Comprehensive action to end child labour in agriculture must include banning extremely hazardous pesticides and ratifying ILO Convention No.184

Comprehensive action to end child labour in agriculture must include banning extremely hazardous pesticides and ratifying ILO Convention No.184

The recent FAO report, Accelerating action to help to end child labour in agriculture in Asia, addresses a range of critical issues requiring coherent, multi-sectoral policy action. Among these actions is the need to reduce the risks associated with hazardous pesticides. The exposure of children to pesticides is one of several hazardous conditions in agricultural work. Hazardous work is a key determinant in defining child labour. Child labour refers to work that: is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and interferes with their schooling.

As such, extreme hazards are associated with extreme forms of child labour. The Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, 1999 (No. 190) refers in its definition of hazardous work to:

3. (d) work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health;

Clearly toxic pesticides are among the hazardous substances that children are exposed to on farms and plantations. The ILO Code of Practice on safety and health in agriculture states that:

Children are considered to be at particularly high risk from pesticides. Their small size, rapid development, under-developed metabolism, diet and behaviour mean that smaller doses of toxins have a greater impact than in adults. Developmental effects can include disturbance of the nervous system, endocrine disruption and carcinogenity. Children can be exposed if they are present in the agricultural workplace, if their family members return home with pesticides on their clothing and skin, or if the family vehicle becomes contaminated. Special care must be taken to keep children away from pesticides, whether in concentrated or dilute form, and their containers, and to ensure that such chemicals are not brought into the home according to label recommendations.

It is in this context that an integrated approach to ending child labour in agriculture must incorporate both the reduction of pesticide use and the improved protection of the health and safety of agricultural workers. A key part of this approach is to ban the use of extremely hazardous pesticides such as paraquat and glyphosate (which cannot be used safely) and to reduce and restrict pesticide use according to the specific risks they pose to workers’ health and the environment.

In this regard the Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention, 2001 (No. 184) and the Code of Practice on safety and health in agriculture provide an important basis for policy and practice at national and local level. Yet in the Asia-Pacific region only one country – Fiji – has ratified Convention No.184. This must be urgently rectified. More governments in the Asia-Pacific region should ratify Convention No.184 as part of an integrated and more comprehensive strategy to end child labour in agriculture, as well ensuring that the agricultural work undertaken by adult workers that is so vital to rural development and food security is based on the right to safe, sustainable work.

The banning of extremely harmful pesticides such as paraquat and glyphosate and the effective protection of occupational safety, health and the environment (OSH&E) in agriculture are important preconditions for creating a safe environment for all agricultural workers. By reducing exposure to hazardous work, there is a possibility of safe, light work in agriculture that can be undertaken by children – as long as this work does not cause harm or interfere in children’s schooling. This of course must occur in a context where comprehensive policy action is taken to address the drivers of child labour.

Please read: eliminating child labour in agriculture needs guaranteed living wages, fair crop prices and freedom from debt – IUF Asia-Pacific

Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee calls for Hashem Foods fire tragedy and child labour to be incorporated into ILO Road Map

Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee calls for Hashem Foods fire tragedy and child labour to be incorporated into ILO Road Map

At a press conference on 16 August, the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee welcomed the findings of the report of investigation committee formed by the Narayanganj district commissioner office into the fire tragedy at Hashem Foods factory. The investigation report confirmed what the Justice Committee has found in its own investigation. Workers were killed due to the systematic violations of laws and regulations and the criminal negligence of the company. This included the violation of laws concerning the exploitation of child labour, precarious employment, and unsafe working conditions.

The Justice Committee said it is now clear what happened at Sajeeb Group’s factory on 8 July, 2021. Now we need to know;

  • why child labour was employed in the factory;
  • why there were abusive precarious employment practices;
  • why the responsible Government authorities failed to ensure a safe working environment and decent work at the Hashem Foods factory;
  • why management could violate the rules and regulations of various government agencies with impunity;
  • why management could simply ignore the fire safety plan of the Fire Service and Civil Defense Department (given to the company in October 2020).

The Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee said these questions must be answered since the Government already committed to implementing the ILO Road Map adopted on 10 June 2021, at the International Labour Conference. They also urged Government to form a tripartite monitoring committee to implement the ILO Road Map. The Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee is comprised of eight unions of food and agricultural workers and workers and family members of the victims of the Hashem Foods fire tragedy.

Translation of the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee Press Release [16 August 2021]

Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee asks Govt. to continue investigation regarding workers’ rights violation and hazardous working situation at Sajeeb Group’s factories including implementation of ILO road map.

At a press conference organized by Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee at the National Press Club, Dhaka on Monday, August 16, 2021, it was demanded to implement ILO roadmap including further investigation into the violation of workers’ rights and distinguish hazardous working condition at Sajeeb Group’s factory in Narayanganj. Member Secretary of Sajeeb   Group Workers Justice Committee Golam Sorowor read out a written statement at the press conference chaired by Abdul Mazid, Convenor of Sajeeb   Group Workers Justice Committee.

The Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee welcomed the findings of the report of investigation committee formed by the Narayanganj district commissioner office into the fire tragedy at Hashem Foods factory. The investigation report has confirmed  what the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee found in its own investigation. The workers were killed due to the systematic violations of laws and regulations and the criminal negligence of the company. This included violation of laws concerning the exploitation of child labour, precarious employment, and unsafe working conditions.

The Justice Committee said it is now clear what happened at Sajeeb Group’s factory on 8 July, 2021. Now we need to know why child labour was employed in the factory, why there was abusive precarious employment, why the responsible Government authorities failed to ensure a safe working environment and decent work at the Hashem Foods factory, why the management could violate the rules and regulations of various government agencies with impunity, and why the management could simply ignore the fire safety plan of the Fire Service and Civil Defense Department given in October 2020.

The Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee said these issues are vital and need to be addressed to ensure workers’ rights and safety at work. These questions must be answered since the Government already committed to implementing the ILO Road Map adopted on 10 June 2021, at the International Labour Conference. They also urged Government to form a tripartite monitoring committee to implement the ILO Road Map.

The Justice Committee also called for further investigation into the missing workers still unaccounted for.

Regarding compensation, the Justice Committee demands to provide compensation to the deceased and injured workers and their families in accordance with ILO Convention No.121 and in addition to provide fair compensation to the victims, all of the workers working at Hashem Foods should be given their wage arrears, unpaid overtime and lost wages. (Note: Unpaid overtime and wage arrears were the reason for a mass protest action one week before the tragedy.)

The Justice Committee supports the recommendation of inquiry committee to provide a job to an eligible member of each deceased family in another factory of Sajeeb Group another factory. However, they repeated their call that before the employment of the family member of the dead workers in other factories under Sajeeb Group, the government must immediately conduct an investigation into the hazardous working conditions, workers occupational health and safety measure in all the factories of Sajeeb Group. They said first it needs to ensure safety and workers’ right and no workers should be employed in another unsafe factory.

Among others, the members of Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee representing eight unions of food and agricultural workers and workers and family members of the victims of the Hashem Foods fire tragedy were present at the press conference.

Lotte Kolson profited from child labour in the Hashem Foods tragedy

Lotte Kolson profited from child labour in the Hashem Foods tragedy

Along with Idilia Foods’ Nocilla chocolate hazelnut spread and Shezan International’s Shezan juices, the Kolson pasta products of Lotte Kolson were manufactured at the Hashem Foods factory where a tragic fire killed dozens of workers on 8 July and dozens more suffered serious injuries.

Despite the systematic exploitation of child labour at Hashem Foods factory for a number of years and multiple violations of labour laws and fire safety regulations, Lotte Kolson failed to conduct any form of auditing or due diligence that would reveal these abuses. In fact both Kolson in Pakistan and Lotte in Korea have a history of aggressive trade union rights violations and preventing workers from forming unions. The abusive conditions at Hashem Foods certainly fit their business model.

Lotte Kolson is a Pakistan-based food company wholly owned by Lotte Corporation headquartered in Korea. Lotte acquired Kolson in 2010 and renamed it Lotte Kolson.

 

 

Sajeeb Group decides a worker’s life is worth $2,317. Families of victims must give up any further compensation claims.

Sajeeb Group decides a worker’s life is worth $2,317. Families of victims must give up any further compensation claims.

From 16 to 18 July 2021, management of Sajeeb Group summoned 24 relatives of workers who died in the fire to give them compensation of BDT 200,000 [EUR 1,962 ; USD 2,317] for each worker who died. This included the under-aged workers, some as young as 11 years old.

The husband and son of Nazma who died in the factory fire on 8 July. Nazmul, 13, also worked in the factory. He had already finished his shift and left the factory when the fire broke out.

To receive a cheque for BDT 200,000 the relatives were instructed to sign a “receipt”. The receipt was in fact a legal disclaimer for any further liability, denying any future compensation claims by the family. The majority of those signing could not read the document and no one was permitted to keep a copy.

A trade union volunteer from the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee delivers rice to the home of a victim’s family.

By taking advantage of the emotional distress and the extreme economic hardship of the families of the victims, Sajeeb Group forced them to give up the right to any further financial claims or compensation. This is before any official investigation has been concluded, and before any independent public inquiry has been held.

The  company now claims that the document signed by desperate family members is legally binding. This is despite the fact that Sajeeb Group is under investigation for several violations of the law under three separate investigations. The owner and senior management face criminal charges including homicide. Yet Sajeeb Group reasserts the “receipt” is a valid legal document and that if the families try to claim any more compensation they will be prosecuted.

The Sajeeb Group Workers’ Justice Committee denounced this action by the company as immoral and illegal. Compensation must be determined as part of a comprehensive investigation into what happened and why. This requires an independent public inquiry. The independent public inquiry will refer to a number of measures, including International Labour Convention No. 121 on Employment Injury Benefits, as a basis for determining compensation. It cannot simply be the decision of Sajeeb Group that the life of a worker is worth USD 2,317.

Spanish confectionery brand Nocilla identified in Hashem Foods factory fire

Spanish confectionery brand Nocilla identified in Hashem Foods factory fire

Workers identified the hazelnut and chocolate spread manufactured under the brand name Nocilla for Spanish company Idilia Foods as one of the main food products made on the third floor of the Hashem Foods factory. Early reports suggest that a pipeline carrying edible oil from one floor to another exploded.

According to a news report on 9 July, fire fighters said  that: “Edible oil used as raw material to make a chocolate and hazelnut spread fuelled the fire at Hashem Foods Ltd factory that kept burning for around 24 hours.” The report identified the edible oil as a Nocilla ingredient.

Hashem Foods management ignored warning notices on fire safety and child labour a month before the tragic fire that killed an unknown number of workers, including children as young as 11 years old.

Hashem Foods ignored warnings on fire safety and child labour. The authorities did nothing.

Hashem Foods ignored warnings on fire safety and child labour. The authorities did nothing.

Months before the tragic fire at Hashem Foods factory, management ignored notices issued by the fire services department concerning the lack of fire safety and in particular the lack of fire-fighting equipment. At that time the inspectors saw there was child labour in the factory.

When inspectors from the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) visited the factory on June 8, 2021, to inspect health and safety conditions, they also observed child labour blatantly exploited in the factory. DIFE then issued a notice to the factory management regarding the employment of child labour in violation of the law. Hashem Foods management and its parent company Sajeeb Group simply ignored these notices and no action was taken by any of the government authorities.

A week later the fire broke out in the factory fueled by highly flammable chemicals and plastic packaging stored on the second floor, while doors and exits on the third floor were blocked. An unknown number of workers – including children – died or were seriously injured. Three of the children who jumped from the third floor are hospitalized in critical condition.

Although the official death toll is 52, it should be noted that this was announced on the morning of Friday July 9 before the fire was extinguished and a full day before fire fighters could access the fourth and fifth floors.

Just one week before the tragic fire at Hashem Foods factory workers held a protest action over unpaid wages and unpaid overtime. The Daily Inqilab interviewed protesting workers on July 1, 2021, who said, “the higher authorities of the factory threatened to beat and dismiss the workers if they talked about overtime, arrears of salary and salary increase.” 

Companies with business relationships with Hashem Foods, including Shezan International and Kolson Lotte in Pakistan, Idilia Foods from Spain and US-based Mondelez International, clearly failed in their human rights due diligence. Despite requests by IUF-affiliated trade unions to discuss this tragedy and their responsibility, they have refused to respond.