MNCs and Ports

Published in Dawn on July 3, 2019.

IN this age of globalisation, multinational corporations hold a vital place in the world’s port industry as 80 per cent of the global trade is handled by maritime transportation. Ports the world over are now increasingly being developed and operated by the MNCs for container terminal services in an environment of deregulation. With the privatisation of ports and globalisation of trade, a race to the bottom has come about in labour standards for workers.

So the union busting by the South Asia Port Terminal, Karachi, a subsidiary of the Hutchison Ports, is business as usual. Through the internet, the SAPT Democratic Workers’ Union does have supporters in the world hence the news of sacking of the union members four weeks ago was circulated and a signature campaign ‘Reinstate the Karachi 8’ was launched by the LabourStart, a global network of over 700 volunteers who devote their time and effort to support labour.

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Bangladesh Accord

Published in Dawn on June 11, 2019.

The textile industry the world over poses many hazards to workers, such as musculoskeletal disorders and exposure to chemicals, dust, fibres, noise, vibration, and dangerous machinery. In addition to mechanical and chemical hazards, fires pose the greatest risk, particularly in developing economies with substandard building structures. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure workplace safety through national safety regulations, along with inspection and compliance mechanisms. South Asian states, however, tend to abdicate this crucial responsibility — which may result in workers losing their lives and limbs.

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White-Collar Workers

Published in Dawn on May 26, 2019.

The ever-expanding global textile industry, worth $2.4 trillion according to an estimate, spins countless tales of woes of the workers it employs in millions. We are familiar with stories of abuse suffered by the lower-tier, or blue-collar workers, in many countries, including Pakistan. White-collar or middle-management workers have their own tales to tell, though on the surface their world of work is ‘white’, and not ‘blue’. But corporate greed knows no bounds or colour.

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Dock Workers’ Rights

Published in Dawn on January 24, 2019.

The recent success of the Port Qasim dock workers’ union in claiming due rights after months of struggle is worthy of our attention for three reasons. Foremost is the fact that this is the first time workers took an open stand against rights violations committed by a Chinese company working for a CPEC project. Secondly, the way the dock workers’ union garnered solidarity of a larger representation of trade unions and civil society reflected positively on the unionised labour in Karachi ports and the trade union movement no matter how weak it stands in the current neoliberal environment. Thirdly, it provides an opportunity to take stock of labour legislation and international standards compliance in our ports.

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Bricks and Change

Published in Dawn on October 14, 2018.

The recent debate on brick kilns as a site of pollution, spurred by the Environment Protection Department (EPD) Punjab’s decision to close down the kilns during winter for 70 days, brings in to focus an aspect other than bonded labour generally associated with brick kilns. Based on a technology (Fixed Chimney Bull’s Trench Kiln, or FCBTK) as old as 1876, an estimated 11,500 brick kilns in Pakistan are run on coal and bonded labour. The pollution caused by their high emissions of black carbon from coal burning is linked with asthma, cancer, heart and lung ailments, posing risks for more than one million bonded labour involved in brick making. It is also leads to the smog impacting the cities. Considering the fact that we are a nation that hankers for ‘change’ yet resists it, it surprises no one that in this sector there is resistance to change in both technology and its exploitative labour relations.

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Brands and Alliances

Published in Dawn on September 30th 2018

Every brand has a story to tell, so said some marketing experts. What the experts failed to share is that most brands also have stories to hide. These are the stories of unjust, unlawful treatment of those who create products which are wrapped up in illusions of comfort, grandiosity and pride of possession called ‘brand’ and sold to beguiled consumers.

The stories about brands violating labour and environmental rights in poor developing countries remain on the margins and seldom make it to the mainstream media. Hence I was surprised to read a story recently in The New York Times that a home-based seamstress in Italy — the third largest economy in the EU — is paid €1 for each metre of fabric she stitches. At most she earns €24 for an entire coat which is sold by brands like Louis Vuitton and Fendi for €2,000!

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Dangerous Depths

Published in Dawn on August 17th 2018

While the country watched the induction of the newly elected parliamentarians and celebrated the 71st Independence Day, it was business as usual in the extractive sector in Pakistan, a business that claimed the lives of 15 coalminers in the dark alleys underground on Aug 13-14. The immediate cause, as reported, was methane gas explosion. Or, faulty blasting technique as asserted by the trade union federation.

Perhaps the cause or causes of the accident in the coalmine will never be known. Was it faulty ventilation and a flawed alarm system, inadequate illumination intensity, invisible hazard signage and the absence of an emergency and evacuation plan, or the lack of workers’ training, or a combination of all?

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