In October, the PHP Family (Peace Happiness and Prosperity) shipbreaking yard received a Statement of Compliance with the Hong Kong Convention by the Italian classification society RINA. Trade unions in Bangladesh, as well as the Platform’s member Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies (BILS), are concerned that such a labelling sets a dangerous precedent for the further green-washing of the Chittagong beaching yards. Workers and the environment are not protected as long as ships are broken on the beach, and as long as fundamental labour rights and proper infrastructure are not secured.
PHP is run by a renowned business family in Chittagong, who also runs activities in the steel re-rolling and construction industries, and owns TV channels. Trade unions made a formal request to represent the workers at the PHP yard, but the management has systematically rejected the workers’ right to freedom of association, and employees that have strongly engaged in demanding respect of workers’ rights have even been fired. Any worker association or NGO which does not praise PHP is received with hostility and is not even allowed to visit the yard. As reported yesterday by the Platform, accidents at the PHP shipbreaking yard continue to happen.
“It is shocking that a company that rejects legitimate trade union activities can be stamped as operating in line with international laws. The Hong Kong Convention clearly fails in setting standards that will protect workers”, says Nazim Uddin, local trade union leader and Bangladesh representative at IndustriALL.
Despite some investments in the PHP yard to concrete parts of the upper beach, the severe deficiencies in infrastructure for the containment of toxics renders any statement of compliance with pollution prevention standards ludicrous. When vessels are cut in the intertidal zone, toxics are inevitably released in the sea. The entire Chittagong area is heavily polluted, and there is no means for any beaching yard to handle and dispose hazardous waste, such as oil residues, heavy metals and asbestos, in a safe and environmentally sound manner. The Hong Kong Convention’s ship recycling requirements stop at the gate of the yard, therefore the fact that Bangladesh still has no waste treatment facility for general waste, let alone for the toxic materials coming from ships, is completely overlooked by the Convention. Statements of Compliance with the Hong Kong Convention are clearly no guarantee that the environment and workers are protected from the many risks connected to the heavy and hazardous industry of ship recycling.
“That a beaching yard in Chittagong is able to comply with the Hong Kong Convention tells us a lot about the extremely low standard set by the International Maritime Organization,” said Ingvild Jenssen, Director and Founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “Any ship owner looking for a safe and clean location for the recycling of their ship will be wise to disregard the very misleading Statements of Compliance with the Hong Kong Convention, and instead consult the upcoming EU List of approved ship recycling facilities”, she adds.
IMAGE: An aerial view of the PHP shipbreaking yard – 2017 – © Google Earth