Friday, September 8, 2006
How the GP group poisoned Mainland workers with Cadmium and how they are fighting back
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Letters from labour unions
Monday, February 20, 2006
By Sharon Schroeder
It is almost hard to imagine that not that long ago, hardly anyone knew what the Internet was, let alone how to develop tools like e-petitions to let someone in a country to which you have never been join in a campaign to demand the release of a human rights abused prisoner in another country to which you have never been...
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Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Gold Peak Industries (Holdings) Limited
8/F Gold Peak Building
30 Kwai Wing Road
Fax : 2489 1879 / 24232660
E-mail : gp[at]goldpeak.com
Dear Mr. Lo,
RE: CADMIUM POISIONING AND POLLUTION IN CHINA
It has come to our notice that your two factories in HuiZhou, China, has poisoned at least 300 of your workers who were found with much higher than normal level of cadmium last year, and at least six of them has already being officially diagnosis as cadmium poisoning. We are aware of the fact that cadmium is a toxic chemical that must be handled with care. However, you make your workers to process cadmium with little protection and no OSH training for years, which resulted in wide scale poisoning among hundreds of workers. In addition to this, it was also widely reported that there might be serious community pollution by your company. One environmental group found that there were higher than normal level of cadmium in the community.
We notice that you have admitted the seriousness of the case indirectly in your company half-year report that stated that your company paid more than 10 million HK dollars for medical care and compensation. However, it is far from what is necessary.
There is no transparency at all as to the actual scale of the poisoning. Your company releases nothing at all concerning this. And without this, the workers, the community, and the consumers around the world who may buy GP products, are unable to defend their own rights.
Although two dozens of Hong Kong NGOs and trade unions has pressed your company to involve NGOs and trade unions in the monitoring of OSH training to your workers, it seems that you practically ignored their reasonable demand.
We notice that cadmium is difficult to get out of the body, which implies that it may stay in the workers’ bodies for years, and that it may cause cancer and chronic bone pains years later. The workers are concerned that once they leave the factories, or once the factories got winding up, they will be left without any medical care and compensation when they seriously fall ill years later. However, there is no mechanism at all which could provide some assurance to workers. You make private promises to NGOs that you will set up a special fund for this purpose and will involve NGOs in this effort. However, we see no public commitment and no real progress from your company.
Your company has gone so far that on the 3rd September 2004, your subsidiary the HuiZhou GP issued a joint letter with the local government to workers banning them from petitioning the Central government, which we consider as a gross violation of human rights.
Therefore, we demand that your company:
1 Be publicly accountable to your workers, the community and the consumers; release all vital information concerning the cadmium poisoning case;
2 To involve NGOs and trade unions in the monitoring of OSH training to workers;
3 Set up the fund for taking care of your workers and involve the NGOs in the process.
4 Respect the basic human right of the workers, particularly the right to petition.
9th, May, 2005
Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network
Focus on the Global South
Committee for Asian Women
Public Services Labour Independent Confederation , Philippines.
Globalization from Below, Korea.
Janaraja Joint Health Services Union, Sri Lanka
職業性疾患・疫学research center , Japan
ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens), Japan
Monday, January 30, 2006
FAMILIES MAY SUFFER TOO, BUT WORKERS FACE THREATS IF THEY COMPLAIN TO BEIJING
BATTERY FACTORY CADMIUM
Copyright 2004 The Charlotte Observer
All Rights Reserved
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
November 9, 2004 Tuesday ONE-THREE EDITION
BYLINE: TIM JOHNSON, KNIGHT RIDDER
In a little less than a year, some 600 workers in two factories in southern China have been tainted with cadmium, a heavy metal that can cause severe body pain, nausea, uncontrolled urine flow, memory loss and liver failure.
Huizhou, barely an hour's drive from Hong Kong, is a hub of global battery production, and in today's global economy, the nickel-cadmium battery that powers a train set or race car under a Christmas tree in America might have come from a factory there.
One reason Chinese-made products are so inexpensive is that local officials allow factories to overlook occupational-safety laws. Factory workers sustain all kinds of injuries, then are cast off like the toys and sneakers they assemble. China has no independent labor unions, and its courts are easily influenced by local Communist Party officials.
In Huizhou, at least 37 workers were hospitalized for observation, some of them complaining of intense pain.
"My hair is falling out and my throat hurts," said Wei Xuexiu, a 33-year-old manager at one of the factories, who was on medical leave but not hospitalized.
"I often get headaches," said Yao Qunhuai, a fellow worker. "I feel that my memory is fading."
The two factories where they and the other employees tainted with cadmium worked are a division of Gold Peak Industries. Gold Peak batteries sell widely in Asia but have only a tiny share of the estimated $10.7 billion U.S. battery market. Factory workers who spoke to Knight Ridder said the rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries they made were mostly for toys. Similar batteries are used in laptop computers and cameras.
Gold Peak declined to specify which brands sold in U.S. stores contain its batteries. A Hong Kong public-relations specialist hired by the company, Paul Sham, said GP batteries generally were unbranded and were in toys and other devices.
Facts of poisoning in dispute
The factors that led to the occupational safety catastrophe at the two GP Battery factories are in dispute.
Workers and labor-rights advocates said factory owners were in cahoots with local officials and disregarded safety laws to keep costs down. Employees said they weren't told of the dangers of cadmium and initially were barred from wearing masks. Ventilation is still poor, they said. Launching its own probe, the environmental group Greenpeace found that the factories were discharging cadmium into local drainage systems.
Gold Peak described the poisoning of workers as a onetime breakdown.
"Our top management is very sad and regrets to see this happen," Andrew Chuang, an executive director at Gold Peak Industries, said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong. "One of the most important things we want to do is ensure absolute safety for our workers."
Occupational ailments are common in China. In Guangdong province, known as the "world's workshop," most of the 18 million or so factory workers are poorly educated migrants from elsewhere in China who don't know much about the impact of chemicals, heavy metals and solvents.
They learn fast, though, once they begin to get sick.
"Read this information," said Yang Yinghua, a 24-year-old from Hunan province, holding up a photocopy of a medical text. "It says, 'Cadmium is extracted from the body extremely slowly. It can take 10 to 30 years for cadmium to flush out of the kidneys.' "
Yang, like hundreds of other workers, found that her job at one of the GP Battery factories left her nauseated, with severe back pain and with cadmium lodged in her body.
Workers said the dusty powder they packed into rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries was sticky and turned their clothes red.
"It was extremely dirty in the factory, but we had no idea it was poisonous," said one worker, who still holds her job and spoke on condition of anonymity.
By late 2003, workers complained of ailments and demanded medical tests. When the first tests showed excessive levels of cadmium, a few employees were sent to the hospital. By June, many workers were beside themselves. They held a three-day strike, demanding blood and urine testing for the 2,700 employees at the two factories.
Some workers who paid for private blood tests said the results showed higher levels of cadmium than the company-sponsored tests did.
With a crisis unfolding, managers at the plants began asking ailing employees to accept lump-sum payments, sometimes as little as $2,500, and forgo legal action.
Workers who accepted the payments spoke bitterly of the parting advice that factory managers gave them about coping with a possible lifetime disability.
"The factory told us we should drink more milk, eat more fruit, have more nutritious food," said Wei, the former midlevel manager.
Some employees paid to have their children tested and were shocked to find that they also had excessive cadmium levels.
"They offered me a buyout. I said, 'What about my daughter?' They said, 'We don't recognize the medical test for her,' " said one frightened worker, who added that she was never warned about working at the factory while pregnant.
China's labor law says workers are "entitled to know the dangerous elements" at their jobs and are empowered to make suggestions to improve safety.
But about a dozen employees interviewed from the two GP factories said they weren't told how to handle cadmium safely. They were barred from wearing masks right after the factory opened in 1994, then after a few years were allowed to wear only rudimentary paper masks.
City has conflict of interest
Under Chinese law, workplace inspectors are supposed to make regular checks, but GP Battery somehow escaped notice. The parent company, Gold Peak Holdings, and Huizhou's city government are business partners. Both hold major stakes in another huge local company, TCL, one of the world's biggest producers of television sets.
"So they have the same interests," said Au Loong-yu, a member of the editorial board of Globalization Monitor, a Hong Kong publication that's championed the cause of the battery factory workers. "The collusion between the GP management and the local officials is so outrageous."
The Huizhou city government declined repeated requests for comment on why safety rules apparently weren't enforced at the factories.
On Sept. 3, Huizhou city officials and GP Battery issued a joint letter to workers warning that if they tried to take complaints to Beijing they might face legal charges.
By early October, lawyer Zhou Litai sued GP Battery on behalf of 65 workers, claiming they weren't told of dangerous conditions.
GP Battery ceased producing nickel-cadmium batteries at the plants by early July, changing to other types of batteries. The firm says only two people have been diagnosed with "chronic occupational cadmium poisoning," while others are under observation.
Brenda Lee, deputy general manager at Gold Peak, brushed off concerns about those with lesser levels of cadmium poisoning.
"The levels of cadmium in the body will go down gradually," Lee said.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Condemning the HK police brutally suppress justice people's struggle
Neighborhood and Workers' Service Center
The MC6 Conference has come onto the 5th day. Because of the police interruption, large scale conflict has occurred. WTO has destroyed workers' and peasants' livelihoods all around the world. So the protesters fight against the police. The justice is on the people's side!
Anyone who supports the suppression of the people is on the side of the exploiters. What's most shameful is that the police have shot tear gas many times to the crowd without any previous warning. Many journalists and observing citizens have become the victims. Moreover, the police used to announce that they won't use the water cannons, but in this afternoon, they use the water cannons to attack the protesters. All of the above has shown that the police have violently abuse human rights.
The WTO has brought huge disasters to workers and environment since it established ten years ago. The rich countries, authoritarian governments, and multinational corporations which dominate the WTO, put profits before people's needs for the interests of politicians and big corporations. The peasants have been bankrupted, the workers lost their jobs, and the environment polluted. We’ve had enough!
Human beings are not slaves of governments and capitalists. Fighting against injustice is the sacred right of the people. Therefore, we call for the people of Hong Kong to understand and support this just struggle! Say no to the WTO, which is destroying people's lives! Say no to the HK government's suppression on the people! Immediately release all the detainees!
17 December 2005
Contact：Mr. AU Loong-yu
Endorsed By: National Federation of Independent Trade Unions, Taiwan.
Coolloud Web, Student Council of Graduate School for Socail Transformation
Studies Shih Hsin University, Jen-Jing Labor Center, Support Yang-Ru-Men
League, Workers' Democracy Association
Friday, December 16, 2005
Over the past weekend, thousands of representatives of governments,
official delegates, NGOs and grass roots organisations flooded into Hong
Kong. The citizens of this city, symbol of free trade unlimited and its
rather questionable, but mostly non confessed effects on architecture,
people’s health and the environment, expected them rather scared. For
weeks the media had launched articles on Korean peasants going to commit
suicide in the middle of their streets, violent demonstrations and
possible terrorist attacks. The first, very peaceful and creative march of
about 7000 activists – most of them women, as observers underlined - on
Sunday started to break the ice, the second march on Tuesday helped even
more to make Hong Kong inhabitants understand that the presence of
foreigners protesting against the WTO Ministerial in their city was not
meant to destroy their homes and rights of movement, but to voice
disagreement with the ongoing negotiations of an international treaty.
Interesting enough, while the international press seems to have focused
more on a hundred Korean NGO members jumping into the river in front of
the WTO venue on the evening of the official first WTO day, followed by
very limited clashes with the police, the local press, quite well
informed, reported more on the contents of the different activities of the
events around the opening of the 6^th WTO Ministerial.
Soon after the registration of delegates, NGOs and press, many of them had
already an additional white lace around their necks, with a slogan which
might sound familiar to you: “No deal is better than a bad deal”. We
will see later this week, if former European Union trade commissioner and
present WTO director general Pascal Lamy succeeds in inversing the
generally sceptical mood.
The Green/EFA group decided to initiate their activities in Hong Kong with
an astonishingly unique approach: “Where are we? What are the problems of
the people where the Ministerial takes place? What is the next step?” In
fact, the Green/EFA seminar on Hong Kong and the surrounding industrial
area of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) has turned out to be the only place
where people from the West invited activists from China and Hong Kong to
present and discuss their problems and alternatives of an economic model
built up around trade. The underlying question “Is the model sustainable?
Is ‘slow trade’ – echoing the Italian ‘slow food campaign’ in terms
of quality, wellbeing and sustainability - possible, here and elsewhere?”
bridged the general division between the Chinese and the people interested
in WTO from abroad and initiated a hopefully fruitful dialogue in the
After a first introduction to Hong Kong and China on Monday, organised for
us by Ms. Lau Kinchi, an extraordinarily skilled, convincing and
sympathetic fellow of ARENA (Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives)
and a briefing by the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, the Green/EFA
delegation participated in the opening march on Tuesday. On Wednesday, our
seminar “The Pearl River Delta: can it still grow? World market
production against local production in the powerhouse of China” initiated
the series of events taking place in the venue of the Heinrich Boell
Foundation, the Knutsford Hotel in Kowloon (see www.hongkong2005.org
in his welcoming speech, that the Greens/EFA wanted to see what is behind
the figures representing trade: how is the life of the real people and
what is the real production of goods behind nice or naughty statistics. As
people need to benefit first, what conditions are necessary? Au Loong-Yu
from the Hong Kong Globalisation Monitor showed that while China is
represented as the biggest winner of the current economic model, the
workers in China as elsewhere are the losers and that action has started
to create awareness in order to stop the downward spiral. It is not only
the low wages that make investors move to China, but also the existing
discipline and the immense and intense social control allowing for making
China competitive, but what is the price for workers? He did not believe
in the usefulness of existing codes of conducts, as they should be
legally, and not only morally binding. The problem is not the absence of
laws, but the failure to implement and monitor them. The Chinese model is
already unsustainable, he said. The stakeholders who are the victims at
present must be empowered so that things can change.
In a second session chaired by british MEP Caroline Lucas, Han Dongfang
from the China Labour Bulletin presented the concrete case of the Italian
company Decoro, which produces sofas in China. After a 20 % wages cut its
managers physically attacked three opposing workers, until they were sent
to hospital and afterwards sacked without corresponding compensation. Hand
Dongfang sees the WTO as a double edged sword: on the one edge it opens
China’s economy, on the other hand it broadens the gap between the rich
and the poor in the country, not at least profiting from the long standing
cultural tradition of discipline and acceptance to swallow whatever is
imposed. The way out he sees is not help from the West, but empowerment of
the Chinese workers and the development of a civil society.
Poon Man Hon from the HK Confederation of Trade Union, the Hong Kong
branch of the ICFTU, presented examples in the Pearl River Delta as the
Gold Peak company, with its high pollution and presented the difficulties
for trade unionists to mobilise workers in a country, where trade unions
posts used to be taken over by factory directors. The Gold Peak company
produces batteries mainly for the European market, with highly polluting
cadmium. This will definitely be a campaign to develop.
A third session was initiated by Christine Loh from Civil Exchange, a HK
think tank of, as she says, “intellectual activists” with very green
ideas. Presenting the case of the highly unsustainable economic model
pursued in the Pearl River Delta, she compared the situation to that of a
man who grows fatter and fatter. What to do, when he get ill, bursting out
of his vest? Make him new clothes or go back to the origin of his fatness?
Kevin May from Greenpeace Hong Kong showed “The dark Side of Growth: the
case of electronics”, which shocked the audience, just by the evidence of
facts: the PRD§ is one of the giant producers and exporters of
electronics, and it is also a harbour – for re-export to other developing
countries – and importer of electronic waste. A mobile phone is a status
symbol, pretty outside, but dirty inside. Every hour, 4000 t of electronic
waste are produced (that is to say 16 000 t during the time of our
seminar), with inorganic polluants and heavy metals that are shipped –
often via EU harbours – back to China. Giuyu, not far from Hong Kong, is
called the city of garbage. The people’s work there consists of
separating metals from the rest, cutting, heartening, burning. And
exposing their lives to highly polluting substances, without any health
care, risk insurance, compensation. Another arena to take action!
In a final round table, the French MEP Marie-H矇l`ene Aubert recalled the
strange situation that demonstrators seem to belong to the “landscape”
of events like the WTO ministerials, with delegates taking souvenir
pictures of them instead of taking their concerns seriously and asked for
a better integration of both sides of the political struggle. Claudia
Roth, co-president of the German Greens, said that this disintegration is
also true at the international political level: the negotiators on human
rights who meet in Geneva never meet those negotiating the follow-up of
the Kyoto Protocol in Montreal who never see the Hong Kong negotiators for
the WTO. Jill Evans considered that her first task on return to Wales
would be to inform and make people see the whole picture, when companies
close in Europe and reopen in China. This is also what Christine Loh
echoed and enlarged: “You are not seeing the story of Hong Kong or of
China, but the story of trade. And you need to tell the full story.”
That is what we are trying to do in the coming days.
Gaby K"uppers, 14.12.2005, from Hong Kong
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
14th December, 2005
Response from HKPA to Pascal Lamy
On 12th December, Mr. Pascal Lamy, the Director-General of WTO, reported the new development of negotiation to the European Parliament. According to Lamy, many member states are committed to further concession and flexibility, so as to ensure a progress in the negotiation. This is an evidence, Lamy claimed, that WTO is able to advance and protect the developing countries. HKPA holds the view that the ‘concessions’ are in fact an illusion. The scant concession in the TRIPS is a carrot to obtain an aggressive liberalization of the services and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) in the member-states.
Lamy pointed out that WTO intended to allow the least-developed countries an extension of the implementation period until 2013 to 2016 to comply with the agreements on intellectual property rights. According to TRIPS, the implementation periods for different members varies: 2001 for developing countries and 2006 for least-developed countries. The new concession is no more than a delay of implementation for a few years. However, the least-developed countries will not be able to catch up with the developed countries with respect to technology, pharmaceutical development and production in a few decades. A postponement of a few years offers no solution to the problem of the unaffordable medicine in the developing and least-developed countries.
Another concession in TRIPS is to allow more flexibility to developing countries in the interpretation of the agreement on intellectual rights. For example, in case of public health crisis, developing countries are permitted to import generic copies of patented drugs. Again, this is a very limited concession. A panel of ‘experts’ in WTO, rather the legal system of sovereignty state, holds the power to interpreting TRIPS. When a dispute arises, the judicial power is retained in the hands of the panel. How to interpret ‘public health crisis’ and whether a harsh or lenient interpretation is applied are up to the closed-door decision of the panel. Many previous dispute cases prove that the panel inclines to the interest of transnational corporations.
In agriculture, Lamy declared that the reduction of tariff would no longer be done with an average reduction. Tariff will be tailored made to different countries. We believe this change is a confession of the injustice that developing countries face in the previous rounds. According to the agreement in 1995, the tariff reduction of developed countries is 36% while that of developing countries is 24%. But this is unfair. If we take into consideration the huge difference of agriculture subsidies and tariff between the developed and developing countries, the 24% reduction is a drastic cut for the developed countries while tariff in the developed countries remains high. Lamy stated that WTO is tacking this problem and EC and US will eliminate the export subsidies. We think that this does not imply WTO is compassionate to the farmers in developing countries. The scant concession is a carrot for a greater return: the liberalization of services market and privatization of public services in GATS, as well as the liberalization of NAMA with respect to industrial goods, mining products and fisheries.
Spokesperson: Au Loong Yu
Hong Kong People’s Alliance on WTO