GENEVA (16 August 2018) – Japan must act urgently to protect tens of thousands of workers who are reportedly being exploited and exposed to toxic nuclear radiation in efforts to clean up the damaged Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station, say three UN human rights experts*.
“Workers hired to decontaminate Fukushima reportedly include migrant workers, asylum seekers and people who are homeless,” said the experts.
“We are deeply concerned about possible exploitation by deception regarding the risks of exposure to radiation, possible coercion into accepting hazardous working conditions because of economic hardships, and the adequacy of training and protective measures.
“We are equally concerned about the impact that exposure to radiation may have on their physical and mental health,” they added.
Contamination of the area and exposure to radiation remains a major hazard for workers trying to make the area safe seven years after the catastrophic nuclear meltdown which followed damage to the power plant from an earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
Tens of thousands of workers have been recruited over the past seven years under the decontamination programme. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare indicates on its website that 46,386 workers were employed in 2016; and the Radiation Worker Central Registration Centre of Japan has indicated that as many as 76,951 decontamination workers were hired in the five-year period up to 2016.
“The people most at risk of exposure to toxic substances are those most vulnerable to exploitation: the poor, children and women, migrant workers, people with disabilities and older workers. They are often exposed to a myriad of human rights abuses, forced to make the abhorrent choice between their health and income, and their plight is invisible to most consumers and policymakers with the power to change it,” said the experts.
“Detailed reports that the decontamination contracts were granted to several large contractors, and that hundreds of small companies, without relevant experience, were subcontracted, are of concern. These arrangements, together with the use of brokers to recruit a considerable number of the workers, may have created favourable conditions for the abuse and violation of workers’ rights.”
The UN rights experts have engaged in a dialogue with the Government since last year and have taken into account a recent reply to their most recent concerns.
As part of its Universal Periodic Review, Japan recently ”accepted to follow up” on a recommendation from other States to restore radiation levels to those before the disaster to protect the human right to health of pregnant women and children, among several other recommendations. The experts strongly urge the Government to lower the allowable dose of radiation to 1 mSv/year to protect children and women who may become pregnant.
The UN experts remain available to advise on how best to address the ongoing issue of exposure of workers to toxic radiation following a previous response by the Japanese Government, and on the need to strengthen protection for workers.
In September, one of the UN experts, Baskut Tuncak, will present a report to the UN Human Rights Council, calling on States and employers to strengthen protection for workers from exposure to toxic substances, and proposing principles in that regard.
(*) The UN experts: Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences,and Mr. Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page – Japan
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