The Dark Reality of Bangladesh’s Ship-Breaking Industry
In Bangladesh, the ship-breaking industry is a grim testament to the exploitation of workers and the disregard for safety regulations. Despite global pledges to uphold worker rights, corporations exploit the lax regulatory environment of Bangladesh. This is particularly evident in the hazardous ship-breaking industry, where safety measures are often ignored, and workers are exposed to life-threatening conditions.
Last year, out of the 446 ships scrapped worldwide, 170 ended up on the shores of Chattogram, Bangladesh. Shockingly, 159 of these ships were built before 2002 when the use of asbestos, a cancer-causing material, was banned. This raises serious concerns about the health risks faced by workers who may have unknowingly been exposed to this hazardous substance.
A report revealed that none of the ships dismantled in Bangladesh displayed the flag of the country where their owning company is based, effectively concealing the identities of the owners. What’s alarming is that some of these ships originated from countries like Greece and Japan, which are bound by international regulations. The process involves cash buyers from countries like St Kitts and Nevis, Comoros, and Palau purchasing these ships and offering a “last voyage” package before sending them to Bangladesh for dismantling. This coordinated evasion of regulations is deeply troubling.
However, we must also acknowledge Bangladesh’s failures in regulating the ship-breaking industry. The absence of effective regulations and oversight has contributed to the industry’s boom. Experts and activists have long voiced concerns about the safety of workers in shipyards, where accidents and fatalities are tragically common. Since 2009, 447 workers have lost their lives in these yards, and many suffer from asbestosis, a chronic lung condition. Additionally, the lack of safety gear has resulted in fatal falls, while the environmental impact of ship-breaking continues to damage ecosystems as hazardous chemicals seep into water and soil.
Despite these grim realities, shipyard owners have actively lobbied to reduce regulations. Last year, the Bangladesh Ship Breakers and Recyclers Association pressured the government to eliminate the requirement for environmental impact assessments, a move that undermines environmental protection efforts. While the industry significantly contributes to Bangladesh’s economy, its current practices cannot be condoned. To ensure sustainability, the industry must adhere to international regulations, prioritize safety standards, and combat the practice of obscuring information about ships’ origins.
Furthermore, it’s essential to assess the economic output of the sector. Despite being a major contributor to the economy, the steel re-rolling industry, which relies on ship-breaking for steel, only receives 10 percent of its supply from this source. This raises questions about the industry’s overall economic impact and whether it justifies the human and environmental costs.
Above all, we must prioritize the safety and well-being of workers. No one should have to risk their life for a livelihood. The ship-breaking industry must undergo significant reforms to protect workers and mitigate environmental damage. It’s time to address the systemic issues that perpetuate exploitation and endanger lives in the pursuit of profit.
A concerning fact is that none of the dismantled ships displayed the flag of their company’s home country, concealing the owners’ identities. Some of these ships come from countries like Greece and Japan, which are supposed to adhere to international regulations. The tactic involves cash-buyers from countries like St Kitts and Nevis, Comoros, and Palau purchasing the ships, offering a “last voyage” package, and sending them to Bangladesh for dismantling. This evasion of pledges and regulations is deeply troubling.
However, Bangladesh cannot escape responsibility for its own shortcomings in regulating the ship-breaking industry. The absence of regulations and oversight has contributed to the industry’s booming growth. Experts and activists have long voiced concerns about the safety of workers in shipyards, where injuries and fatalities are common occurrences. Since 2009, 447 workers have lost their lives in these yards, and studies have shown that up to a third of workers suffer from asbestosis, a chronic lung condition. Lack of safety gear has led to fatal falls, and the industry’s operations have also caused environmental damage as hazardous chemicals contaminate water and soil.