Li Zhou Ping was 16 when he lost his right hand. After leaving home and traveling to Shenzhen, a city in southern China, in hopes for a more prosperous future, he was hired to operate an animal stuffing machine in a toy factory. On Ping’s third day of work the machine chopped off his hand and he has not been given any compensation since.
A similar tragedy happened to Yang Tieng Yang. He worked for a local decorating company when a load of glass fell on his foot during work. The man is now destitute, cannot afford any crutches, and is living on the streets with his 70-year-old mother. Even though he has already gone to court to demand some worker’s compensation, nothing has been done about his situation.
These two men are no rare exception to the rule. They represent millions of people, who are not safe at their job sites and, who do not receive proper care if something happens to them.
The problem is not that there are no protective worker’s rights. International labor rights that apply to all countries worldwide exist and are plentiful. These laws set regulations on working times, wages, and give workers rights like the freedom of association or collective bargaining. Many laws focus on Occupational Safety and Health Convention as well. Here is a list of just some of them, based off of the International Labour Organization.
- Employers have to provide, where necessary, adequate protective clothing and equipment
- Workers and/or their representatives must be given adequate
information and appropriate training and be consulted by the
employer. They also have to cooperate with the employer.
- A worker who has removed him or herself from such a work
situation has to be protected from undue consequences.
- Occupational safety and health measures must not involve any
expenditure for the workers.
These laws have to be, according to the International Labor Organization, periodically reviewed to prevent accidents and injury to health by minimizing hazards. While all of this seems good and fair on paper, these laws are not the reality. Many factory and shop owners completely disregard the labor rights and no one catches them on their negligence.
What can we do about this? How can we enforce these rules more strictly in order to prevent incidence like the crashing of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, which claimed at least 142 lives (cracks had appeared on the wall the previous day, but the garment workers were forced to return to work in the factories)? One thing to strengthen is mandated state inspections. More emphasis needs to be put on the government taking direct action and being in control of their factories.
More importantly, countries like the US should limit the use of these negligent factories as private retailers. Currently, the US military exchanges operate more than 1,100 retail stores on military installations in all 50 states and more than 30 countries around the world. Many of them are unsafe and do not consider protective worker’s rights. This needs to change. The US military exchanges have an obligation and an opportunity to define a new standard for social responsibility in their supply chains. We as a society do not need to sacrifice the law, people’s bodies and their lives just so that we can develop the economy. This is not the type of world we want and that is why countries like the US should make sure to only have supplier factories that are concerned about their workers’ safety or demand their suppliers to follow such protective laws. Doing otherwise would be simply unacceptable.