Monday, October 31, 2011

Child labour and chocolate

There is an interesting BBC documentary that examines the role of child labour in the making of chocolate. Chocolate: The Bitter Truth examines the chocolate industry's (lack of) progress at eradicating child labour and slavery in the production of cocoa after signing a 2001 accord to eliminate it.

According to the documentary, "Over 40% of the world's cocoa is sourced from the west African region of Cote d'Ivoire, and the UN estimates that there are around 15,000 children working on the region's cocoa farms. These include children as young as eight years old, many from neighbouring Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana, who are trafficked across borders and used as forced labour."

The full number of child workers in the entire African cocoa industry is more like 284,000. There is an interesting discussion regarding the behaviour of major chocolate manufacturers towards the use of child labour in their supply chain.

Happy Hallowe'en... .

-- Bob Barnetson

Thursday, October 20, 2011

World justice Project Rule of Law Index

The World Justice Project has released its 2011 Rule of Law Index. This is a quantitative assessment of the degree to which countries adhere (in practice) to the rule of law.

Canada generally does well, but “discrimination against immigrants and the poor remains a source of concern” as well as “access to civil justice”. The latter issue appears to centre on the cost of legal representations and lengthy delays in civil cases.

Canada’s country profile makes for interesting reading. Areas of relative weakness include fundamental labour rights, equal treatment and absence of discrimination, access to legal counsel and the civil courts, and official information requested is available.

-- Bob Barnetson

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Immigrant workers and injury

Agnieszka Kosny and seven co-authors have recently published a study in Ethnicity and Health examining the rate at which immigrants report work-place injuries. “Delicate dances: Immigrant workers’ experiences of injury reporting and claim filing” reveals few immigrant workers who were injured on the job filed timely workers’ compensation complaints. Further, injured immigrant workers often found their employers steered them wrong, discouraging claims, mis-informing workers of their rights, and offering time off instead.

The relevance of this article to Alberta has to do with the large number of temporary foreign workers currently employed here (about 50,000 with numbers expected to rise). Temporary foreign workers share many characteristics of immigrant workers but are further vulnerable because they have no job mobility. That is to say, they are extremely reliant upon their employer for their continued residency in Canada.

This article provides support for anecdotal reports of foreign workers being misled or mistreated following a workplace injury. One consequence of various claim suppression tactics is that the cost of a workplace injury is transferred from the employer to the worker. With temporary foreign workers, there is also a geographic dimension to this transfer as some costs of injury are shifted from Canada to the workers’ home country.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

OHS Regulation Making: Integrative or Distributive?

A recent article by Mark Thompson in the International Journal of Contemporary Economics and Administrative Sciences examines the process by which occupational health and safety rules are made. “Who makes the rules? Establishing occupational health and safety regulations” considers two cases of rule-making around ergonomics.

The important aspect of Thompson’s analysis is his conclusion that OHS rule-making, while often described as an integrative process (i.e., where employers and workers cooperate to increase safety), is (at least sometimes) a distributive process (i.e., a process marked by conflicting interests). That is to say, attempting to portray OHS as above or outside of the tensions inherent in a capitalist system creates an unrealistic view of injury prevention regulation.

-- Bob Barnetson

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Migrant workers in the tar sands

An interesting article was published a few weeks back in Just Labour. Nelson Ferguson’s “From coal pits to tar sands: Labour migration between an Atlantic Canadian region and the Athabasca oil sands” is an ethnography examining the “profound social and economic impacts on the communities of Industrial Cape Breton, while such mobile workers find themselves in a form of work organization which is increasingly precarious and contingent.”

Ferguson notes how Cape Breton is becoming an increasingly remittance-based economy supported by long-distance commuters. He notes the limited economic options many workers have and the impact of this arrangement on the personal lives of workers and their families. He also notes the community impact, such as the loss of a volunteer fire department because a large portion of the volunteer base is unavailable. At the same time, this phenomenon appears to be stabilizing population in the region, which is known for out-migration.

But the stabilizing effect depends upon the continued availability of migrant work opportunities. The adoption of precarious forms of work within the tar sands means this pattern is unstable and such workers can be without employment during an economic downturn. Further, contingent workers were forced to accept some of the costs of their contingency as employers discontinued travel funding.

-- Bob Barnetson

Monday, October 3, 2011

Consumer safety research expands

The boundary between occupational and environmental health issues as very blurry. Often workers are the first group intensively exposed to chemicals and thus occupational injuries are often a harbinger of future environmental or consumer health issues.

As detailed in David Michael's book Doubt is their Product, corporations have made great efforts to thwart occupational and environmental health science over the years. Often the state has colluded with these efforts, asbestos being a notable Canadian example.

The Government of Canada has just announced that it will be testing about 500 substances already in consumer products over the next five years to assess their health impact. Why these substances weren’t tested prior to their introduction into consumer items remains an open question.

While this effort has earned praise from some environmental groups, the government has also taken criticism that it is “dragging its feet in terms of assessing substances that are being released into the environment by the oil and gas industry and expanding oilsands production.”

Again, it appears that workers (and those living downstream of the tarsands) will be the canaries in the coalmine. Hopefully the government will not assist industry in hiding harmful effects as they did in the case of asbestos.

-- Bob Barnetson