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Shipbreaking Petition

September 21, 2009  |  Share

G20 Leaders Talk
While Workers Are Injured, Maimed Cheated of their Wages and Killed

It Does Not Have to Be This Way!
Demand that G20 Leaders Protect Workers not just Bankers

Please take a few minutes to review and—if you agree—sign onto this letter to the G20 heads of state, demanding that our world leaders do something positive and concrete to protect some of the most vulnerable workers anywhere in the world.

In Bangladesh, 30,000 workers—many of them children just 10 to 13 years old—break apart huge decommissioned tanker ships, 650 to 1,000 feet long and 20 stories high, which are run up onto the beaches of Bangladesh.  The shipbreakers are forced to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for wages of just 22 to 32 cents an hour, doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  Workers are injured and maimed every day, and on average a worker is killed every three weeks.  Worker lack even the most minimal safety protections.  Child workers use hammers to break apart asbestos—there is an average of 15,000 pounds of asbestos on each ship—which they carry out and dump on the beach.  On Saturday, September 5, two workers were burned to death and three were critically injured when a gas tank on a South Korean ship they were dismantling exploded.

The workers live in miserable hovels not fit for animals.

The shipbreaking workers told us:  "We are fighting with death always.  This is not work.  This is a place of punishment and death."  They also confirmed that there has not been a single improvement in the shipbreaking yards in the last 30 years!

This is not acceptable, and it is time to draw a line in the sand.  We must hold the G20 leaders and World Trade Organization accountable to take concrete steps to end the torture of these workers.

If we do not start speaking out to protect the rights of our brothers and sisters in the developing world, our turn will come soon enough.

Please sign this petition and send it to your friends and contacts.  There is nothing abstract about this.  We can clean up the global economy one campaign at a time.

Your email letter will be directed to this year's chair of the G20, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, with a copy to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Thanks for your solidarity!

Full text of the Petition is Below.  Click Here to go to the signing page

* See full report, "Where Ships and Workers Go to Die: Shipbreaking in Bangladesh and the Failure of Global Institutions to Protect Worker Rights

* See new NLC video, "Where Ships & Workers Go to Die"

Please Act Now! 

Sign-on Letter to G-20 Heads of State
Demanding They Protect the Rights of Workers and not just Bankers

September 2009

Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, President G20
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA    United Kingdom

CC: President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. Brown:

As you know, the world is a desperate place for the poor, and as that desperation grows, more workers are fighting to keep jobs they know will kill them.  With no alternatives, these workers have no choice.  Their families must survive.  Despite the enormous dangers and exploitation they face every day, the Bangladeshi workers do not want their shipbreaking yards to shut down.   What they seek are modest, concrete improvements to guarantee that the shipyard owners finally comply with Bangladesh's labor law and with internationally recognized worker rights standards.

One Fact:  For 30 years, 30,000 workers in Bangladesh's shipbreaking yards have been trapped in danger and misery.

Second Fact:  The global institutions and bureaucracies that oversee the global economy are miserably failing workers across the developing world.  The G-20 countries (and the G-7 before that), the World Trade Organization, the United Nations' International Maritime Organization and International Labor Organization have all failed to produce a single improvement over the last 30 years in the lives of Bangladesh's 30,000 shipbreakers.  What a track record!

It does not have to be this way:

In truth, if the rights—including worker rights—of the human being were afforded similar legal protections as are currently granted to corporate products and trademarks, it would not be so difficult to improve conditions.

What the G20 should do—a common sense approach that can immediately save lives and restore respect for fundamental human and worker rights:

1. The G20 leaders should empower the International Labor Organization to work in partnership with Bangladesh's Ministry of Labor and with local nongovernmental human and labor rights organizations—including providing sufficient funding when necessary—to bring the Ministry of Labor up to par so that it can effectively enforce Bangladesh's labor laws.  (Up to this poin t, both the Bangladesh Ministry of Labor and the International Labor Organization have been completely ineffective.)

2. Child Labor: Child workers 10, 11, 12 and 13 years of age employed in Bangladesh's shipbreaking yards should be returned to school where they belong.  It would cost less than $750 a year to do this—including a stipend to replace their wages and to cover all school costs.  Child and teenage workers 14, 15, 16 and 17 years old should be relocated out of the shipbreaking yards and into less dangerous jobs in accordance with ILO convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor.

3. Establish the rule of law in Bangladesh's shipbreaking yards:  Bangladesh's labor laws are modest and clear:

  • A legal eight-hour day, six days a week, for a regular 48-hour workweek.
  • All overtime must be voluntary and paid at a 100 percent premium.
  • Workers must receive one day off each week.
  • Paid sick days, national holidays and vacations must be respected.
  • Workers must be provided appointment cards, proving they are permanent, full-time workers at a particular shipyard.
  • Workers have the right to organize independent unions and to bargain collectively.
    The workers have two further dreams—to earn 60 cents an hour and to have health insurance for work-related injuries, just as Bangladesh's government workers have.

4. Implementing basic safety provisions:  It would cost almost nothing to provide workers with basic safety trainings.  Also, showers and clean water should be made available in the shipyards so workers can wash in case they are exposed to toxins and at the end of every shift.

For less than $350, workers could be outfitted with hardhats, welders' gloves, welding vests and protective visors, safety belts, steel toe boots and respiratory masks and clean filters if they are working around asbestos, lead or other toxic dust.

5. The ten countries—many G20 members—and ten shipping companies that dominate global merchant cargo trade must guarantee that all toxic waste will be removed before ships are sent to Bangladesh—or India, Pakistan, China or Turkey—for scrapping.



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