21 February 2011

Presentation - Poverty, Power and Potential: Social Implications of Shipbreaking in Bangladesh

A Brief Introduction to Shipbreaking

• Shipbreaking is the process of breaking up end-of-life ships for scrap
• Until about 25 years ago it mostly took place in developed countries but increased regulation and rising costs associated with its implementation have resulted in the industry being exported to developing countries
• About 600 – 700 large vessels are sent to Asia annually for scrapping
• The industry is associated with controversy and contradictions

Introduction to the Research:

Aim: To explore the dynamics in the industry and their (positive and negative) social implications for different groups

Why Bangladesh?
• Share in global market increased from 13% in 2003, to 40% in 2004 and possibly up to 80% in 2007
• Lowest standards and large numbers of people affected
• Demand for shipbreaking services is likely to increase
• Very limited research base so little is known about the social implications

Shipbreaking and Development in Bangladesh:

Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest nations (Between 1990 and 2004 an estimated 36% of the population lived on less than $1 a day and 82.8% on less than $2 a day)
• Chronic poverty and unemployment in rural areas is resulting in migration of young males with minimal or no formal education to urban areas
• Shipbreaking provides employment for 20,000 -100,000 directly and 400,000 - 500,000 indirectly
• Shipbreaking satisfies 80% of Bangladesh’s demand for steel, conserving natural resources, promoting reuse and recycling and generating revenue and investment capital.

Some key areas explored:

• Issues around migration and relationships
• Working and living conditions of shipbreaking yard workers
• Health and safety and wellbeing
• Social implications of environmental changes attributed to shipbreaking
• Implications for different sub-groups,

Research Methods and Challenges:

Research Methods:
Literature review, in-depth semi-structured interviews, interviews with key informants, focus groups, informal conversations, participant observation, and photo exercise.

Language and communication, time constraints and limited local knowledge, sensitivities and access, control of interview/focus group environment, availability and reliability of data, positionality.

Migration and its Social Implications:

• 67% to 95% of workers are migrants
• Implications for the migrant, the host community and place of origin
• Migration can improve economic circumstances but can be associated with physical and social insecurity, discrimination, poor living and working conditions, feelings of alienation, etc.

Social Impacts of Migration in the Shipbreaking Area (Include increased rental, business and employment opportunities, wealth creation for some, distorted sex ratio, increased pressure on resources)
Social Impacts of Migration in the Rural Areas (Include unemployment relief, remittances, freeing land up for tenancy, increased financial security and poverty reduction, changes in social structure)
Differences within the worker population (origin, roles, hierarchies, etc)
Relationships between workers and local residents

Working and Living Conditions
• Earn Tk. 70 (50p) to Tk. 144 (£1.04) for an 8-hour day
• Average 10-12 hour shifts, 7 days a week, with a half day on Fridays
• Paid on hourly basis, ‘no work, no pay’, late payment in some yards
• No contracts, job security or union support (plus claims of non-registration and use of false names on registers to avoid potential compensation responsibilities)
• Polluted work environment, hard physical labour and risk
• Lack of drinking water and latrines in some yards
• Very basic living conditions

Hazards in Shipbreaking:

Hazardous Substances and Wastes (asbestos, dioxins, heavy metals, PCBs, chromates, etc)
Physical Hazards (noise, vibration, radiation, extreme temperature, etc)
Mechanical Hazards (structural failure in ships, power-driven tools, etc)
Biological Hazards (raw sewage, risk of communicable diseases, etc)
Ergonomic and Psychosocial Hazards (excessive workload, repetitive strain injuries, stress, etc)
General Concerns and Frequent Causes of Accidents (explosions, falling objects, poor illumination, lack of protective equipment, lack of inspection, lack of training, inadequate emergency services, poor worker organization, inadequate housing, sanitation and amenities, etc)

Health Problems among Shipyard Workers:

A 2004 survey of 216 workers concluded that 88% had experienced accidents and that 94% suffered from health problems, especially musculoskeletal disorders (87%), gastrointestinal tract disorders (81%), eye problems (72%), skin diseases (56%) and respiratory tract diseases (52%) (Roy, 2004).

During my research the following were also commonly reported:
Loss of appetite and weight loss, headaches and nausea after work.

• Nutritional status: Poor to average
• Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and other STIs: Vulnerable
• Potential wider social Implications of health and safety issues (including issues around compensation)

Social implications of environmental changes attributed to shipbreaking:

Changes in seawater quality (Contamination of edible crabs with heavy metals recorded, skin irritations reported, decrease in quantities and varieties of fish reported by fisher folks, who have to fish further out to sea, increasing fuel costs and vulnerability to storms and piracy, etc)
Changes in air quality (Respiratory problems and eye irritations reported, risk of airborne asbestos fibres, etc)
Introduction of artificial lighting for night work (Affects movement patterns of some species of fish, adversely affecting fisherfolk)
Changes in noise and vibration (Disturbance, hearing damage, etc)
Aesthetic changes (Complaints by local residents of aesthetic decline)
Clearance of mangroves and planted trees (Land clearance for yard creation increases vulnerability to cyclones, storm surges, etc)


• Environmental benefits (reuse, recycling, resource conservation) but serious pollution
• Social and economic benefits (generation of employment and revenue, etc) but different implications for different groups and uneven distribution of costs and benefits.
• All workers suffer but migrants do most hazardous work and lack entitlements and justice - compounded by poverty, illiteracy, lack of local support network, language barriers, lack of alternatives, etc
• Fishing communities have generally been very disadvantaged
• Simultaneous reduction and exacerbation of vulnerability – vulnerability to hunger is replaced by vulnerability to a new set of hazards and risks.

Concluding Remarks:

• In a context of widespread and extreme poverty, concern about pollution is not a high priority and environmental justice and environmental health are sacrificed in the pursuit of development and material security.
• Production costs are effectively shifted from financial to environmental and social – often borne by the most vulnerable
• “‘Sustainability’ within one jurisdiction is being achieved by exporting risk and hazard elsewhere” (Adams, 2001, p. 288)
• The industry in Bangladesh is not only a product of activities at the local and national level but also of political and economic processes occurring internationally

The Challenge:
How can the industry’s important positive contribution to the development be harnessed and its negative impacts reduced, without rendering it financially non-viable?

Source: Hannah Schellander. hannah.schellander@defra.gsi.gov.uk
7 January 2009

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