PENANG, MALAYSIA APRIL 28, 2017 – On World Day for Safety and Health at Work, PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) and partners disclosed patterns of poor working conditions for labourers in plantations in Southeast Asia. From exposure to toxic agrochemicals to meager wages, the group said that the conditions of plantation workers violate human rights and several international labor standards and regulations.
PANAP and its partners carried out community monitoring in Mindanao, Philippines and an initial investigation in North Sumatra, Indonesia . The findings reveal that the expansion of banana and oil palm industries comes at a very steep price – abandonment of occupational safety and continued exploitation of vulnerable workers.
Health concerns over hazardous pesticides
Workers being exposed to highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) like Syngenta’s paraquat and Monsanto’s glyphosate were raised in the reports.
In one of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified plantations in North Sumatra, of the 15 women who participated in the investigation, 13 reported to have suffered symptoms linked to HHP exposure. Puspita (not real name) recalled dizziness, headache, blurred vision, excessive sweating, hand tremors, nausea, skin rashes and diarrhoea, among others with her exposure to pesticides.
Similarly, in the Philippines, workers experienced dizziness and headaches immediately after spraying, and believed that excessive sweating and blurred vision were side effects of pesticides exposure. There were 11 recorded cases of pesticide poisoning and several health symptoms.
Adriana (also not real name) has breast cysts and myoma and finds it difficult to urinate, while experiencing itchiness around her vaginal area. She attributed her symptoms to pesticides since she used to urinate on newly sprayed grounds in her oil palm plantation.
PAN Phillippines’ Dr. Romeo Quijano said, “These findings further substantiate our claims that the use of pesticides in these communities has been causing severe health impacts on the people. Things are made even worse by the lack of access to trained medical professionals who can properly recognize the health symptoms of pesticides poisoning and give the appropriate treatment.”
Inadequate training and protective equipment
Key findings of the report further show that workers received either inadequate training for pesticide handling or none. Personal protective equipments (PPEs) were provided once to the workers but they were expected to purchase on their own once the PPEs have become worn out or degraded. The workers also have limited or no knowledge of pesticides and their hazards.
Without replacement PPEs from plantation operators, some Filipino workers resort to the use of bra cups as masks or “respirators” while Indonesian women workers wrap scarves around their faces to cover and protect them from the strong odour of pesticides.
“This is beyond appalling. How could the management be doing this to their workers? Ensuring the safety of their workers should be the primary responsibility of the management. They cannot expect the workers who are already receiving little wages to spend half of their income on protective gears,” said Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP Executive Director.
Casual, underpaid and overworked women
Workers in the plantations investigated by PANAP and its partners were casual or seasonal and underpaid, and in some instances, overworked.
In Indonesia, for instance, the findings show that all women from the report were casual workers, working less than 21 days in a month – a strategy employed by the plantations to avoid promoting the women maintenance workers into permanent or regular status. There were no work contracts or written agreements provided to the women workers as well.
Sprayers were paid an average of USD 4.5 to USD 6 per day, where they work 6 days per week, from 7 am till 2 or 3 pm. Though they were paid a very low wages compared to the workload they endure daily in humid and hot weather under the burning sun, they continued to stay and work in the plantation. They were forced to stay because almost all were uneducated and unable to look for other better jobs elsewhere. Apart from that working in a plantation give the workers a secure home for their family , provided by the plantations.
Impact on children
Another crucial concern from the findings was how the use of HHPs in the plantations have been affecting the people living nearby it especially the children. There was a case of a healthy three-year old child who has become mentally ill upon being exposed to the pesticide drift as a result of the aerial spraying in a banana plantation in Mindanao.
Meanwhile, three cases of acute poisoning were found in one of the oil palm plantations in the Indonesian province.
Deeppa Ravindran, the Pesticides Programme Coordinator of PANAP said, “The major concern is really the people especially children for they are the most vulnerable. Many living inside and within the 10-meter radius of the banana and oil palm plantations have been exposed to aerial spraying of pesticides while doing their laundry in the rivers and some even while eating.”
Addressing the violations
Key findings in the reports reveal multiple violations of national and international regulations on occupational safety and health (OSH), of Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework for Business and Human Rights, International Labour Standards and provisions mentioned in the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management.
ILO’s Chemicals Convention (c.170), for instance, states that workers have the right to be informed about the chemicals they are using in the workplace and of their hazards, and that employers have the obligation to provide workers with such information and precautionary measures.
Given the failure of the plantation owners or employers to protect the safety and health of their workers and the pattern of labour rights violations in plantations, PANAP called for further “protection of labour rights and promotion of safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment” as stated in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
PANAP added that concerned governments, plantations, corporations, institutions and agencies should not only monitor compliance on health and environmental impacts of pesticides but also ban and phase out HHPs, while ensuring that the sales and trade of these pesticides come to an end.
Take Action >> Protect Children in rural communities against pesticides
- Center for International Environmental Law. (2015). Human rights impact of hazardous pesticides. Retrieved from http://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/HR_Pesticides.pdf
- Community Monitoring in Mindanao, Philippines >> http://panap.net/2017/01/01/community-pesticide-action-monitoring-mindanao-philippines/
- Price of Indonesia’s Palm Oil >> http://panap.net/2017/04/28/price-indonesias-palm-oil-vulnerable-exploited-women-workers/
#PesticidesFreeWorld #CorporateAccountability #ProtectOurChildrenFromPesticides #ProtectChildrenNotProfits
For more information Deeppa Ravindran, Program Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org