The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, Mr. Okechukwu Ibeanu, today concluded his visit to India. During his 10-day mission, from 11 to 21 January 2010, the Special Rapporteur assessed the progress made by the country in minimising the adverse effects that hazardous activities, such as shipbreaking and the recycling of electronic waste (e-waste), have on the human rights of countless individuals working in these sectors or living close to the places where these act ivies take place. Apart from the capital, Delhi , the Special Rapporteur visited an e-waste recycling facility in Roorkee, informal small-scale laboratories for the dismantling and recycling of electronic products in the suburb of the capital, a facility for the treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes in Ankleshwar, and a number of shipbreaking yards in Alang and Mumbai.
”I welcome the significant progress India has made in improving health and safety conditions in the shipbreaking yards, as witnessed by the considerable decrease in the number of work-related injuries resulting in death or permanent or temporary disabilities, but a number of serious concerns remain to be properly addressed”, Mr. Ibeanu said.
“First and foremost, I urge the owners of the yards to comply with the existing labour and social security legislation, and on the Government to monitor its effective implementation”, he added. Training opportunities need to be improved, and personal protective equipments (PPEs) should be provided to, and used by, all workers in the yards. Medical facilities do not possess sufficient human, technical and financial resources to provide any treatment other than first aid for minor injuries, and there are no schools or formal education facilities for the children of those employed in the yards, 20 per cent of whom are accompanied by their families.
In India , ships are currently dismantled on the beach, a method commonly referred to as “beaching”, and its actual impact on the surrounding environment and the livelihood of local communities relying on agriculture and fishing for their subsistence continues to be debated. “In order to ascertain the environmental impact of the shipbreaking industry, I recommend that an independent study be carried out to assess the actual and potential adverse effects that may be caused by the discharge of hazardous material into the natural environment, as well as the level of risk”, Mr. Ibeanu said.
The Special Rapporteur finally noted that he was “shocked by the extremely poor conditions in which most workers live in Alang and Mumbai”. Semi-skilled and unskilled workers live in makeshift facilities lacking basic sanitation facilities, electricity and even safe drinking water. “I call on Governmental authorities to provide appropriate plots of lands, and facilitate the construction of adequate housing facilities for those who work in the yards. Adequate sanitation and drinking water facilities should also be put in place”.
With regard to e-waste, the Special Rapporteur noted that 97 per cent of the 400,000 metric tonnes of e-waste generated in India is dismantled and recycled in small-scale, informal laboratories where individuals are constantly exposed to over 50 hazardous chemicals or heavy metals that can cause serious health and environmental risks if not disposed in an environmentally safe manner. “The main challenge ahead is that of creating appropriate incentives to ensure that obsolete electronic equipment are recycled in certified facilities that can dismantle and recycle them in an environmentally sound way that prevents the risk of health consequences for the workers involved or others and to ensure appropriate information is available on the hazards associated with e-waste, both for recycling workers and to the broader population”, Mr. Ibeanu said.
Based on the information collected during the visit, the Rapporteur will prepare a report and make recommendations on how to protect the human rights against the threats posed by the unsound management and disposal of toxic and dangerous products and wastes. His report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2010.
Okechukwu Ibeanu, Professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, was appointed Special Rapporteur in 2004 by the Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.
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