Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report that alleges that many European shipping companies are sending their old and hazardous ships to be scrapped on the beaches of Bangladesh, where workers face dangerous and polluting conditions.
The report, titled “Trading Lives for Profit”, was published on September 28, 2023, in collaboration with the Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition of NGOs working to end unsafe and environmentally harmful shipbreaking practices.
According to the report, Bangladesh’s southeastern Sitakunda beaches have become one of the world’s largest shipbreaking yards, supplying cheap steel for the country’s booming construction industry. However, the shipbreaking process involves cutting through molten metal, inhaling toxic fumes, and handling asbestos and other hazardous materials without proper protective equipment or training.
The report claims that at least 62 workers have been killed by accidents in Sitakunda’s shipbreaking yards since 2019, and many more have suffered injuries and illnesses. The report also says that the shipbreaking industry has caused severe environmental damage to the coastal ecosystem, as toxic substances from the ships leak into the soil and water.
The report accuses European shipping companies of exploiting loopholes in international regulations to avoid responsibility for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of their end-of-life ships. The report says that European firms have sent 520 vessels to be scrapped in Bangladesh since 2020, accounting for 40% of all ships scrapped there.
The report urges European shipping companies to stop dumping their toxic ships on Bangladesh beaches and to adopt the Hong Kong Convention, a global treaty that sets standards for safe and green ship recycling. The report also calls on the Bangladeshi government to enforce its own laws and regulations on shipbreaking and to protect the rights and safety of the workers.
The Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association (BSBA), which represents the yard owners, has denied the allegations and said that it has taken steps to improve safety and environmental standards in the industry. The BSBA said that it is working to turn its shipbreaking yards into “green yards” and that it provides protective equipment to workers.
However, some activists and experts have challenged the BSBA’s claims and said that the shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh operates in a “climate of impunity” due to its political and economic influence. They said that there is little or no attention to worker safety or environmental protection in many yards and that workers are often exposed to abuse and exploitation.