Investigation into Maersk Qingdao and Dongguan
15 April 2011
In general, Maersk’s plants in China are still far from satisfactory as far as labour and human rights are concerned. For instance, up until today Maersk has still not acknowledged its mistaken belief that strikes are illegal in China, and because of this it has resulted in hundreds of illegal dismissals in both MCID and MCIQ, and the victims have neither been reinstated nor compensated for the injustice Maersk has done to them. Maersk’s representative has also promised that the company will join the Global Compact, but ironically workers in both plants generally are not informed of this and know nothing about the ten principles of the Compact.
Although we tried to engage Maersk in dialogue, it soon became clear that MCID has no real commitment to continuing the dialogue because it has no intention of keeping its promises. In an April 2009 meeting with Globalization Monitor, MCID gave us a written reply promising that it “will make the report [ the environmental investigation report and occupational hazards report] public and ensure availability to employees”, but it has not materialized. The same is true of its promise to conduct a fair review of all illegal dismissals. On September 14, 2009, the managing director of MCID, Mr. Hultengren, replied to our enquiry that “the lawyers reviewed all the documentation and at the end advised us that they did not find anything incorrect or in violation.” This is a review with zero credibility because it never bothered to approach the workers and listen to them. Furthermore, the head office of Maersk has shown indifference to our complaints concerning the inappropriate practices of MCID. Hence, we think it is our duty to make a second and expanded investigation into both MCIQ and MCID.
MCIQ : Questionable employment conditions and occupational health
We investigated Maersk’s Qingdao plant (MCIQ) in August 2009 and interviewed 25 workers there. The plant was originally the Korean Jindo Reefer Container Company and was acquired by Maersk in 1998. In 2005 a two-day strike was triggered because of the dismissal of a team leader. The management declared the strike illegal and dismissed seven workers. Our investigation found that there are still problems that should be rectified.
On January 25, 2010, GM wrote to the new CEO of MCIQ, Mr. Brian Nielsen, informing him of the complaints by workers, and to ask for his response, but he refused to enter into dialogue with us.
Both the workers’ complaints and our investigations justify our demand for an independent investigation of MCIQ. The investigation must involve international trade unions and genuine NGOs working on China labour issues.
Maersk Dongguan: Workers fight for their health
After two violent strikes and a change of leadership, on July 8, 2008, MCID was found by the Dongguan Disease Prevention and Control Centre to have noise hazards well above the permitted level. According to the report, the Centre investigated seven work stations of the plant and found that at the 2KHZ frequency six of them had noise above the permitted level of 85dba, and at the 4KHZ frequency four of them had noise hazards above the permitted level (these two frequencies are within human hearing frequency, hence noise hazards at these two frequencies have the biggest impact on human hearing). The report concluded by saying that the level of noise exceeded the level permitted by the Design and Health Standard for Industrial Enterprises (GBZ1-2002) and suggested that improvement over the working environment and on protective personal equipment must be made. This has led to so many hearing loss cases among workers at MCID. The management of MCID has, however, repeatedly attempted to obstruct affected workers from having access to full medical check-ups, treatment and compensation. In some instances, they even dismissed workers with hearing losses before they were able to make their cases heard.
As of December 20, 2010, we had interviewed 80 workers, and found out that there were at least 6 cases of certified occupational diseases (three cases of hearing loss, two cases of blood disease – one of them later died, and one case of asthma), 15 cases officially placed under medical observation for hearing loss, and 27 cases of complaints about suspected occupational diseases.
Another common occupational disease in MCID is benzene poisoning, which may lead to blood diseases like leukaemia. According to our sources, there were at least two cases of certified benzene poisoning, and one of them might have died from this. Mr. Mo Desong worked for MCID (Maersk Container Industry Dongguan Ltd) for three years since 2006. He died on October 30, 2009, after falling ill nine months earlier. He was diagnosed as having chronic occupational diseases and mild benzene poisoning and died of multiple organ failure. MCID had delayed Mo’s application for occupational disease diagnosis and treatment for five months. His death might have been avoided if MCID had not obstructed both the sending of Mo to the Guangdong Provincial Hospital for Prevention and Treatment of Occupational Disease (Occupational Hospital hereafter) in time, and the providing of necessary documents to this hospital for Mo’s diagnosis within the time limit set by this hospital.
In addition to occupational diseases, another problem in MCID is the high level of work injuries. We had complained to MCID, and in respond to us MCID released a statement on January 12, 2009, denying the accusation and claimed that in 2008 there were only 34 injuries. This is not true. We have at hand part of a list of work injuries indicating that in August 2008 alone there were at least 30 injuries, in July there were at least 21 injuries. The sum of these two months alone, therefore, already far exceeded the Maersk yearly figure.
On the night of 16th February, 2011, an industrial accident occurred at Maersk Container Industry Dongguan (MCID). A welder accidentally fell down at work and then was crushed by a container. He died immediately. The news was reported in the Nangfang Daily. The report quotes a worker saying that the production orders increased a lot after the Chinese New Year Holiday. In order to meet the lead time, it is possible that the operating speed and tempo were increased.
In general, after the workers fought back twice in 2008, and after Globalization Monitor worked with civil organizations like the Danwatch and Critical Shareholders to put pressure on MCID, it seems that the latter did improve its OSH regime and its barracks like labour discipline. We must point out, however, that labour rights in MCID are still far from being fully protected in accordance with the laws and basic human rights.
Case study: Mr. Hu Chang-qing
Mr. Hu joined the company on 20 November 2006 as a soldering Quality Control worker. On September 12, 2008, he was diagnosed as having hearing loss and restrictive lung functioning by the Hospital for Prevention and Treatment of Occupational Diseases. He suspected that prolonged exposure to noise and dust led to such diseases. However, the conclusion of the medical reports stated that no links were found between the symptoms and any occupational disease. Surprisingly, “no loss of hearing was found” either, hence it was deemed that there was no need to move his work post to another one free of noise hazards.
In order to find out the truth, he visited the hospital again on September 24, and consulted the doctor on duty there, who then checked the computer and printed the diagnosis for him. This time the diagnosis was entirely different from the original one: it found that there was hearing loss and it was related to Hu’s occupation, hence the management needed to change his work to one free of noise hazards. Meanwhile the doctor made a phone call and when she hung up the phone she suddenly tore the printed diagnosis into two and instead printed out the original diagnosis and said it was correct. Hu was shocked and became suspicious. He decided to self-finance visits to a Hong Kong medical inspection centre and a Guangzhou hospital respectively, which confirmed both loss of hearing and lung malfunction.
On May 18, 2009, he approached his superior Cai Zhongtao to ask Cai to send him to have his lungs checked. He was turned away until he proved that he had contact with paint. In September he was officially diagnosed as having occupational asthma, and then in January 2011 he was classified as having a sixth grade disability.
After we released our first report on MCID, the company conducted two social audits in 2009, one carried out by Impactt and the second by CRECEA. Their reports have little credibility simply due to the fact that they asked no questions at all about the numbers of confirmed or suspected occupational diseases, the procedures for handling these cases, and the practices of the management to cover up these cases. Therefore we demand that an independent investigation, involving international trade unions and genuine NGOs, be conducted into MCID and paid for by the company and be carried out as soon as possible. The workers have faced difficulties and have been helpless when they found themselves ill. However, the company management failed to provide them sufficient assistance and instead tried to deter them from getting proper diagnosis and legal compensation. It even illegally terminated workers’ labour contracts once they were suspected of suffering from occupational diseases. We therefore urge the company management to:
- Take all workers with suspected occupational diseases to the Guangdong Provincial Hospital for Occupational Diseases, rather than to regular hospitals. The former is the only authority for medical checks according to the Law of Prevention and Control for Occupational Disease. The company management should cover all the cost of medical inspections and reimburse all the workers’ past inspection costs;
- Cover the medical treatment and compensation for the workers and ex-workers once they are diagnosed as having occupational hearing loss, benzene poisoning and/or blood diseases like leukaemia.
Finally, the Maersk management must obey the Law of Prevention and Control for Occupational Diseases and the Labour Contract Law. They should:
- Not terminate contracts when workers suffer from suspected occupational diseases.
- Give contracts to all new workers when they receive pre-work training.
- Remove all the inhumane and unfair rules for staff.
- Allow workers to self-organize and self-elect their trade union, which should serve as a platform for the negotiation of employment terms and compensation for occupational injuries. The trade union should not include members of company management or the Human Resources Department.
Please download the full report here: Report On MCIQ and MCID (PDF)