. And it’s as if the 1911 conditions had been lifted up by an evil hand and dropped into Bangladesh.”
According to the Bangladeshi government’s Fire Service and Civil Defense Department, 414 garment workers were killed in at least 213 factory fires between the years 2006 and 2009. Last year, 191 people were killed in Bangladesh in a reported 20 incidents, according to Ross’ research. Last December, a fire killed at least 25 people in a garment factory there.
“And the pattern is disturbingly uniform,” said Ross. “The shops are often in high rise buildings, just like the Triangle. The pattern is that an electrical fire starts, and then without adequate, or any fire escapes, without sprinkler systems, the workers surge to get out. And in factory after factory, the newspapers report locked gates and locked doors. It’s a horrific duplication of what we earlier experienced.”
The question is: Why does this keep happening? Labor laws exist, both international and country-specific rules. But HeeWon Brindle-Khym, with the Fair Labor Association in New York City, said laws are often ignored in places like Bangladesh and China.
“It’s cheaper for many factory owners to not abide by the law because it costs them money,” said Brindle-Khym. “In terms of the enforcement of the law, there’s just aren’t enough inspectors to go to each and every factory in China to ensure that labor rights are being enforced.”