There’s this little piece of software/social networking/website recommendation engine/incredible time waster called StumbleUpon. You tell it what you’re interests are, and it finds applicable websites, blogs, images, videos, and so on. I like stumbling for photos, especially white sand beaches in Bora Bora just waiting for me to arrive and order a fruity drink.
But I digress.
Yesterday evening I decided to stumble about a bit, and the first site that came up was a photo essay about the Shipbreakers of Alang. Evidently this is the world’s leading site for shipbreaking, where huge tankers, container ships, and other ocean vessels are broken down to be recycled for scrap.
By “broken down” I mean with sledgehammers, saws, chisels, and bare hands, for the most part. These men work in unimaginably unsanitary, dangerous conditions, doing incredible physical labor for fourteen hours a day. They are exposed to toxic chemicals, life- and limb-threatening accidents, and infectious disease. Next time I feel put upon by some annoying part of my suburban, middle-class life as I lounge about on my comfy chair using my laptop, I’ll remember these people and get some perspective.
It’s hard to decide what to think about this. The men are freely choosing this work, and some say the wages are better than what they can get elsewhere. But the conditions are so horrible, and the environmental impact is potentially significant — not only are there absolutely no safety measures taken (some workers don’t even have shoes, no less hard hats), but their work releases petroleum products, asbestos, and other nasties directly into the air and sea onsite.
There is also worldwide concern that ship owners (and governments, particularly in the West) are knowingly violating international treaties and legislation designed to prevent transporting hazardous materials across international boundaries, particularly into the Third World. Other groups are working to solve associated human rights issues such as child labor and workers’ rights.
More information can be found here about these issues and proposed solutions.
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Photos by Gabuchan.