Sparkling in European shopping malls, Striking people in China –
Shining gemstones kill Chinese workers!
While sparkling gemstones from all over the globe are displayed in BaselWorld, thousands of workers who polished and cut these gemstones are quietly dying in China! They are dying of silicosis, a deadly occupational disease caused by inhalation of silica particles in the workplace of gemstone processing industry.
Since 2004, thousands of silicosis cases have been reported in gemstone processing factories in southern Guangdong Province in China, which contributed more than half of the country's US$5.5 billion jewelry exports in 2006. But the industry is thriving at the expense of human lives of Chinese workers! Each year, 15,000-20,000 more cases are reported and more than 6,000 patients die of the disease. The annual death toll of silicosis in all industries is even higher than that of coal mine accidents. Some of the victims received several hundred US dollars as private settlements and returned to the rural home towns while the majority was simply dismissed by their employers. In the process of claiming legal compensation, these victims are faced with grave problems such as factory relocation and liquidation, termination of employment relation, difficulties in obtaining diagnosis as well as prolonged litigation process.
Over the past two years, these victims and Labour Action China have been putting forth grave concerns to the Baselworld Jewellery Trade Fair (the biggest trade show on jewellery and gemstones in Basel, Switzerland) over the outbreak of silicosis in a number of Hong Kong-invested jewelry companies that exhibit in the show. But until today, exhibitors with proved violations of labour right remain profit-making in the Basel booths. Baselworld, as the largest trade show of its kind in the globe, should no longer tolerate the presence of any sweatshop company in the exhibition; the international community would not accept it either.
Harm has already done to the industry. Inaction will only breed more violations of labour rights and cause greater havoc to the victims. Baselworld should take up the responsibility to mitigate the problems and rebuild creditability in face of the outcry of silicosis victims, their families and all the concerned civil society organizations.
We therefore strongly demand of Baselworld:
- to set up an implementation mechanism that works to investigate and stop any exhibitor associated with silicosis cases and unsettled compensation claims from taking part in the exhibition;
- to enforce the international labour rights standards and the relevant regulations on prevention and compensation of silicosis;
- to commit efforts in enhancing the industry's awareness in occupational safety and health as well as the working conditions of the workers.