The shipbreaking industry in Chittagong, Bangladesh is referred to as “hell on earth,” and for good reason.
I last reported on this industry back in July with my piece Of Ships and Men. In the past few weeks my contacts on the ground in Chittagong have informed me that nothing has changed. Nothing at all. Workers are still dying. Children, some as young as 10, are still getting permanently mangled. The ocean is still absorbing gallons of toxic waste every hour. I’ll never forget watching in horror how, as the ships were being broken down, so too were the human bodies. This industry is perhaps the single greatest example of how the world’s wealthiest continue their stranglehold on the world’s poorest. Rather than dismantling our own ships and having to pay workers fair wages, provide them with safety equipment and ensure a few environmental standards are met, we dump the sludge of our most poisonous garbage atop the poorest people in the most corrupt countries and then we have the gall to act like we did them a favor. We get all of the luxuries of these ships, a steady stream of gas at the pump and lavish cruises, yet let others incur the costs.
In the months since my time in Chittagong I’ve watched news headlines rattle on about how global economic meetings are set to address economic “struggles.” I’ve even watched a few. Most are PowerPoint projects with bar charts and grey-haired mathematicians breaking it all down. Not once did I hear about the humanity of economics. What about that struggle? Not once did any of the world labor organizations say anything about the horrors that workers face or about the human and economic costs of literally destroying an entire ocean, an entire ecosystem. What about that struggle? Fiscal cliff? Let’s fall off of it. Depression? Bring it on. We’re “growing” an economy on the back of slave labor and hedonism. We’re trying to walk with broken stilts. Perhaps it’s best for us all if we fall and not be helped up so that we see the absolute mess we’ve caused and/or turned a blind eye toward? We’ve done everything in our power to pretend a rock bottom doesn’t exist, but maybe it’s time we see it? Maybe it’s time we remember that there are actually rocks and there is an actual bottom and that these things are not reserved only for “them.”
Photo courtesy of photographer Pierre Torset