According to Human Rights Watch and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, several shipping companies send their ships to Bangladesh to be broken up for scrap in yards that endorse inhumane working conditions and release toxic materials to the environment.
he Trading Lives for Profit: How the Shipping Industry Circumvents Regulations to Scrap Toxic Ships on Bangladesh’s Beaches report finds that Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards often take shortcuts on safety measures, dump toxic waste directly onto the beach and the surrounding environment, and deny workers living wages, rest, or compensation in case of injuries.
The report also reveals an entire network used by shipowners to circumvent international regulations prohibiting the export of ships to facilities like those in Bangladesh that do not have adequate environmental or labor protections.
Companies scrapping ships in Bangladesh’s dangerous and polluting yards are making a profit at the expense of Bangladeshi lives and the environment. Shipping companies should stop using loopholes in international regulations and take responsibility for safely and responsibly managing their waste.
… said Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Key points in the report:
- Bangladesh is a top destination for scrapping ships. Since 2020, approximately 20,000 Bangladeshi workers have ripped apart more than 520 ships, far more tonnage than in any other country.
- The International Labour Organization (ILO) has described shipbreaking as one of the world’s most dangerous jobs.
- Workers consistently said that they are not provided with adequate protective equipment, training, or tools to safely do their jobs. Workers described using their socks as gloves to avoid burning their hands as they cut through molten steel, wrapping their shirts around their mouths to avoid inhaling toxic fumes, and carrying chunks of steel barefoot.
- In Bangladesh, the life expectancy for men in the shipbreaking industry is 20 years lower than the average.
- A 2019 survey of shipbreaking workers estimated that 13% of the workforce are children. Many workers interviewed began working at about age 13.
- Shipbreaking workers said that they are often denied breaks or sick leave, even when they are injured on the job, and are paid a fraction of what they are legally entitled to under Bangladesh’s minimum wage regulations for shipbreaking workers.
- Many international and regional laws prohibit the recycling of ships to places like the yards in Bangladesh. For instance, EU-flagged vessels are required to be recycled in an EU-approved facility, none of which are in Bangladesh.
- Yet many shipping companies have found ways to circumvent regulations, for instance, by using a “flag of convenience“.
- In 2022, while over 30 percent of the world’s end-of-life fleet was owned by European companies, less than 5 percent had an EU flag when they were sold for scrap.
- A lack of enforcement of international laws and regulatory standards further enables ships to be scrapped under dangerous and environmentally damaging conditions.
- While the International Maritime Organization (IMO), shipping companies, and shipbreaking yards promote the Hong Kong Convention as the solution to a safe and sustainable ship recycling industry, experts and activists have long-lamented major gaps in the convention that weaken its ability to provide an adequate level of regulation.
- Instead of investing time and resources in greenwashing unsafe practices, companies should invest in proven safe methods of ship recycling, and they should stop insisting that beaching ships is safe, Human Rights Watch and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said.
Taking ships apart on tidal mudflats exposes workers to unacceptable risks with fatal consequences and causes irreparable damage to sensitive coastal ecosystems. The cost of sustainable ship recycling must be borne by the shipping sector, not people and the environment in Bangladesh.
… highlighted Ingvild Jenssen, executive director and founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform