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Labor and human rights advocate Charles Kernaghan meditates on the world's most dangerous jobs.
BOSTON — Work. Many of us spend most of our waking hours doing it. We seek it out, we need it to pay the rent.
And we often whinge about it.
But is our daily slog really all that bad?
If you're reading this on a computer, chances are you labor in the relative safety of an office, in a chair, in front of a desk, under a protective roof.
You can rest certain that the walls won't cave in; that the air you're breathing won't cause your lungs to seize up; that your clients won't open fire to pilfer the contents of your wallet.
But that's a comfort that many among the world's 3 billion workers lack.
Here's an easy-to-ignore fact: every day, millions of people submit themselves to risks that most urban Americans would consider inconceivable — in the quotidian quest to make ends meet. More than 6,000 die each day in workplace accidents. Many others are injured or sickened.
So exactly what tyranny and abuse do workers suffer to feed their families? What are the world's most dangerous jobs?
GlobalPost asked Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. Kernaghan is well-known for his fervent advocacy on behalf of downtrodden workers in poverty-stricken areas of the world, not to mention his antagonistic stance toward the persistence of sweatshop conditions. In 1996, he famously caused Kathie Lee Gifford to cry when he revealed that child laborers in Honduras were making her clothing line. He has been called an "economic terrorist" by some manufacturers.
But of course, one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
GlobalPost: What are the world’s most dangerous jobs?
Charles Kernaghan: Right up front I’d put the Pakistan and Bangladeshi shipbreaking — that’s absolutely a death trap. I believe that’s the most dangerous job in the world.
On top of that, there’s agate polishing in India. We worked on a case there with silicosis victims — I mean it just tore our hearts out to see what was going on.
In Bangladesh, there are 4 million garment workers — they’re getting starved to death too with pitiful wages, and they’re brutally overworked. And there are no health and safety standards. We saw the result of that in the Tazreen Factory fire on Nov. 24, 2012, which killed at least 117 workers. Less than a month later another factory, Smart Fashion, went up in flames.
In China, we recently researched a factory called Kaisi, workers were making drawer rails which open and close the cabinets. Six fingers were severed in one single month among workers producing side rails for drawers. The estimate in China, just in the Pearl River Delta area, is that each year 40,000 fingers are severed or crushed.
Also, in Honduras many divers catching lobsters are dying. They’re fighting for every lobster that they can get, that’s what they’re going to get paid for the season. No professional divers have ever done what these workers have done. They just race to the bottom and then race right to the top, [without decompressing]. On account of that, some of them gets the bends. Some die and some get crippled. They have very rudimentary equipment, but the main problem is that they don’t stop — it’s unbelievable that they’re not all dead.
What is being done to make workplaces around the world safer?
In the developing countries almost nothing is being done. They are a lot of proposals, like the International Labor Organization standards, but these are never implemented.
With the shipbreakers there’s absolutely nothing, I mean there are just no health or safety precautions. First of all they’re not even contract workers, so that’s how they really cheat the workers because they’re day-to-day laborers. They get paid very little.
When we were in Bangladesh, a boy named Korshed —15 years of age — was working a night shift, all night long from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. during the monsoon season. It was July 17, 2012, when in the middle of the night at 3:00 a.m. a gigantic metal slab fell and crushed this young kid. Killed, dead on the spot. There’s no health and safety records whatsoever, the workers are just sitting ducks.
What are the first steps that