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Trading Lives for Profit: How the Shipping Industry Circumvents … – Human Rights Watch

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Download the full report in English
Appendix I: Human Rights Watch Letters to Companies
Appendix II: Human Rights Watch Letters to the Government of Bangladesh
Appendix III: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and the International Maritime Organization
Appendix IV: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and Maersk A/S
Appendix V: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and Novonor
Appendix VI: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and Best Oasis
Appendix VII: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and the St Kitts & Nevis International Ship Registry
Appendix VIII: International Maritime Organization Standards for an Inventory of Hazardous Materials
Appendix IX: Unofficial English Translation of the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act, 2018
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Download the full report in English
Appendix I: Human Rights Watch Letters to Companies
Appendix II: Human Rights Watch Letters to the Government of Bangladesh
Appendix III: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and the International Maritime Organization
Appendix IV: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and Maersk A/S
Appendix V: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and Novonor
Appendix VI: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and Best Oasis
Appendix VII: Correspondence between Human Rights Watch and the St Kitts & Nevis International Ship Registry
Appendix VIII: International Maritime Organization Standards for an Inventory of Hazardous Materials
Appendix IX: Unofficial English Translation of the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act, 2018
How the Shipping Industry Circumvents Regulations to Scrap Toxic Ships on Bangladesh’s Beaches
(Dhaka, September 28, 2023) – Many European shipping companies are knowingly sending their end-of-life ships for scrap in dangerous and polluting yards in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said in a report released today.
The report, “Trading Lives for Profit,” finds that Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards often take shortcuts on safety measures, dump toxic waste directly onto the beach and the surrounding environment, and deny workers living wages, rest, or compensation in case of injuries. The report reveals an entire network used by shipowners to circumvent international regulations prohibiting the export of ships to facilities like those in Bangladesh that do not have adequate environmental or labor protections.
Workers dismantle a ship in Chattogram, Bangladesh, 2023. © 2023 Anukta
(Dhaka, September 28, 2023) – Many European shipping companies are knowingly sending their end-of-life ships for scrap in dangerous and polluting yards in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform said in a report released today.
The report, “Trading Lives for Profit,” finds that Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards often take shortcuts on safety measures, dump toxic waste directly onto the beach and the surrounding environment, and deny workers living wages, rest, or compensation in case of injuries. The report reveals an entire network used by shipowners to circumvent international regulations prohibiting the export of ships to facilities like those in Bangladesh that do not have adequate environmental or labor protections.
In the summer of 2021, Mohammed Biplob, 35, was working at Arefin Enterprise, a shipyard in Chattogram Bangladesh, dismantling a 24-year-old bulk carrier ship called the Max. On August 23, he was torching through a pipe in the engine room when it suddenly exploded. Biplob said the explosion threw him against the wall, severely burning his face and breaking his back. He lost consciousness, only becoming alert when he realized his coworkers were carrying him to the road. He said at the time he could see what was happening but couldn’t speak. Biplob’s family sold all their land to pay for his continued medical treatment and he now runs a tea stall to support them.
Arefin Enterprise is just one of about 30 yards currently actively operating in Bangladesh where workers break down the world’s ships once they are no longer seaworthy. Companies like Arefin Enterprise purchase end-of-life ships, take them apart, and sell the metal and other materials after the ship is dismantled. Shipbreaking is an extremely lucrative industry for Bangladesh, contributing an estimated $2 billion to the country’s economy. More than half of the steel used in Bangladesh comes from ships broken down in Chattogram.
However, the industry in Bangladesh is highly dangerous and unregulated. Biplob explained that some regulations that could have prevented his injury were not followed. For instance, he said nobody checked the pipe, which had apparently been full of octane, to see whether it was “gas-free for hot work” as is required by Bangladesh law. Arefin Enterprise paid for Biplob’s 8-day emergency treatment and about US$160 in compensation—far less than the nearly $2,000 he was owed under Bangladesh law. But Biplob said the owner of the Max should also be held responsible.[1]
The Max was previously owned by Greek shipping company Tide Line Inc. and never should have been in Bangladesh in the first place.[2] International and regional laws prohibit the export of ships to places like the yards in Bangladesh that do not have adequate environmental or labor protections to prevent accidents like the one that injured Biplob. Yet neither international law nor repeated injuries and deaths of workers have deterred many shipping companies from dumping their ships in Bangladesh. Instead, they have simply found ways to circumvent regulations and avoid culpability. As one Bangladeshi activist said, “There are legal regulations, but there are also loopholes.”
The Max should have been subject to European Union (EU) regulations regarding the disposal of end-of-life ships. The European Union Waste Shipment Regulation (EUWSR) prohibits the shipment of waste—including end-of-life ships like the Max—from EU waters to non-OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries like Bangladesh. Additionally, as of December 31, 2018, the EU required all EU-flagged ships to be recycled at an EU-approved facility that is regularly and independently audited for compliance with standards on environmental protection and workers’ safety. None of the yards in Bangladesh have been approved by the EU commission audit.
However, Tide Line Inc, like many European shipping companies, avoided these regulations by selling the Max to a scrap dealer before it was declared waste and sent on its final voyage. The Max’s new owner, known as a “cash buyer” because of the money they pay for end-of-life ships, then ensured the Max was out of EU waters and operating under a non-EU Comoros flag when sent for scrapping.[3]
The EU Ship Recycling Regulation (SRR) only applies to ships flagged by an EU state, which allows companies to avoid the EU requirements by transferring a ship’s flag to a different state, known as a “flag of convenience.” Flags of convenience are sold by flag registries which, in many cases, are private companies operating in a different country from their flag state. As Ingvild Jenssen, executive director and founder of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, said in a 2022 report:
The Max was sold by Tide Line Inc. to a cash buyer in June 2021 and was approved for import to Bangladesh for scrap later than month. It reached Chittagong in Bangladesh on July 10, 2021. The explosion that injured Biplob occurred just over a month later.
The fact that Tide Line Inc., the exporting port, and the scrap dealers who directly sold the ship to Arefin Enterprise could all evade liability for Biplob’s injury is common. Hundreds have been injured or killed over the last decade in Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards with little recourse or systemic reform. Written in partnership with the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, this report documents the abusive practices in the shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh and maps out the actors, policies, and loopholes, that enable these abuses.
Though most ships were originally owned by European, East Asian, and Southeast Asian companies, the final destination for over 80 percent of all end-of-life ship tonnage is one of three beaches in South Asia: Chattogram in Bangladesh, Alang in India, and Gadani in Pakistan. By cutting costs on safety, labor, and environmental protections, many of these South Asian yards offer to buy end-of-life ships at more than double the price of their next closest competitors in Turkey.
Bangladesh, in particular, is a top destination for end-of-life ships. Since 2020, approximately 20,000 Bangladeshi workers—many of whom are children—tore apart more than 520 ships, totaling far more tonnage than any other country in the world.
Higher profits for shipping companies come at a fatal price. Many Bangladeshi shipbreaking yards often cut costs through shortcuts on occupational and safety measures, dumping toxic waste directly onto the beach instead of using an adequate facility, conducting illegal and dangerous night shifts, and denying workers living wages, rest, or compensation in case of injuries. Workers and surrounding communities are frequently exposed to toxic materials in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they grow and eat, impacting health and livelihood.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has described shipbreaking as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Workers told Human Rights Watch how their legs were cut off by falling iron, how they fell from multiple stories, or were trapped inside a ship when it caught fire or pipes exploded. Lack of protective equipment and accessible emergency medical care at shipyards meant that, in many cases, workers were forced to carry their injured coworkers from the beach to the road and find a taxi or rickshaw to a hospital. “They threw me away,” said Masum, 44, who lost his leg after a pipe he was cutting exploded and the yard owner tossed him on the bed of a truck outside the yard rather than taking him to the hospital. In Bangladesh, the life expectancy for men in the shipbreaking industry is 20 years lower than the average.
Ships contain toxic materials such as asbestos, heavy metals, oil, and toxic paints and compounds. In many cases these hazardous substances are not properly identified despite international requirements to include an Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM). Workers are thus exposed to toxic fumes and materials without necessary protections. A 2017 study by the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health, and Environment Foundation found that more than one third of the shipbreaking workers surveyed suffered preventable health complications from asbestos exposure.
Shipbreaking workers in Bangladesh interviewed by Human Rights Watch consistently said that they were not provided with adequate protective equipment, training, or tools to safely do their jobs. Workers described using their own socks as gloves to avoid burning their hands as they cut through molten steel, wrapping their shirts around their mouths to avoid inhaling toxic fumes, and carrying chunks of steel while barefoot.
In violation of Bangladesh labor laws, shipbreaking workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch say that they are often denied breaks or sick leave, even when they are injured on the job. In most cases, workers are paid a fraction of what they are legally entitled to under Bangladesh’s minimum wage regulations for shipbreaking workers. Typically employed temporarily, workers are rarely given formal contracts, leaving them with few means to advocate for their rights. Some workers said they were made to sign what they were told were contracts that they were not allowed to read or retain. Others said they were simply made to sign a blank piece of paper. The informal nature of the industry means that yard owners can cover up worker deaths and injuries, in some cases denying that a worker who died on the job had ever worked there. When workers attempt to unionize or protest conditions, they are fired and harassed. Tanvir, 50, a shipbreaking worker who has been in the industry since 1982 said,
Shipyards in Bangladesh use a method called ‘beaching’ in which ships sail full steam onto the beach during high tide to be taken apart directly on the sand instead of using a dock or contained platform. Beaching is inherently more dangerous for workers. Since the work is done directly on the sand, the worksite itself is full of hazards. As one worker, Golam, 32, explained:
It is difficult, if not impossible, for emergency vehicles to traverse the sandy beach to access the job sites in case of injuries or fire. All the workers interviewed for this report who were injured on the job had to be carried to the road by their colleagues before being taken in a privately owned vehicle to receive emergency medical treatment.
Beaching is also environmentally damaging. Toxic chemicals, oil, and other pollutants are dumped straight onto the sand and the sea while gasses and dangerous particles pollute the air. Heavy metals and other pollutants poison the soil, water, and nearby agriculture and permanently impact marine biodiversity and coastal habitats. According to the Marine Institute of the University of Chittagong, the Bangladesh shipbreaking industry has wiped out 21 species of fish and crustacean and endangered 11 other species.
Pollution from shipbreaking appears to also impact the livelihoods of surrounding fishing communities. Sohel, 28, who used to fish for a living but started shipbreaking because fishing became unfeasible, told Human Rights Watch that:
Despite importing so much of the world’s waste, Bangladesh has no toxic waste processing facility. The Bangladesh Ship Reprocessing Act, passed in February 2018, declared that by February 2021 the government would establish a Waste Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility for toxic waste from ship recycling. However, at time of writing, over two years past the deadline, no such facility has been created and toxic waste continues to be dumped straight on the beach, putting the lives and livelihoods of the surrounding communities at risk, and exacerbating environmental degradation. Toxic asbestos is sold directly in the marketplace in what locals call “asbestos villages,” where stoves and other furniture made from scrapped asbestos are sold.
Ship recycling does not need to be this dangerous or environmentally damaging. There are safe and sustainable alternatives. In particular, the use of a stable platform—called dry-docking[4] or pier-breaking[5]—is much safer than beaching, because it allows for the use of lifting equipment and cranes, makes the site accessible in case of emergency, and makes it easier to safely contain and manage toxic waste and other hazardous materials. There are dozens of ship recycling yards, primarily based in Europe, that safely recycle ships using environmentally sustainable practices.
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform estimates that the entire shipbreaking industry worldwide could feasibly transition to dry-docks by 2030. But alternatives like dry-docking cost more, as do facilities for safe disposal of toxic waste, training, safety equipment, fair wages, and insurance for worker injuries and deaths.
An entire industry exists to enable shipowners to circumvent international regulations so that shipping companies can continue to cheaply discard ships in Bangladesh’s dangerous yards.
To avoid international, regional, and domestic laws, companies can sell the ship to a cash buyer, who serves as a scrap dealer for end-of-life ships. In many cases, the cash buyer will use a shell company as the new registered owner of the ship during its sale to scrapyards in Bangladesh, making it difficult to track the ship’s true beneficial owner. The cash buyer then registers the ship under a flag from a state with lower regulatory burdens—called flags of convenience.
Shipping companies frequently use flags of convenience throughout a ship’s operation to circumvent regulations, including labor rights at sea. But they are especially common at end-of-life when a company is scrapping a ship in South Asia. In 2022, while over 30 percent of the world’s fleet was owned by European companies, less than 5 percent had an EU flag when they were sold for scrap. Publicly available shipping records indicate that all ships with beneficial owners based in the EU, the US, or UK scrapped in Bangladesh over the last four years entered Bangladesh waters under a flag of convenience.[6]
A lack of enforcement of international laws and regulatory standards further enables ships to be scrapped under dangerous and environmentally damaging conditions. Exporting countries outright ignore the requirements under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (the Basel Convention) to obtain prior informed consent from the importing country and to ensure that end-of-life ships are only sent to countries with sufficient capacity for environmentally sustainable management of toxic waste. On the import side, Bangladesh shipbreaking yards avoid scrutiny under national laws by outsourcing inspection reports and required documentation to cash buyers and other unscrupulous middlemen. Waste declarations for ships imported to Bangladesh are often completed without any oversight, transparency, or clear accreditation, with potentially fatal consequences.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the UN entity responsible for regulating and enforcing international shipping standards, including environmental and labor protections, and has the authority to enforce these requirements. However, the structure of the IMO limits its ability to act as an effective regulator. Decisions at the IMO enter into force when a certain number of states that represent a certain percentage of the world fleet have ratified. Since flags of convenience are up for sale, countries that flag more ships have more influence at the IMO, and also have the greatest incentive to keep regulatory burdens low.
On June 26, 2023, Bangladesh and Liberia acceded to the IMO’s Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009 (the Hong Kong Convention), thus meeting the requirements for the convention to enter into force on June 26, 2025. In a letter to Human Rights Watch, an IMO official said that the Hong Kong Convention is “making a positive contribution in regards of the right of workers to a safe and clean working environment.” However, while the IMO, shipping companies, and shipbreaking yards promote the Hong Kong Convention as the solution to a safe and sustainable ship recycling industry, experts and activists have long-lamented major gaps in the convention that weaken its ability to provide the level of regulation that its proponents promise. Experts have repeatedly raised concerns that the Hong Kong Convention will serve to greenwash the shipbreaking industry, without ensuring much-needed regulation. At the same time, exporting countries continue to ignore the Basel Convention, which applies to end-of-life ships, and offers a higher level of control than the Hong Kong Convention.
Bangladeshis should not suffer the environmental and health impact of dismantling toxic ships under unsafe conditions simply because their lives are considered cheaper. Instead of investing time and resources in greenwashing unsafe practices, companies should invest in proven methods and they should stop insisting that beaching is safe. To ensure global capacity to sustainably recycle the massive influx in end-of-life ships over the next decade, shipping companies should invest in building stable platform facilities at a standard that fully protects workers’ rights and include mechanisms for the downstream management of waste.
Existing international and domestic regulations do not go far enough and, in some cases, are designed to be ignored. To ensure workers are protected, laws prohibiting the sale of end-of-life ships to yards without adequate safety and environmental measures should apply to the country of the ship’s beneficial owner, including for at least two years after its sale; shipping companies should face economic costs for circumventing regulations; exporting countries should adhere to the requirements set out in the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban Amendment; and cash buyers and other intermediaries should be properly regulated.
This report is produced in collaboration with the NGO Shipbreaking Platform which provided expert analysis and additional investigations tracking ship movements and transactions.
The report is based on Human Rights Watch interviews with 45 shipbreaking workers and relatives of shipbreaking workers. We also interviewed 2 doctors working in Chattogram and 8 experts on shipbreaking, ship recycling, and Bangladesh environmental and labor laws.
All workers interviewed provided verbal informed consent to participate and were assured that they could end the interview at any time or decline to answer any questions. No compensation was provided for any interviews. Most workers quoted in this report have been given pseudonyms and, in some cases, other identifying information has been withheld to protect them from retaliation.
The report also relies heavily on analysis of primary data sources including public shipping databases, company financial reports and websites, Bangladesh maritime import records, and leaked import certificates.
Human Rights Watch wrote to 12 shipping or shipbreaking broker companies, 6 flag agencies and 3 shipbreaking yards as well as to the International Maritime Organization, and the Bangladesh Department of Environment, the Ministry of Industries, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, and the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Board.
Human Rights Watch received replies from A.P. Moller – Maersk A/S on May 29, 2023, Best Oasis Ltd on June 1, 2023, the International Maritime Organization on June 29, 2023, and Novonor on July 3, 2023.
These letters and replies are included in appendices I-VII, except for the reply from Best Oasis which the company requested we do not include for publication.
Labor in Bangladesh’s shipbreaking industry is largely informal, unregulated, and rarely subject to occupational health and safety inspections or controls. Workers in many Bangladesh shipbreaking yards cut wires and pipes, blast through ship hulls with blowtorches, climb multiple stories, and haul scrap metal, often without adequate protective gear. Many are killed and seriously injured by explosions, are crushed by falling chunks of steel, and are burned by flammable gases, liquids, and other materials in the ships.
Workers persistently described feeling afraid for their lives when they went to work. Abul, 31, said: “If I am distracted for even a moment in the place where I work, I could die immediately.”[7] Another worker, Kamrul, 39, who has worked in shipbreaking for 27 years since he was 12 years old, said that injuries in the yards are common. “We are not safe in the shipyard while working,” he said. “Nails hit us, or flames hit us. Most of the workers at some point get burned. I never feel safe.”[8] Sabbir, 27, who has been working in the yards for seven years, said he doesn’t want to work in shipbreaking because it is too dangerous but feels he has no other options. “Nobody wants to work here because they know there is a risk and accidents may occur at every step,” he said. “The owners do not provide us with any safety measures. They overlook these things.”[9] During a November 2022 visit, the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Claudia Mahler, noted that “while accidents regularly happen, sometimes leading to death, no statistical data on deaths and disabilities caused by accidents is collected.”[10]
Many shipbreaking workers are children. A 2019 survey of shipbreaking workers estimated that 13 percent of the workforce are children.[11] Researchers noted, however, that this number jumps to 20 percent during illegal night shifts.[12] Many of the workers interviewed for this report began working as children, around 13 years old.
Once ashore, the shipbreaking process is done in two stages: cutting and carrying. In the cutting stage, workers (“cutters” and “helpers”) dismantle the ship by hand and with oxygen-acetylene or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) torches. Injuries linked to this phase are frequently caused by fires, or explosions, and falling or being crushed by falling metal. In the carrying stage, workers (“carriers”) drag steel and other parts ashore piece by piece. Carriers often lack adequate equipment including steel-toed boots or gloves. Instead, carriers in some cases are working barefoot, carrying chunks of steel over the sand. Repeated heavy lifting without adequate training or tools can cause serious injury.[13] In other cases, carriers use three-wheelers or other small vehicles to pull heavier chunks that can weigh up to a thousand tons.[14]
Ships are full of flammable substances such as diesel, oil, gas, oxygen tanks, and polymers. According to the Basel Convention Technical Guidelines and the Bangladesh government 2011 Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules (further discussed in Section II), the vessel should be secured before any cutting begins, all flammable substances should be either safely removed or secured, and precautions should be in place.[15] But many shipyards in Bangladesh rarely conduct adequate inventories of material on the ship before the cutting begins, leaving workers at risk of serious burns, death, or injury from explosions.
Syed, 22, who works as a cutter, said: “We cut the ship using oxygen and LPG gas torches. When we cut a tanker or oil line of the ship, there is always a high risk of explosion. We work knowing that at any time a fire incident can take place.”[16] Ahmed, 26, who also works as a cutter said: “We feel afraid while cutting the oil pipeline because sometimes sparks from our torches create fire which can easily burn a cutter man.”[17]
Workers are also at risk of falling from the ship or can be crushed by falling chunks of steel or other parts. “The ship is big. We cut the ship while hanging off the side using a rope ladder. Workers sometimes slip and fall into the water,” Ahmed said.[18] Hasan, 25, who worked as a cutter, said he left the job in April 2021 after he fell from the second floor of a ship:
Hasan received 15 stitches in his head and said the doctor told him his skull was fractured and that it would take two months to fully recover. When we interviewed him eight months later he said he still has severe headaches: “I feel pain. Whenever I hear any sound, it affects me and my brain badly.”[20] He explained that while he was in the hospital the yard did not pay his wages. The yard paid for five days in hospital but nothing afterwards.
According to the 2011 Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, all shipbreaking workers must be provided with protective equipment “including head protection, face and eye protection; respiratory protective equipment; hearing protection; protectors against radioactive contamination; protection from falls and appropriate clothing.”[21] But workers in Bangladesh report that they rarely have adequate equipment, putting them at risk of serious injury and death. Ahmed, 26, a cutter, explained:
Mizanur, 38, a cutter who has worked in the shipbreaking yards since he was 18, said that the safety gear provided is of “very low quality. It doesn’t fit on our bodies. The glasses fall right off,” he said.[23] Abul, another worker, said:
Syed, 22, said that he and his coworkers get gloves once a week, but the gloves are such poor quality they are unusable within three days. “When the gloves do not work anymore, sometimes we use socks to protect our hands from the flame,” he said. He also said that the protective eyewear is inadequate: “The safety goggles that they give us to protect our faces while cutting with fire does not work properly after three days. It becomes blurry. The glasses costs only BDT30 [$0.35] but we have to wait 10 to 15 days for new ones so sometimes we don’t wait for the owner, we buy it ourselves.”[25] Syed makes BDT 585 per day ($6.82).
Workers say that if they complain about the lack of protective equipment, they are told they can quit. Asif, 25, who has been working as a cutter for seven years, said that the yard he works in does not provide any protective gear at all. He said “If I go to the office and ask for gloves or mask, the company refuses and says if you want to work, then work without gear. Otherwise leave the yard.”[26]
All the workers interviewed for this report said most yards sometimes provide the cutters with limited protective equipment, but helpers and carriers get nothing. Ahmed explained that gloves and goggles are not provided at all to the helper who works with him. He said that when his helper is lifting heavy objects, he lends him his own gloves. “Gloves are so important for the helper job because the sheets of iron and ship pieces are so hot when they are cut, it is very important to wear gloves, but the company never provides gloves,” he said.[27] He said he also bought his helper protective eyewear from the market, though Ahmed makes BDT 550 (US$6.40) per day.
Carriers lift heavy loads and risk severe injuries, particularly because the beaching method makes safer transportation impossible. Sohrab, 27, has worked in one yard for eight years as a carrier. His job is to carry oxygen cylinders weighing about 120 kg each (260 lbs) from the ship to the shore. He said the yard provides no protective equipment to carriers—even boots—and so he works barefoot. He earns 200 BDT ($2) per day and says he cannot afford to buy his own gumboots. He said:
Bangladesh’s 2011 Ship Breaking and Recycling Rules require that shipbreaking yards have dedicated and accessible health facilities with an “adequate number of beds for a trauma unit, orthopedic unit, burn unit, intensive care unit, other chronic diseases, and disabilities treatment unit.”[29] While, there is a healthcare clinic run by the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Board (BSRB), it only has facilities to treat primary injuries. In the case of any major injury, workers need to be transported either to a private clinic or, more often, the government-run Chattogram Medical College Hospital.
The shipbreaking rules also require accessibility for ambulances and other emergency vehicles. But because shipbreaking in Bangladesh is done on the sand, it is nearly impossible for emergency vehicles, even if they are available, to get to the work site. After an explosion on a ship in 2019, for example, video footage shows barefoot workers without any emergency equipment carrying their injured colleagues.[30] In every case of injury documented in this report, injured workers said their colleagues had to carry them from the worksite to the road, in most cases without a stretcher. Once they reached the road, in most cases, they had to hire a rickshaw, car, or “CNG” (motorized rickshaw) to get to the hospital.
Nurul, 24, who had been working in shipbreaking yards since he was 14, suffered severe injuries to his spinal cord on April 27, 2022, when a heavy piece of iron fell over two meters and hit him on the back. He said his coworkers carried him to the car because there was no stretcher and eventually the yard owner hired a private car where he rode in the backseat to the hospital, potentially exacerbating his spinal cord injuries.[31]
On November 19, 2017, during an illegal night shift at around midnight, Rakib, 20, was cutting a heavy piece of iron when the piece fell, chopping off his left leg, while an iron rod pierced his stomach. He was pinned to the ground for 45 minutes before other workers were able to rescue him. Because he was working in the middle of the night, there were no cars or rikshaws immediately available to transport him to the hospital, so his coworkers carried him on their shoulders to the nearest clinic. The clinic refused to take him, saying they didn’t have the capacity to treat injuries so severe, at which point they were finally able to hire a private car to take him to Chittagong Medical College where he underwent treatment for 17 days.[32]
Some workers said shipyard owners delayed their transport to the hospital by refusing to pay for transportation costs. Omar, 30, said he was injured in January 2018 when a heavy piece of iron landed on his leg. He said the owners refused to help transfer him to emergency care and it took about eight hours before he was able to get a vehicle to the hospital.[33] Masum, 44, said that on December 12, 2018, he was cutting through a pipe at a steel rolling mill when it exploded. He said workers helped carry him to the road, but the owner just tossed him on the bed of a truck outside the yard. “They just threw me away,” he said. He said his coworkers called his brother who came and took him to the hospital where his leg was ultimately amputated.[34]
When Aarul, 39, fell 6 meters from a ship, he landed on scattered pieces of iron that fractured his leg and knocked out five teeth. Instead of taking him to the hospital, however, the yard managers took him to his room and left him there. He said he was in severe pain, so he called a worker who helps advocate for other workers’ rights who went and confronted the shipyard owner. The owner finally agreed to take Aarul to the BSRB hospital where he received treatment for four days. He was out of work for about eight months without wages and he is working in another shipbreaking yard now. He said, “It feels risky because I know there is no safety for the workers anywhere in this sector. But I have to keep working in the yards because if I stay at home who will give me food?”[35]
During her 2022 visit, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Claudia Mahler, similarly noted that older workers are frequently not provided with adequate protection equipment and have limited access to healthcare and social protection.[36]
The 2011 Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules as well as the 2006 Labour Act require employers to pay for treatment of workplace injuries, to cover wages up to a year during recovery, and to pay compensation in case of injury or death, including for longer-term health impacts such as asbestosis and cancer. Under the 2011 Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, after an accident, a yard is supposed to immediately suspend operations for a week while the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Board conducts an independent investigation and mandates any necessary changes. In case of injury, the board is supposed to initiate penal action and, in the case of negligence, suspend yard operations for a year and mandate payment of about $1,800 to injured workers alongside coverage of complete treatment and up to one year’s worth of wages. The compensation for fatality is $4,500.[37]
However, these measures are rarely taken, and workers said that it is often difficult to secure payment for their treatment. In many cases, workers said they received inadequate care either when the yard owner refused to pay for a certain procedure or simply stopped paying. Some workers received compensation for their injuries, but rarely the full amount required under Bangladesh law. The minimum wage requirements for shipbreaking workers set by the Ministry of Labour and Employment include a monthly stipend for medical care, however, none of the workers interviewed received this stipend.[38]
On June 19, 2019, Sakawat, 28, was carrying an iron bundle on his shoulder when he slipped and the bundle fell, smashing his right foot. He went to Chittagong Medical College hospital where his foot was ultimately amputated. For four weeks he repeatedly requested that the yard owners cover his medical costs, but they refused. He ultimately paid the hospital bills using his entire savings and with loans from his friends. He is now homeless and sleeps at the railway station where he begs for money. He tried filing a case in the local labor court but could not afford the lawyers’ fees so dropped his case.[39]
Sabbir, 27, said that in 2020 he was working as a helper when a piece of iron dropped from the top of the ship and broke his left hand and cut through a tendon. The yard owners took him to the hospital but would only pay for his hand to be bandaged and for some painkillers. He was unable to work for three months and still can hardly grip with his left hand. However, the yard owners did not pay for any additional treatment or any wages while he was out of work, as is required by law.[40]
Rakib, 20, the worker described above who lost his leg and was injured in the stomach by a steel rod, said that when he went to Chittagong Medical College Hospital, the doctors only treated his stomach injury and stopped the bleeding from his leg. He said his mother begged the doctors to fully treat his leg, but the doctors told her that the yard owners were only paying for lifesaving treatment. Rakib was discharged after 17 days in hospital, but after a few days he developed gangrene on his leg. His mother had to take loans to pay for private healthcare, spending $1,000 to treat the gangrene. Rakib and his family have repeatedly sought compensation from the shipyard owners, but he says they have refused to pay anything. “I’m only 20 years old and my life is totally ruined by this accident,” Rakib said.[41]
Sohrab, 25, said that in February 2022 he was carrying an oxygen cylinder when he slipped and the cylinder—weighing about 120kg—fell on his leg and smashed his toes. He said the shipyard owners just gave him painkillers and refused to take him to the hospital. He went on his own to a local clinic where his treatment cost $9 per day, but after ten days he left because he could no longer afford medical care.[42] The day before we interviewed Sohrab, he was working in the yard when a wire pierced his bare foot. He said he did not have enough money to go to the hospital, so he purchased painkillers and pulled the wire out of his own foot.[43]
Nurul, 24, who suffered a spinal cord injury when a heavy piece of iron fell from eight feet and hit him on the back in 2022, said that the yard owner paid some of the hospital bill but eventually stopped. He says he feels severe pain when he lies down or tries to work but he cannot afford pain medication. The company stopped paying his salary as soon as he was injured and never paid any compensation aside from $20 while he was in the hospital.[44]
Some workers, such Asok, 45, took their employer to labor court to cover the cost of treatment. Asok was injured when a heavy piece of iron fell on his back. He said he went to the company office at the yard, but it was closed so he went to the hospital himself. He contacted the yard owners from the hospital asking them to cover the cost of treatment, but they refused. He left the hospital without treatment because he couldn’t afford care. He eventually took the yard owners to labor court, and the court required the owners to cover the treatment cost and to cover half his wages (5,000 BDT (US $50)) for five months.[45] Asok is no longer able to work due to his injuries so now his 18-year-old son is working in the nearby steel rolling mill. “My family is helpless, he said. “We need to survive so I send my son to the steel rolling mill, but my son is also at risk working there.”[46]
Bangladesh has laws to protect the rights of workers,[47] but they are seldom properly enforced leading to serious abuses.
Workers said they are rarely given breaks or space to safely rest, despite working six days per week in 8-12 hours shifts. Abul, 31, said, “There is no way I can take rest while working for 12 hours. I went to a seminar on workers’ rights where they told us that we should legally have some time and spaces to rest, but in reality that never happens.”[48] Ariful, 28, said that they take a lunch break in the middle of their eight hour shift but otherwise will be reprimanded for resting: “If the foreman or the yard authorities find us sitting or taking rest, they scold,” he said.[49]
Though the 2011 Ship Breaking and Recycling Rules require that shipbreaking yards provide dedicated onsite facilities to take rest, workers say they have nowhere to go. Workers described even trying to rest inside of the ships. Ahmed, 26, said “there is no specific rest room for the workers, we take rest sometimes on the cabin of the broken ships or using the toilet of the broken ships.”[50] Another worker, Mohammed, 39, who has been working in shipbreaking since he was 13, said “There is nowhere to take rest or to eat. When we are working in a ship, we take our foods and snacks on the ship. There is no rest actually.”[51]
A lack of safe rest space is particularly dangerous during night shifts. Syed, 22 said that yard owners provide breaks during night shift but they cannot leave the yard and there is nowhere to safely rest. “When we work at night, we do not get have any safe place to take rest, you cannot just sleep at the yard.”[52]
Workers generally described being given two days of sick leave if they are hospitalized, during which they will still be paid their wages. After two days, wages generally stop, even if the worker is hospitalized due to an injury on the job. Ariful, 28, who had injured his hand lifting heavy iron, explained:
Faizul, 32, said that in 2021 he cut his leg on a piece of metal wire on the worksite. He said the company paid for basic treatment but that he was paid no wages while he recovered for 15 days at home. He said, “there was no salary for those 15 days because if we don’t go to work, we will get no money.”[54]
Ahmed, 26, said that when he was injured on the job, he lost wages and had to pay for medical treatment:
“Shipbreaking workers are usually illiterate and extremely poor, so they just cannot speak for their rights. They are afraid they will lose their jobs,” explained a labor activist. He said that because workers who speak up are frequently fired and they are dependent on those wages to survive, it is difficult for workers to collectively demand their rights.[56]
The Ministry of Labour and Employment set a minimum monthly wage for shipbreaking workers. However, workers are consistently paid far below the required amount.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 23 cutters for this report. On average, their reported monthly wages were 11,564 BDT ($121.72), about half of the minimum wage for ship cutters of approximately 21,250 BDT ($193,67) per month set by the Ministry of Labour and Employment.[57] None of the workers interviewed were receiving monthly stipends for housing, healthcare, and transportation included in the minimum wage total. Helpers we interviewed were earning as little as 5,200 BDT ($54.73) per month— one third of the approximately 16,000 BDT ($145.83) per month that they should be paid according to the minimum wage laws.[58] Helpers were also not being paid the housing, health, and transportation allowances they are owed.
Ariful, 28, who earns 310 BDT ($2.83) per day, said that eight years ago, when he started working as a helper, he earned 290 BDT ($2.64).[59] “We tried to negotiate or protest to raise our wages,” he said, but succeeded in getting only a raise of 20 taka ($0.18).[60] Rashed, a worker and labor rights activist explained:
Shipbreaking workers are mostly migrants from the impoverished northern part of the country who are employed in the yards through labor contractors.[62] Contractors in this case are other workers who take a commission for bringing in new workers. These arrangements are almost always based solely on a verbal agreement. Once workers are employed in the yard, yard owners will sometimes require them to sign a contract that they were not allowed to read or retain. Asok, 27, explained:
If workers protest conditions or try to unionize, they say they are fired. Kamrul, 39, said “If workers raise their voice, they will lose their jobs.”[64] As Abul, 31, said, “we don’t protest as that might bring retaliation to us.”[65] Syed, 22, said:
Tanvir, 50, said that he and other workers have been trying to unionize since 1985, but that such organizing is deterred when workers are fired. “When I led a protest against the owner, they fired me from the work,” he said. He filed a lawsuit after being fired but because he didn’t have a contract, the shipyard just claimed he never worked there.[67] Another worker and labor rights activist, Rashed, said that he has been fired more than 30 times from different yards for trying to organize workers.[68]
Activists complained that some of the ship recycling yards have created so-called “yellow unions” that are not genuinely independent, and instead are established by the yard owners to control workers and prevent them from establishing a union of their choice.[69]
Workers say increased scrutiny from journalists and NGOs of conditions in the yards over the past few years has led to a tightening of restrictions on communicating with people outside the yards or providing access to the worksites, and several said that they are not allowed to bring their phones into the yard.[70] Journalists and non-governmental organizations are rarely given access and workers face retaliation for speaking out. Ahmed, 26, said:
Another worker, Sohel, 28, explained: “The life of the shipbreaking workers inside the yards or outside always remains hidden because of the pressure of the company owners. If we talk or raise our voice, we will lose our jobs.”[72]
In order to avoid public scrutiny, some yard owners will break ships at night which only increases risk of accidents, despite night operations being prohibited under the 2011 Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules.[73] Dr. Shaheen Chowdhury, law professor at the University of Chittagong, explained that “employers increasingly employ people at night because it is easier to circumvent media and journalists. There is no watchdogging at night. It is a technique to avoid monitoring and surveillance.”[74]
End-of-life ships are considered toxic waste under the Basel Convention because they are full of toxic materials:[75] asbestos is used as insulation; heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and chromium are in paints and coatings for batteries, motors, generators, and cables; mercury is in thermometers, electrical switches, lights, and often in vessels that have operated in the oil and gas extraction sector; oils, fuel, harmful bacteria, and toxic sludge are found in bilge water,[76] sewage, and ballast water;[77] Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are in cables[78]. A 2010 World Bank study projected that between 2010-2030, Bangladesh would import 79,000 tons of asbestos, 240,000 tons of cables containing PCBs, and nearly 70,000 tons of toxic paints via end-of-life ships.[79] Floating Oil Production, Storage and Offloading tankers (FPSO) and Floating Oil Storage and Offloading tankers (FSO) may also contain naturally radioactive substances.
Without proper protective equipment, processes, and storage, handling, and disposal facilities, workers and surrounding communities are exposed to these toxic materials in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they grow and eat.
When workers burn through ships in the cutting phase, toxic chemicals and minerals are released into the air.[80] Without respirators and other recommended protective equipment, workers inhale extremely toxic substances, especially when dismantling inside confined spaces. Tanvir, 50, who works as a cutter, said “When we do the cutting, the smoke gives us respiratory problems like coughing and breathing difficulties. We are not provided any respirators, so we try to use our own clothes as masks but still the smoke gets through.”[81] Faisal, 22, said:
Ahmed, 26, said “we need masks, but the foreman never pays any attention to that request. We have to use our t-shirts which we wrap around our mouths as masks.”[83]
Asbestos is one of the most common toxic materials found in older ships. Though the use of asbestos in new ships was banned in 2002, most of the ships coming to Bangladesh for breaking now were built before 2002.[84]
Inhalation can also lead to asbestosis, a form of pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of lung tissues), which causes difficulty breathing.[85] Asbestosis is highly prevalent among shipbreakers in Bangladesh. A 2017 study by the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health, and Environment Foundation found that more than one third of the shipbreaking workers surveyed who had worked in shipbreaking for at least ten years were suffering from asbestosis.[86] Asbestosis can lead to cardiovascular disease as a result of severely decreased lung capacity and significantly increases risk of mesothelioma and lung cancer.[87]
Nazmul, 51, who works as a cutter and is an advocate for shipbreaking workers’ rights said that he knows 33 workers with asbestosis, himself included. He said he suffers from chest pain and shortness of breath, and that four of his colleagues have died from complications related to asbestos exposure.[88] In a focus group discussion with 15 shipbreaking workers with asbestosis, all of the participants described experiencing chest pain, physical weakness, breathing problems, and difficulty doing day-to-day tasks.[89] Imran, 59, said “I cannot go upstairs, I am deteriorating day by day.”[90]
Dr. Rajat Biswas, an internist and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Chattogram Maa-O-Shishu Hospital Medical College explained that out of his 16 current patients who are shipbreaking workers, 15 are suffering from respiratory conditions—mostly asbestosis—often requiring a nebulizer to help them breathe (an inhaler that delivers medication).
The medicine and Inhaler required to ease symptoms costs about 11,000 BDT per month (US$118), but workers say their employers have refused to cover medical costs, despite their legal obligation to do so under the Bangladesh Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011 and the mandated medical stipend included in the minimum wage legislation for shipbreaking workers.[91] Some workers suffering from asbestosis have formed an Asbestos Victims Rights Network and have held seminars and a peaceful protest calling on their employers to pay for the treatment and lost wages related to the disease, but they have received no response. Arif said, “Since the asbestosis diagnosis I feel scared all the time. I need medicine and I need money.”[92]
Some former workers with asbestosis said they were no longer able to work because it was too difficult to breathe and maintain stamina. As a result, their children had to drop out of school to help make ends meet. Ali, 42, said that his 16-year-old daughter had to leave school to work in a garment factory. “She was a student, but her education stopped now because I cannot work,” he said.[93]
Asbestosis is almost entirely preventable with adequate safety procedures and protection equipment.[94] But as Dr. Biswas said, “They need a better environment, better awareness,” he said. “They don’t know the toxins they are exposed to, how to prevent exposure. They are untrained. What they have learned has been on the spot.”[95] 
Having proper procedures in place to handle and dispose of asbestos is critical.[96] One ship recycling expert explained that “rules and regulations within the EU concerning the management, removal, and disposal of asbestos products are very strict. Removal can only be done by specialized licensed companies, asbestos waste has to be double bagged and can only be transported in closed and sealed containers, disposal can be glazing or mixing with concrete to permanently fix the fibers.” [97]
According to the 2011 Bangladesh Ship Breaking and Recycling Rules, all shipyards are required to have an asbestos storage unit on site[98] and workers must be provided with equipment for the safe removal of asbestos.[99] Yards are required to remove asbestos in leakproof containers and dispose of it according to regulations set by the Department of Environment.[100] But these procedures are rarely followed. Instead, workers and experts say the asbestos is just sold in the local market in what some workers called “asbestos villages.”[101] Asbestos from ships is used in cooking stoves and other furniture for sale. “The way they are breaking it and transporting it to different shops is a whole mess,” one Bangladeshi activist said. “They just take it from the ship and bring to the shops.”[102]
Studies over the last decade have found that heavy metals such as iron, manganese, cobalt, copper, zinc, lead, cadmium, nickel, and mercury released from the ships on Bangladesh’s shores are contaminating the soil and groundwater, and via these, local fruits and vegetables.[103] For example, a 2020 study by researchers from the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research measured the metal contamination of soil around shipbreaking areas and food crops grown nearby and found that some crops were so heavily contaminated with dangerous heavy metals that they exceeded the threshold set by the World Health Organization for safe consumption.[104] The researchers estimated that copper, zinc, cadmium, and lead are “contributing to the potential human health risk in the ship breaking area.”[105]
Cadmium is carcinogenic and exposure through drinking water can result in neurodegeneration and other diseases.[106] When workers breathe in cadmium through industrial dust, exposure can lead to kidney damage and lung injuries.[107] Exposure to chromium can lead to neurological diseases and several cancers.[108] Mercury, when exposed through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact, attacks the nervous system and can result in lifelong disability and even death in higher doses. Mercury is typically absorbed into the surface of a ship’s carbon steel tank walls, piping, and pumps and is frequently found in oil extraction ships. When heated up by simple methods such as sand blasting, water blasting, grinding, and gas-axing (such as the oxygen-acetylene torches used by ship cutters), extremely toxic mercury vapor is released in high concentrations which will bypass most commercial personal protection equipment. Children are particularly susceptible to the harms of mercury poisoning because their bodies are still developing, meaning children working in shipbreaking yards are at particular risk. There is no known safe level of exposure.[109] 
Without the use of dry-docks it is nearly impossible for shipyards to deploy the proper tools and containment measures to safely process toxic ships. In 2010, Calin Georgescu, the then special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, argued that the requirement under the Basel Convention to take all practical steps towards the “environmentally sound management” of hazardous wastes “cannot be achieved when ships are dismantled on tidal beaches without concrete covering or any other containment.”[110]
At time of writing, Bangladesh does not have a toxic waste storage, treatment, and disposal facility for shipbreaking, despite commitments under the 2018 Ship Recycling Act to build one by 2021. Because ships in Bangladesh are broken down directly on the beach, toxic waste is dumped straight on the beach and the sea. Because Bangladesh is situated on a delta, the coasts have some of the largest tidal ranges in the world, meaning some toxic substances are swept out to sea and then back inland up coastal waterways.[111]
Asok, 45, who has worked in shipbreaking since he was 10 years old, said that in recent years the shipyard owners created some storage rooms for waste, but that “actually they are throwing that waste into the sea. That’s why the sea water is getting polluted. And when investigators come to the yard that’s the only time waste is taken to the rooms.”[112]
Pollutants are permanently impacting marine biodiversity and coastal habitats. According to the Marine Institute of the University of Chittagong, the shipbreaking industry has wiped out 21 species of fish and crustacean and endangered 11 other species.[113]
A 2017 study by researchers at Bangladesh’s Jahangirnagar University estimated that there are about 20,000 fishing families living along the Sitakunda coastal strip whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the pollution from shipbreaking. Fishermen explain that not only are the fish they rely on for their livelihood disappearing, but incoming boats regularly tear through their nets which take months to repair, cutting into an important source of income.[114]
Aijaz, 25, said that he used to be a fisherman but started working in shipbreaking because ships kept breaking through his nets. He explained:
Masum, 44, who started selling fish after he was injured in the shipbreaking yards said “the sea water is being polluted by the ships and it is poisonous in the sea water, so the fisherman are not finding any fish. The fish are dying. That’s why fishermen have to go into the deep sea to catch fish. Lives of the fishermen are getting risky day by day.”[116]
Nurul, 24, explained that not only do shipyard owners refuse to pay for the fishermen’s losses when ships break through their nets, but they also will threaten and intimidate the fishermen. “Sometimes the yard owners confiscate the nets to prevent fishing. The owners feel it gets in the way because they want to control the beach area. The fishermen can’t say anything because shipyard owners are powerful and fishermen are very poor.”[117]
The shipbreaking industry is also responsible for cutting down coastal mangrove forests, one of Bangladesh’s most important lines of defense against climate change. Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world. It is predicted that in the next 30 years more than 10 percent of coastal land will disappear, displacing one in seven people.[118] Mangrove forests serve as an important barrier to erosion, holding land together with their roots as tides rise.[119] However, shipyard owners have illegally cut down swaths of mangroves to make way for incoming ships.[120]
There are international and national laws and guidelines for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling. However, these requirements are frequently ignored or circumvented. Without effective enforcement, Bangladeshis will continue to pay the heavy cost in the form of damage to the environment, to health, and to the rights of workers.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified by Bangladesh, requires all party states to ensure safe and healthy working conditions.[121] The International Labour Organization additionally lays out obligations and standards to protect worker’s rights to occupational health and safety. The two core instruments are the Occupational Safety and Health Convention (C155) and the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (C187). In June 2022, ILO delegates voted to add the principle of a safe and healthy working environment to the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, meaning that all ILO Member States are committed to respecting and promoting the fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment, regardless of whether they have ratified the relevant conventions.[122] Though Bangladesh has not ratified ILO Conventions 155 and 187, it is therefore still obligated to uphold their standards.
Nationally, there are three main pieces of legislation protecting shipbreaking workers’ rights to occupational health and safety: the 2011 Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules (enforced through the 2018 Ship Recycling Act), the 2013 National Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Policy, and the 2006 Labour Act.
The 2011 Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules require that all workers are provided with personal protective equipment including head, face, hand, and foot protection, respiratory protective equipment, hearing protection, protection against radioactive contamination, protection from falls, and appropriate clothing meeting standards set by the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution under the Ministry of Industries.[123] Yards must have systems and procedures in place to document and track all hazardous waste on ships and to adequately respond in case of emergency. The rules also explicitly call for yards to establish an occupational health and safety policy in consultation with workers.[124]
The 2013 OSH Policy applies to all workplaces, formal and informal, including shipbreaking yards, and requires employers to provide training, guidelines, and adequate safety equipment.[125] It also recommends periodic medical examinations of workers to identify potential workplace-related diseases or injuries.[126]
The Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 (amended in 2018) states that “no authority shall engage any worker in work without providing him with personal safety equipment,”[127] including safety goggles in conditions where they are at risk of exposure to excessive heat, debris, or light, as is the case for shipbreakers.[128] The law prohibits work requiring people to lift, carry, or move excessive weight that would be likely to cause injury. The law also requires employers to maintain safety records in any facility employing more than 25 workers.[129] If a worker reports an injury, the employer is required within three days of such notice, to “ensure the worker is examined at the expense of the employer by a registered medical practitioner.”[130] In the case of a fatal accident, employers are obligated under the Labour Act to report the accident within seven days to the local Labor Court.[131] The employer is liable to pay compensation if the worker suffers “total or partial disablement” for more than three days.[132] Injuries eligible for compensation include occupational diseases specific to the employment context such as asbestosis and certain cancers in the case of shipbreaking.[133]
Under the Fatal Accidents Act, 1855, in the case that a worker dies in a workplace accident, the court may pay damages to the family “proportioned to the loss resulting from such death.”[134] The Labour Welfare Foundation Act, 2006, set up a workers’ welfare foundation called the Bangladesh Sramik Kalyan Foundation (BSKF).[135] The BSKF’s responsibilities include providing financial assistance to workers who are physically disabled, arranging medical treatment and providing financial assistance to workers in case of work-related injury, and providing aid to the worker’s family in case of death.[136]
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Bangladesh ratified in 1998, specifies that every person has a right “to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”[137] Because states have different levels of resources, international law does not mandate the kind of health care to be provided beyond a certain minimum level. The right to health is considered a right of “progressive realization,” meaning that by becoming party to the ICESCR, a state agrees “to take steps … to the maximum of its available resources” to achieve the full realization of the right to health.[138]
The ICESCR requires that states, in order to realize the right to the highest attainable standard of health, shall take the steps necessary for “the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene.”[139] The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) which interprets and monitors states’ compliance with the ICESCR in the General Comment 14 on the Right to Health, has interpreted the ICESCR to include:
The right to health encompasses the right to healthy natural environments.[141] The CESCR has explained that governments violate the right to the highest attainable standard of health if they fail to regulate the activities of corporations to prevent them from violating the right to health of others.[142]
Both the ICCPR and the ICESCR, along with the relevant International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, guarantee the right to join trade unions. These, together with the authoritative interpretation of the ILO core conventions overseen by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA), obligate governments to ensure that employers do not thwart union formation and participation.[143]
ILO Convention No. 87 provides that workers have the right to join organizations “of their choosing without prior authorization” and authorities should not engage in any interference that would restrict this right or impede its enjoyment.[144] ILO convention No. 98 provides that workers shall be protected from anti-union discrimination, in particular acts to “cause the dismissal of or otherwise prejudice a worker by reason of union membership or because of participation in union activities outside working hours or, with the consent of the employer, within working hours.”[145] Bangladesh has ratified ILO conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and is required to protect the rights contained in them.
Section 195 of the Bangladesh Labor Act (2006, amended 2013) makes it illegal to “dismiss, discharge, remove from employment, or threaten to dismiss, discharge, or remove from employment a worker, or injure or threaten to injure him in respect of his employment by reason that the worker is or proposes to become, or seeks to persuade any other person to become, a member or officer of a trade union.”[146]
The ICESCR requires all party states to ensure rest, leisure, and reasonable limitations of working hours.[147] Under the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, workers should not regularly work more than eight-hour days.[148] Employers are required to allow one hour rest or two half hour intervals in an eight-hour workday.[149] Under the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006, every worker is entitled to sick leave with full wages for 14 days in a calendar year.[150]
Though a living wage is not nominally defined under international law, Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.”[151] The International Labour Organization enshrines this right in Conventions 95 and 131 and includes recommendations on enforcing minimum wages, including by protecting the right to freedom of association.
The ICESCR recognizes the right to a remuneration that provides for “a decent living for themselves and their families” in accordance with other basic rights protected by the covenant.[152]
In 2018 the Ministry of Labor and Employment established minimum wage requirements in the shipbreaking sector under the 2006 Labour Act. Most of the workers interviewed for this report fall under either Grade three (cutters) or four (helpers). According to the requirements, employers must pay those in Grade three 21,250 BDT ($194) per month, including stipends for housing, medical care, and transport.[153] For Grade four, employers must pay 16,000 BDT ($146) per month, including stipends for housing, medical care, and transport.[154] Many Bangladesh shipbreaking companies do not comply with these minimum standards, instead offering contracts that workers sign for a fraction of the wages without any effort at informed consent.
The Bangladesh government has identified shipbreaking as one of 38 most dangerous forms of child labor as part of its 2008 National Elimination of Child Labour Policy.[155] The 2009 High Court 18-point directive bans the employment of children under the age of 16 in shipbreaking yards and the 2011 Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules ban the employment of children.[156] Still, researchers estimate that 13 percent of shipbreaking workers overall are children and that 20 percent of workers during illegal nightshifts are children.[157]
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, both ratified by Bangladesh in 1990 and 2001 respectively, require states to ensure companies are prohibited from employing children under 18 in work that is likely to be hazardous or harmful, or to interfere with the child’s education.[158]
The Worst Forms of Child Labor Recommendation provides guidance to countries on determining what types of work constitute harmful or hazardous work.[159] Many of these conditions are present in the shipbreaking industry such as work at dangerous heights or in confined spaces, work with dangerous machinery, equipment, and tools, and the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; unhealthy environment “which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents, or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health;” and work during night shifts.[160]
While existing international regulations lay out parameters for safe and environmentally sustainable ship recycling practices, they currently fail to address loopholes that prevent effective enforcement.
Adopted in 1989 by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the Basel Convention restricts and regulates the international trade of hazardous waste and requires state parties to “take all practical steps to ensure that hazardous wastes and other wastes are managed in a manner that will protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects which may result from such wastes.”[161]
Under the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban Amendment, the country of the ship’s port where it is declared waste is obligated to ensure that the receiving country has sufficient capacity for environmentally sustainable management of toxic waste.[162] Exporting countries are also obligated under the Basel Convention to obtain prior informed consent from the importing country which includes providing documentation of hazardous materials in the ship. [163]
In 2002, the Basel Convention Secretariat adopted the Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Full and Partial Dismantling of Ships (the Basel Convention Technical Guidelines) to serve as benchmarks for states to meet their obligations under the convention. According to the guidelines, state parties were expected to upgrade existing shipbreaking facilities to meet the standards of the model facility outlined in the technical guidelines within ten years of their adoption (by December 2012).
Our interviews suggest that twenty years since the adoption of the Basel Convention Technical Guidelines, shipyards in Bangladesh have yet to fulfill even the first stage of improvement.
The standards outlined in the Basel Convention Technical Guidelines[164] include:
Within one year of adoption (as of December 2003):
– Requiring inventories, cleaning, and safe removal of hazardous substances before recycling.
– Facilities should provide clean sufficient work areas with clearly demarcated zones for work, provide personnel with adequate protective equipment, and implement training on safe shipbreaking practices according to agreed-upon standards.[165]
Within five years of adoption (as of December 2007):
– Facilities should have implemented basic measures of an Environmental Management System[166] including a waste management plan, a contingency preparedness plan, and a monitoring plan for the safe and environmentally sound management of shipbreaking waste.
Within ten years (as of December 2012):
– Facilities should have full containment measures in place and ships should be deconstructed on impermeable floors (e.g., using a dry dock or pier).
– All asbestos should be removed using a vacuum decontamination unit.
– Incineration or landfills should have adequate environmental protections.
– All facilities should use a functioning wastewater treatment system.
– All facilities should be certified according to generally accepted standards.[167]
In 1995 a group of developing countries created the Basel Ban Amendment, which builds on the Convention and prohibits the export of hazardous wastes from member states of the European Union, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Liechtenstein to all other countries. The Ban Amendment entered into force on December 5, 2019.[168] 
Parties to the Basel Convention and the Ban Amendment include countries with some of the biggest shipping industries. But the Basel Convention has been difficult to enforce because it is only applicable once a ship technically becomes “waste,” at which point the country of the last port from which the ship departed is responsible for enforcing the convention.[169] A ship only becomes waste once it has been made clear there is an intent to dispose of them. Thus, ship owners circumvent the Basel Convention regulations by simply not declaring their intent to dispose of the ship and instead pretending that the ship is heading to a repair yard, for instance, or is being sold under the pretense of further use.
On June 26, 2023, Bangladesh and Liberia acceded to the International Maritime Organization’s Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009 (the Hong Kong Convention), thus meeting the requirements for the convention to enter into force on June 26, 2025.
The Hong Kong Convention is meant to set minimum standards for sustainable shipbreaking.[170] Parties to the convention are committed “to prevent, reduce, minimize and, to the extent practicable, eliminate accidents, injuries and other adverse effects on human health and the environment caused by Ship Recycling, and enhance life.” [171] The convention requires ships to carry an inventory of hazardous materials and for ship recycling facilities to be “designed, constructed, and operated in a safe and environmentally sound manner.” [172]
While shipping companies and shipbreaking yards both promote the Hong Kong Convention as the solution to a safe and sustainable ship recycling industry, experts and activists have long-lamented major gaps in the convention that weaken its ability to provide the regulation its proponents promise. Moreover, experts have repeatedly raised concerns that the Hong Kong Convention will serve to greenwash the shipbreaking industry, without ensuring much-needed regulation.
More than 100 civil society organizations have said that the Hong Kong Convention does not meet minimum standards for safety and environmental responsibility.[173] In an assessment of the convention, Calin Georgescu, the then special rapporteur on toxics and human rights stated that the Hong Kong Convention
The convention does not ban or even discourage the beaching method. It does not require shipowners to pre-clean the ship of hazardous waste before recycling, regardless of whether the ship recycling yards have facilities to manage such waste, and only calls for the cargo residues, fuel, oil, and waste on board to be “minimized.”[174] It fails to ban the movement of all ships containing asbestos, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs),[175] or other hazardous materials to places where such wastes could not be handled in an environmentally sound way.
Many of the important aspects of the ship recycling process are relegated to a series of nonmandatory guidelines which the state parties are only requested to “take into account.”[176] Unlike the EU Commission’s comprehensive assessment protocols that include independent auditing, the Hong Kong Convention makes it easy to approve substandard yards and relegates assessment to local authorities without independent oversight. If there is no objection to a yard’s ship recycling plan within two weeks, the plan “shall be deemed approved.”[177]
The Hong Kong Convention applies to the recycling state and the ship’s flag state, not the beneficial owner. A company seeking to circumvent even the inadequate terms of the Hong Kong Convention need only to change its flag to that of a country that has not signed the convention before being imported for breaking. Since the Hong Kong Convention is also applicable to the recycling state, it puts all the pressure on developing countries that do not have the resources, capacity, or leverage to ensure the ships they are importing are not full of toxic waste. At the same time, the convention does not contain any provisions for funds or alternative financing mechanisms to support the development of adequate facilities for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships.
Activists have also argued that the process to develop the Hong Kong Convention privileged industry interests over substantive regulation. Rizwana Hasan, director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), said of the process: “The clarion calls for substantive change have been rebuffed in every instance. Instead of real change, real responsibility, real action, we have been given an inventory, a plan, and some guidelines.”[178] Calin Georgescu, the then special rapporteur on toxics and human rights expressed concern that
The entry into force of the Hong Kong Convention raises concerns that it will replace the Basel Conventions application to ship recycling. However, experts argue that the Hong Kong Convention fails to provide an equivalent level of control and enforcement to the Basel Convention.[180]
Among other issues, unlike the Basel Convention and the Ban Amendment, the Hong Kong Convention does not outright “prohibit the movement of end-of-life ships containing asbestos, PCBs or other hazardous materials to countries where such wastes could not be handled in an environmentally sound way.”[181]
Second, while the Basel Convention emphasizes the importance of traceability of waste until its final disposal to ensure it is managed in a way that is environmentally sound, the Hong Kong Convention only stipulates that waste be transferred to a facility authorized for its disposal and does not require monitoring of waste dispatched downstream.
Third, under the Hong Kong Convention, ship recycling states are able to receive tacit approval for a ship recycling plan, rather than ensuring the plan for each ship is independently audited, which former special rapporteur on Toxics Calin Georgescu argued fails to satisfy the Basel Convention’s requirement of prior informed consent.
Finally, the Hong Kong Convention only applies to commercial ships and those over 500 GT, whereas the Basel Convention applies to all end-of-life ships. [182]
Meanwhile, various companies have begun offering shipyard owners “statements of compliance” with the Hong Kong Convention, that serve to greenwash substandard yards.[183] Ship owners can hire these companies, known as “classification societies,” to carry out inspections and provide safety and other certifications required for flag registration. The EU currently recognizes 12 classification societies, allowing them to act on behalf of EU member states. However, yard owners will contract these same classification societies as private consultants to assess and provide statements of compliance with the Hong Kong convention, thus giving the appearance of state compliance when in reality it is a business-to-business transaction.[184] In regards to the classification societies, former special rapporteur on human rights and toxics Baskut Tuncak said: “such private companies do not operate independently at all and should rather be seen as extensions of the shipping industry.”[185]
The European Union has comprehensive regulations regarding the disposal of end-of-life ships. However, applying the regulations according to flag states allows EU companies to easily circumvent their requirements.[186]
Entered into force in June 2006, the European Union Waste Shipment Regulation implements the Basel Convention as well as the 2001 OECD Control System for waste recovery with the aim of controlling the movement of waste within and from the EU.[187] The EU WSR prohibits the shipment of waste, including end-of-life ships, to non-OECD countries. For shipment to OECD countries, the exporter must go through a set of procedures including prior notification and approval from destination authorities. Enforcement is left to member states, which are required to establish laws regarding the export of waste with penalties that must be “effective, proportionate, and dissuasive.”[188]
Some states have begun incorporating criminal penalties for violating the EU WSR. In March 2022, a Norwegian appeals court upheld a November 2020 decision sentencing the owner of shipping company Eide Group, to six months imprisonment for violating section 79 of Norwegian Pollution Act (which incorporates the EU WSR in Norwegian law, although Norway is not a member state of the EU) and assisting Wirana (a major cash buyer) in attempting to illegally export a ship from Norway to the shipbreaking yards in Gadani, Pakistan. The court additionally ordered Eide Group to pay US$201,523 and Wirana to pay US$705,330.[189]
On November 17, 2021, the European Commission adopted a proposal to revise the EU WSR (and amending Regulations [EU] No 1257/2013 and [EU] No 2020/1056).[190] As part of the EU co-legislative process, the European Parliament adopted its position on January 17, 2023.[191] According to the Legislative Observatory,[192] the Council has not yet reached a General Approach.
The Commission Proposal states, in its preamble 14 that
The EU Ship Recycling Regulation,[193] adopted by the European Parliament in November 2013, specifically focuses on the export and management of end-of-life ships, and includes environmental protection and occupational health and safety standards. As of December 31, 2019, all EU-flagged ships were required to be recycled at an EU approved facility. At time of publishing, there are 48 such facilities that are regularly and independently audited for their compliance with standards on environmental protection and worker’s safety.[194] None of these approved facilities are in Bangladesh.
In June 2022, the European Commission launched a consultation process to evaluate the EU SRR in relation to the objectives of the European Green Deal and the circular economy action plan, assess its application and effectiveness, and identify gaps in implementation and enforcement. After a first call for evidence closed, the Commission has opened a public consultation which ended on June 7, 2023 with the perspective to publish a proposal for a revision in the first quarter of 2024 (at the time of publication).[195]
The findings of this report demonstrate that the EU SRR is not being implemented or enforced effectively because it fails to apply to the true beneficial owners of ships. As outlined in the recommendations of this report, the EU SRR should be revised to apply according to the beneficial owner, rather than the flag state of a ship, and should be applied for no less than two years following the sale of a ship.
On December 15, 2021, the European commission adopted a proposal for a new EU Directive on Environmental Crime under the European Green Deal. If adopted, the directive would require member states to ensure that national laws codifying the EU SRR would have to meet minimum penalties, including prison sentences and fines, and commit adequate resources to ensure effective enforcement. The draft directive explicitly includes illegal ship recycling as a category of criminal offense.[196]
Bangladesh has laws to protect labor rights including in the shipbreaking yards, but these are not properly enforced.
As a result of advocacy and impact litigation by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), on March 17, 2009, the High Court of Bangladesh halted the import of ships for recycling until it could be shown that a vessel had
The court additionally issues an 18-point directive to ensure health and safety standards and labor rights protections.[198] These included prohibitions against child labor and night shifts; to ensure workers have adequate protective equipment; to ensure workers are given breaks, have a safe place to rest, and are provided with contracts; and to provide adequate facilities for safe removal of asbestos, PVC, PCB, and heavy metals so that “no workers shall be exposed to these contaminants.” Finally, the directive tasked the Department of Environment and Ministry of Labour with monitoring compliance with these directives and to ensure that “no hazardous substance is released into any river, water body, canal, sea, land or any place other than the waste dumping facilities.”[199]
On December 15, 2010, the court again ordered the closure of 36 shipbreaking yards (nearly all functioning yards at the time) for operating without environmental clearance. On March 7, 2011, shipbreaking was allowed to restart under the condition that yards complied with the 2009 directive.
On October 19, 2011, the court said that yards had failed to comply with the 2009 directive and ordered the Department of Environment to stop issuing certificates until it was clear that proper rules and procedures were in place. In response, the Ministry of Industries published the Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011 and the Bangladesh Department of Environment adopted the Hazardous Waste and Ship Breaking Hazardous Waste Management Rules, 2011.
The publication of two separate sets of rules by two separate ministries has led to confusion and complications in application of standards. Indeed, in a 2019 ruling in the case of the import of the vessel North Sea Producer, the Bangladesh High Court stated that “a conundrum has arisen” whereby the two ministries have submitted “two separate but competing, if not rival, sets of rules addressing shipbreaking.”[200] Still, both sets of rules require supply of personal protective equipment, removal of hazardous materials before a ship is imported, and provide for compensation and care in case of worker injuries or death.
In 2016, the High Court issued a contempt rule against the authorities and the shipbreaking yard owners, asking the President of the Ship Breakers Association to explain why, seven years later, they still had not implemented the 2009 orders.[201]
In 2018, the Ministry of Industry adopted the Ship Recycling Act.[202] The Ship Recycling Act established the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Board (BSRB), responsible for the “overall supervision of ship recycling activities.”[203] The structure of the board, however, raises serious concerns about its independence, undermining the ability of the BSRB to adequately ensure the protection of workers’ rights and safety. While the board includes representatives of relevant ministries, local authorities, the president of the Association of Ship Recycling Industries, and two representatives of ship recycling yard owners, it does not include those most impacted such as local environmental organizations, labor rights groups, or worker representatives.[204]
The Ship Recycling Act requires regular inspections by an appointee of the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Board of shipbreaking yards to ensure they are following Bangladesh’s 2011 laws on ship recycling. It also committed to creating a toxic waste storage, treatment and disposal facility by 2021 which all shipbreaking yards would be required to use.[205] The Act states that the BSRB is responsible for ensuring all workers are adequately trained and that the government will create a training institute for shipbreaking workers by 2023.[206] Additionally, it requires all yard owners to provide life insurance for all shipbreaking workers and, in the event of a death or serious injury on the job, to compensate the worker and/or their family according to the Bangladesh Labour Act and the 2011 Shipbreaking Rules.[207] Notably, injuries that should be compensated according to the 2011 shipbreaking rules include longer term work-related illness, including asbestosis and cancer.[208]
In July 2019 BELA submitted a writ petition to the High Court claiming that since the 2009 judgement “at least 201 incidents have occurred in 85 yards claiming no less than 193 lives and injuring at least 86 labourers.”[209] BELA is arguing that these casualties could have been avoided had the 2009 orders been implemented. In addition to the deaths, injuries include loss of limbs and a separate petition specifically on cases of asbestos poisoning. The petition has called for the suspension of all work and import of ships to shipyards associated with these accidents—at least 40 yards—until it can be independently proven that the shipyards are meeting international standards under the Basel Convention.[210] Judgement is still pending.
In November 2019, the High Court issued a judgment on a 2017 case filed by BELA regarding a ship called the North Sea Producer that was illegally imported in 2016.[211] Though the ship was radioactive and full of asbestos, it was imported with a certificate stating that it was free of hazardous materials, akin to the recent certificates documented in this report. The High Court ruled that the import of the ship was illegal and directed the Department of Environment to ensure that ships were not imported without verified certificates.[212] The court directed the government to monitor and record the activities of cash buyers and the agents certifying the ships to stop importing scrapped ships sailing under grey and blacklisted flags.[213] Since this order, however, shipyards have imported at over 100 ships under gray or black-listed flags.
To be imported for breaking, a ship must be issued a “No Objection Certificate” from the BSRB based on a review of the ship’s hazardous waste inventory by the customs department. Additionally, the Department of Environment must issue an environmental clearance certificate and the Department of Explosives must issue “gas free for man entry,” and a “gas free for hot work” certificates.[214]
A ship recycling facility can only be approved if it demonstrates that it has a license for storage of flammable liquids, has adequate storage facilities for toxic waste and, specifically, a plan for safely handling, treating, and disposing of asbestos.[215] Waste cannot be thrown into the sea or on the seashore and “shall be removed carefully and sent immediately to the areas outside the beach for safe treatment and disposal.”[216] The Department of Environment is responsible for carrying out regular monitoring of air, soil, and water quality and ship recyclers will lose their authorization if it is found that they are not disposing of waste in an “environmentally sound manner.”[217]
Bangladesh’s Environmental Conservation Act, 1995, prohibits all industrial units from operating without an environmental clearance certificate.[218] The Department of Environment’s director general, or their delegate, has wide powers to enter premises, search buildings, collect air, water, and soil samples, and seek the assistance of law enforcement forces or utility providers to ensure compliance with his or her orders.[219] It additionally empowers the Director General of the Department of Environment to order a person or group to pay compensation if they are found to have caused direct or indirect “injury to the ecosystem.”[220] Bangladesh’s Labour Act (2006) requires that all establishments have effective measures for the disposal of wastes and effluents generated by manufacturing processes.[221]
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) set out the responsibilities of companies to prevent human rights abuses. Regardless of their size or where they are based, businesses must “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur.”[222] They should also “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.”[223] Additionally, “where business enterprises identify that they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts, they should provide for or cooperate in their remediation through legitimate processes.”[224] The UN Guiding Principles reaffirm that states have a duty to protect their citizens from human rights abuses committed by business. This requires them to take “appropriate steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress such abuse through effective policies, legislation, regulations and adjudication.”[225]
Inspired by the UNGP and the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, the ongoing debate at EU level on the proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) foresees that EU companies under its scope will be subjected to mandatory obligations to prevent, mitigate, cease, and remediate human rights violations and environmental damages linked to their own operation and those of their value chains. Once the final text is approved, the CSDDD could therefore include specific liabilities over companies to ensure that their business relationship at all levels of the value chain do not cause or contribute to abuses. As such, it may apply also to ship owners and other companies involved in shipbreaking, including cash buyers and certification schemes.
The evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch shows that many companies and countries involved in the shipping industry regularly ignore and circumvent international laws and regulations that are in place to ensure that ships are recycled sustainably and safely. These regulations fail for three main reasons:
First, because shipping companies can register their ships under a different flag from that of the country where they are based, they can easily circumvent state regulations. The EU Ship Recycling Regulation, for instance, only applies to those ships sailing under an EU flag. Therefore, EU shipping companies simply register under a non-EU flag when selling the ship for scrapping.
As of December 31, 2018, all EU-flagged ships were required to be recycled at an EU-approved facility and yet, according to publicly available shipping data, less than half of the 475 EU ships that were decommissioned since January 2019 were recycled in approved yards.[226] The majority were beached in South Asia, where none of the yards have met the safety and environmental standards set by the EU.[227] None of the EU ships scrapped in Bangladesh entered under an EU flag.[228]
Similarly, the Hong Kong Convention, which will enter into force in June 2025, applies according to flag state. Meaning, shipping companies seeking to avoid its application can simply swap flags to a non-signatory state.
Second, an opaque industry of “cash buyers,” essentially scrap dealers who purchase end-of-life ships from shipping companies and sell them to shipbreaking yards in South Asia, enables shipping companies to evade responsibility for where their ships are scrapped. Cash buyers frequently register end-of-life ships under shell companies, making it additionally difficult to determine beneficial ownership.
Inspection reports and required documentation are often outsourced to cash buyers and other middlemen. EU approved yards require that a ship’s Inventory of Hazardous Materials is created in accordance with international regulations. But Bangladesh authorities are ill-equipped to conduct proper inspections of end-of-life ships before approving them for import, so they will often rely on the seller or another offshore third party. This means waste declarations for ships imported to Bangladesh are often completed without any oversight, transparency, or clear accreditation, with potentially fatal consequences.
Third, without a transparent and regulated system for enforcement of the terms of the Basel Convention, countries will frequently ignore requirements without consequence. Companies easily circumvent the Basel Ban amendment and EU Waste Shipment Regulation, which ban the export of end-of-life ships from OECD to non-OECD countries, by simply ensuring that the ship has left OECD waters before it is declared waste or by providing fraudulent information indicating that the ship is being sold for further operational use or repair.
The Case of the Virgin Star
On August 31, 2019, workers at Ziri Subedar Shipbreaking yard in Bangladesh were tearing apart the Virgin Star, a containership previously owned by Greek shipping company Cyprus Sea Lines SA, when a heavy cable fell from the ship crushing the workers below.[229] Aminul Islam, 35, and Tushar Chakma, 27, died on the spot and 13 others were injured.[230]
Aminul’s mother, Delawar, said the shipyard was responsible for her son’s death because “there was no safety for the workers. It was like a murder.”[231] But she told Human Rights Watch that she also believes Cyprus Sea Lines SA, is responsible as the beneficial owner of the ship.[232]
The Virgin Star arrived in Bangladesh on February 4, 2019. However, its final voyage began a few months earlier when it collided with another ship leading to an oil spill off the coast of Corsica on October 7, 2018.[233] The EU Waste Shipment Regulation made it illegal for Cyprus Sea Lines SA to send the Virgin Star (then called CSL Virginia) straight to scrapyards in Bangladesh from French waters. It remained anchored in French waters for about three weeks before it was reportedly approved to sail to Romania for repairs.[234] However, the CSL Virginia never made it to Romania.[235] Instead, it stopped in Turkey for a little over a month where its name was changed to the Virgin Star, its flag from Cyprus to Liberia, and was sold for about $10.3M on December 21, 2018 for scrap in Bangladesh.[236]
Ships are subject to the laws of their flag state.[237] However, ships are not required to maintain the same flag throughout their operational life, nor is it required that the flag match the country of the ship’s beneficial owner. Because different countries have different maritime laws and regulations, shipping companies will frequently swap flags to avoid regulatory burdens. This is referred to as “flag hopping.” Over 70 percent of the world fleet is flagged by countries other than that of the vessel’s owner.[238] While Greece, China, Japan, Germany, and Norway are the top ship owning countries, together Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, and Hong Kong flag more than half of the world’s fleet.[239]
The EU Ship Recycling Regulation is only applicable to ships sailing EU flags. Therefore, EU shipping companies planning to dump their ships at a facility that has not been vetted and approved by the EU commission for safety and sustainability, will simply ensure that the vessel is not sailing under an EU flag when it is sent for disposal.
Many ships owned by EU companies never sail under an EU flag during their operational life, but this is especially true at the end of a ship’s life. In 2020, while 40 percent of the world’s fleet was owned by European companies, only 5 percent had an EU flag when they were sold for scrap.[240] None of the 93 EU ships scrapped in Bangladesh since 2019 entered under an EU flag.
Flag registries that are “open,” meaning they will provide flags to foreign ships, are described as “flags of convenience.” These flags are usually provided by countries with lower regulatory obligations and enforcement.[241] These governments frequently privatize the function of registering and regulating ships operating under their flag. Therefore, despite exercising a public function, open flag registries are often private companies (or a mix of privately-owned companies and government entities), headquartered outside of the flag state itself. In fact, two of the three largest shipping registries—Liberia and the Marshall Islands—are US-owned companies headquartered in Virginia.[242] The Panama Ship Registry—the world’s largest flag registry—was initially headquartered in New York until it shifted headquarters to Panama City but maintains offices in Houston and Miami. [243] Popular flags of convenience for end-of-life ships are also based in Europe. For instance, the Palau flag registry is headquartered in Greece while the St. Kitts and Nevis registry is headquartered in the UK.[244]
Flags of convenience are not only used to circumvent ship recycling regulations but are also used to circumvent labor laws at sea including ensuring fair wages, adequate food and water, and reasonable working hours. According to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), flag of convenience registries “make it more difficult for unions, industry stakeholders and the public to hold ship owners to account.”[245] For this reason, the ITF has called for the flags of convenience system to be abolished.[246]
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the UN entity responsible for regulating and enforcing international shipping standards including environmental and labor protections and has the authority to enforce these requirements.[247] However, the structure of the IMO limits its ability to act as an effective regulator. Decisions at the IMO enter into force when a certain number of states that represent a certain percentage of the world fleet have ratified. Since flags of convenience are up for sale, these countries flag more ships and thus have more decision-making power at the IMO. This means that those countries (and in many cases, companies) with the greatest incentive to keep regulatory burdens low are also those with the most power.
This also means that the shipping industry can influence important regulations regarding labor, health, human rights, and environmental protections by essentially buying flags—and thus influence—at the IMO. For example, the website of the Liberian shipping registry, a privately owned company, boasts: “Liberia has taken a leading role in global shipping at a very early stage and continues to be a voice for shipowners at IMO.”[248] A 2018 study by Transparency International found that member states with open flag registries have uneven influence on decisions at the IMO and that the shipping industry itself had “disproportionate influence.”[249] It also found that activities of the IMO lacked transparency and there was a lack of delegate accountability.[250]
In a July 14, 2023 report on his visit to the IMO, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, Marcos Orellana, noted that “While IMO is a regulatory organization, it has not always exhibited the requisite transparency and participation called for by a human rights-based approach.”[251]
When Human Rights Watch asked the IMO for details on the organization’s access information policy, an IMO official replied: “Concerning access to information, all IMO documents (e.g., documents submitted to IMO bodies, reports, circulars, amendments to mandatory instruments) are available via the online IMO documents portal upon registration, with registration being open to the public.”[252] While this is a positive step towards improving transparency, the documents available to the public are limited. For instance, the public has no access to IMO audit reports on member states’ implementation and enforcement of applicable IMO instruments—an important tool for monitoring adherence to regulations. Moreover, as Special Rapporteur Marcos Orellana noted, the IMO secretariat maintains “wide discretion,” on what documents are shared with the public, potentially inhibiting public access.[253]
Serving as a middleman, cash buyers enable ship owners to avoid selling end-of-life ships directly to a Bangladeshi shipbreaking yard. The cash buyer often will register the ship under new ownership (frequently a P.O. box corporation created for the purposes of disposing the vessel) and works with a flag registry to change the ship’s flag. With a new flag, a new name, and a new owner, the cash buyer then sells the ship to the highest shipyard bidder.
Three cash-buyers control about two-thirds of the global market: Global Marketing Systems (GMS), Wirana, and Best Oasis.[254] The largest of the three, GMS, incorporated in the US and headquartered in Dubai, boasts having negotiated nearly half of the total mass of ships dismantled in South Asia in 2020.[255]
Ships imported to Bangladesh for scrap are rarely registered under their beneficial owner. In many cases, the cash buyer will use a shell company as the new registered owner of the ship during its sale to scrapyards in Bangladesh.[256] Sometimes these companies are set up by the cash buyer themselves or offered by flag registries which, in addition to providing flag registration, also advertise the ability to set up a company within 24 hours.
Shell companies make it easy for cash buyers to hide their involvement in shipbreaking. In the case of the North Sea Producer described below, public documents showed that the ship was sold to a company called Conquistador Shipping Corporation.[257] It wasn’t until 2019 that an investigative expose revealed leaked documents linking Conquistador Shipping Corporation to GMS.[258] In its communication to Human Rights Watch on July 3, 2023, Novonor confirmed that the contractual buyer for the North Sea Producer was GMS.[259] In a second response to Human Rights Watch on August 22, 2023, Novonor additionally confirmed that GMS acted as the guarantor for the P.O. box company, Conquistador Shipping Corporation as the buyer.[260]
The use of cash buyers, and cash buyer’s reliance on shell companies, has the effect of shielding ships’ original owners and operators from accountability for deaths and injuries taking apart their ships. In 2019, the Bangladesh High Court directed the government to monitor and record the activities of cash buyers, but the use of shell companies make it extremely difficult to trace the actual owner of a ship before it is sold for scrap. Additionally, workers explained that many of the ships imported to the yards have the name either painted over or removed as soon as it enters the yard.
Virtually every ship that is broken on Bangladesh’s shores was sold to the shipbreaking yard through a cash buyer. By contrast, for EU-approved yards, the involvement of cash buyers is not considered a risk worth taking. “We never use cash buyers,” an industrial engineer managing recycling at an EU-approved yard explained, “we only work straight with the owner. It’s always clear who is offering, buying, recycling.”[261]
By selling through a cash buyer shipping companies essentially forgo oversight over where and how a ship will be scrapped.
The FPSO North Sea Producer Case
The landmark case of the FPSO North Sea Producer illustrates the risks of selling end-of-life ships through cash buyers, both for shipping companies and the workers and communities where the ship is dismantled. The North Sea Producer had for 17 years been used as a Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) ship to process oil from the UK continental shelf of the North Sea. During that time the North Sea Producer was owned by the North Sea Production Company Limited (NSPCL), a joint venture between the Danish shipping company A.P. Moeller Maersk and Brazilian construction company Odebrecht (now Ocyan).[262]
After the North Sea Producer was decommissioned in August 2015, it sat in UK waters for about a year before Maersk and Odebrecht sold the ship in April 2016 to the world’s largest cash buyer, GMS.[263] Maersk stated that upon the ship’s contract termination, “the North Sea Producer was sold and transferred to a buyer in April 2016 on an ‘as is, where is’ basis, whereby the buyer took over operational and legal responsibility for the unit,” essentially divesting itself of legal responsibility for where the ship would be scrapped.[264] According to Novonor (the parent company of Odebrecht), the NSPCL had “put in place contractual mechanisms that recognized the actual sale process of the FPSO for re-deployment and not for scrapping.”[265] In other words, the ship was sold on the premise that it would be operated for further use, not scrapped, thus allowing the ship to leave UK waters without triggering the EU Waste Shipment Regulation or Basel Ban Amendment which would prohibit the ship from leaving OECD waters for scrap in a non-OECD country.
However, rather than being sold for further use, the North Sea Producer went straight to Bangladesh that same month where it was beached in Janata Steel Shipbreaking yard.[266]
Local Bangladeshi NGOs, in particular the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association, pushed Bangladesh’s Department of Environment to investigate whether the ship was hazardous. In August 2017, the Bangladesh High Court issued an injunction to stop the ongoing breaking of the ship after investigators found that radiation levels coming from the ship were dangerously high.[267]
Both Maersk and Novonor stated that GMS had been contractually obligated to ensure that the ship would be recycled in a yard that met international environmental standards, but that GMS violated this agreement.[268] According to Novonor:
Maersk said that it was “very, very sorry” that the North Sea Producer ended up in Bangladesh and has since stopped selling ships to be recycled in Bangladesh.[269]
In a letter to Human Rights Watch on July 3, 2023, Novonor said:
Shipping companies, as in the FPSO North Sea Producer case, frequently blame cash buyers for their decision to recycle a ship at an unsustainable or unsafe shipyard. However, in response to a letter from Human Rights Watch, Best Oasis, a major cash buyer, said that shipping companies play a significant role in determining where ships are dismantled.
In response to a letter from Human Rights Watch, a representative of a cash buyer stated that: “The decision as to sending end-of-life ships to ship recycling yards in a particular country vest solely with the owners.”[270] He explained that shipping companies frequently choose yards in South Asia because they have “relatively lower labour charges as compared to other countries” and that in some cases this comes at the sacrifice of safety standards.[271] He further stated that “It has been observed in several cases that the largest of the companies often opt for cheaper ship recycling yards which have a minor difference in pricing thereby detrimentally affecting the safety.”[272]
Over the last few years Bangladeshi workers and activists have brought cases against international shipping companies for injuries and deaths that occurred when breaking apart foreign end-of-life ships, that had been sold through cash buyers. These cases challenge the claim that selling a ship through a cash buyer to an unsafe yard shields the original ship owner from liability. Given that the three main cash buyers sell ships almost exclusively to yards in South Asia[273] where labor rights abuses and environmental harms have been well-documented, it is reasonable to expect that shipping companies that sell end-of-life ships through cash buyers know that their ship will likely be scrapped under abusive and environmentally damaging conditions.[274]
Maran Ltd. Case
In May 2021, Hamida Begum, won the right to sue British shipping agency Maran Ltd. for negligence in the courts of England and Wales over the death of her husband, Khalil Mollah, who fell to his death taking apart a Maran Ltd. oil tanker called EKTA while it was being taken apart in Chittagong.[275] Maran Ltd. argued that it was not liable for Mollah’s death because they had sold the ship to a cash buyer and thus, they were not responsible for where it was sold for demolition, and because the injury was caused by the conduct of a third party (the shipyard).
But Begum’s lawyers claim that Maran Ltd. would have known the ship was likely destined for an unsafe facility when they sold it to the cash buyer and should be held liable. Trial and appeal courts both denied Maran Ltd’s argument that the case should not go to trial.[276] In the appeal court judgement allowing the case to go forward, all three judges agreed that that Maran Ltd.’s decision to sell the ship through a cash buyer did not necessarily shield it from liability. In his legal opinion, Lord Justice Males stated that:
The judgment sets important precedent in the development of case law on third party negligence, essentially demonstrating that adding cash buyers as an intermediary does not necessarily absolve shipping companies of their obligations to ensure their ships are disposed of in safe and sustainable facilities.
Under the Basel Convention, the country of the ship’s last port where it is declared waste is obligated to ensure that the receiving country has sufficient capacity for environmentally sustainable management of toxic waste. Exporting countries are also obligated under the Basel Convention to obtain prior informed consent from the importing country which includes providing documentation of hazardous materials in the ship.[278]
However, exporting ports frequently fail to meet these obligations. Moreover, there are no yards in Bangladesh with sufficient capacity according to the Basel Convention’s Ship Recycling Guidelines and thus the export of any toxic ship to Bangladesh would be a violation of this requirement.
The EU Ship Recycling Regulation, Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act, and the Basel Convention all require ships to maintain an inventory of hazardous materials. According to Bangladesh’s Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, to be imported for breaking, a ship must be issued a “No Objection Certificate” from the BSRB based on a review of the ship’s hazardous waste inventory by the customs department. Additionally, the Department of Environment must issue an environmental clearance certificate and the Department of Explosives must issue “gas free for man entry,” and a “gas free for hot work” certificates.[279] The 2009 High Court Directive forbids the import of any ship “which is not fully compliant with the conditions contained in the Environmental Clearance Certificate and that does not have adequate disposal facilities for hazardous wastes.”[280]
However, many of the inventories for ships entering Bangladesh are simply drafted by a cash buyer or another offshore third party without any oversight, transparency, or clear accreditation.
Human Rights Watch viewed 21 hazardous waste certificates for ships entering Bangladesh for breaking, all of which were prepared by third party companies. In some cases, the certificate was provided by a company linked to a known cash buyer.
In the case of the Virgin Star, Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of the ship’s hazardous materials certificate, which was prepared on January 7, 2019 by Maximus Shipping Ltd., a company with a listed P.O. Box address in Nevis that has been associated with a major cash buyer.[281] The certification stated that “the ship is safe without any non-hazardous [sic] material.”
The language used to greenlight the Virgin Star for import is commonly used on pro-forma hazardous waste certificates for ships being imported to Bangladesh, suggesting that the parties drafting the certificates were not conducting adequate inspections or investigation of the actual materials onboard the ships. All of the certificates viewed by Human Rights Watch used similar language, in many cases verbatim.
By contrast, EU-approved yards require that a ship’s inventory is created in accordance with international regulations, including the IOM’s 2015 Guidelines for the Development of the IHM.[282] The IMO guidelines include a thorough inspection with sampling and testing, listing the quantity and location of every material.[283] According to the procedure laid out by the IMO, if it is not possible to visibly assess the presence of hazardous materials, the equipment or area of the ship must be classified as “potentially containing hazardous materials.”[284]
Asbestos is one of the most common toxic materials in ships. However, most of the certificates viewed by Human Rights Watch indicated that the presence of asbestos on the ship was “nil” or “minimal.” Ship recycling experts explained that it would be impossible to make this determination without tests and sampling that Bangladesh does not have the capacity to perform. As one Bangladeshi activist explained, “They [the Department of Environment] don’t have that many resources and technical capacity to assess. The cash buyer just gives them a toxic free certificate.”[285] On average, merchant ships contain about 20 tons of asbestos.[286] A shipbreaking expert from an EU-approved yard questioned the probability that the ships entering Bangladesh could truly be free of asbestos said, “There are always hazardous materials. Once in 5 years that we have a ship without asbestos. An asbestos-free ship I would really doubt.”[287]
Falsified hazardous waste certificates are frequently used to greenlight toxic waste into Bangladesh, where there are no adequate facilities and downstream waste management systems.
In the North Sea Producer case, documented above, the Bangladesh Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the documents used to import the North Sea Producer were “superficially prepared” or “fabricated” and that hazardous materials on the ship had been “deliberately concealed or left vague.”[288] Similar to the certificates reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the certificate used to import the North Sea Producer stated that there were no hazardous materials onboard, although it was found to be full of radioactive waste and 500kg of material containing asbestos.[289]
The number of ships that will be phased out and sent for recycling is projected to double by 2028 and nearly quadruple by 2033.[290] Governments and financial institutions should implement policies now to ensure these ships are recycled off the beach, in safe and environmentally sustainable conditions. A combination of legislation and financial incentives could help to incentivize against the use of flags of convenience and cash buyers, and move towards a more transparent, accountable ship recycling industry.
In response to increased scrutiny over the conditions of the yards in Bangladesh, some shipping companies have in recent years shifted the disposal of their ships to the yards in India. However, the yards in India also do their primary cutting in the intertidal zone and lack adequate safety and protection measures. While at least six Indian yards have been inspected by the EU Commission, none of them have been approved as of July 2023, mostly due to gaps in environmental and health protections.[291]
Instead of investing time and resources in defending unsafe practices, companies should invest in proven methods, and they should stop insisting that beaching is safe.[292] In order to ensure global capacity to sustainably recycle the massive influx in end-of-life ships over the next decade, shipping companies should invest in building dry-dock facilities that fully protect workers’ rights and the environment as well as the downstream management of waste.
In 2023/24, the European Commission is assessing the EU Ship Recycling Regulation (SRR) and will consider whether and how to reform the regulation. The Commission should eliminate existing loopholes by making the regulation applicable to the beneficial owner of ships, not the flag state. If the ship is sold, the regulation should remain applicable to the previous owner for no less than two years from the date of sale, thus discouraging the use of cash buyers to avoid liability. The revised SRR should refer to the due diligence obligations to be agreed upon in the frame of the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive.
The EU commission should consider creating a ship recycling license as described in the EU Ship Recycling Regulation preamble. A ship recycling license would require any ship that trades in EU waters to pay a fee towards a recycling license, accumulating capital over time. The total will then only be paid back to the last owner of the vessel if the ship is recycled at a shipbreaking yard on the list of EU-approved facilities.
The European Commission should update the 2004 Community Guidelines on State Aid to Maritime Transport to include a tonnage tax subsidy conditioned on recycling of ships in an EU-approved yard.
Financial institutions play an important role in incentivizing safe and sustainable ship recycling practices. Banks should adopt explicit policies not to finance loans to shipbreaking yards that do not adequately protect their workers’ rights to life and health, including those that use the ‘beaching’ method of shipbreaking. ING, for instance refuses to finance shipbreaking yards or cash buyers as a matter of policy.[293]
In previous years, Norwegian pension funds, the NGPF and KLP, have excluded certain shipping companies on the basis of their disposal of ships in yards that use the beaching method, particularly in Bangladesh and Pakistan.[294] The threat of divestment may have contributed to other shipping companies increasing scrutiny of where their ships end up. In 2018, KLP’s chief adviser, Aslak Skancke, said that during its investigation the fund contacted several firms in its portfolio “and when we made them aware of the possibility of exclusion from the fund, they … decided to change their policy.”[295]
Some shipping companies and financial institutions have taken steps to commit to transparency and incentivize safer and more sustainable shipbreaking practices. In 2017, three major Dutch banks— ABN AMRO Bank N.V., ING Group, and NIBC Bank— introduced the Responsible Ship Recycling Standards (RSRS), a set of voluntary principles for financial institutions invested in the shipping industry based on international standards including the EU Ship Recycling Regulation.[296] Since their introduction, 10 other banks joined the RSRS, representing some of the major European financers of the shipping industry.[297]
The RSRS is an important step towards responsible investing in the ship recycling sector. Among other things, the RSRS commits the banks to “not be directly involved in financing of unsustainable recycling facilities,” nor in the “financing of purchasers of ships intended for unsustainable ship recycling,” such as cash buyers.[298] Additionally, banks that have joined the RSRS agree that “on a best effort basis,” they will ensure that they only finance ships that carry an Inventory of Hazardous Material throughout the entire loan period and that they will require clients to recycle ships in accordance with relevant international law and the EU SRR.
Members of the RSRS also commit to holding their shipping and offshore clients to specific expectations, including to develop a responsible ship recycling policy; to ensure all vessels prepare and maintain an inventory of hazardous materials; to undertake due diligence in selection and ongoing inspection of ship recycling yards; and to publicly disclose where their ships are sent for recycling. The RSRS provides suggested language for loan agreements, recognizing that the agreement “provides an opportunity to require a client to meet the relevant Ship recycling standards.”[299]
In 2018, the Sustainable Shipping Initiative, set up in collaboration between a group of non-profit organizations as well as shipping companies, launched the Ship Recycling Transparency Initiative (SRTI). Membership in the SRTI requires ship owners to publicly disclose their ship recycling practices and related policies. 14 shipping companies had joined the SRTI as of August 2023.[300]
The initiative depends on stakeholders, like the members of the RSRS, to increasingly demand transparency on sustainable ship recycling practices. It believes that public disclosure through the SRTI will incentivize good practices by shipping companies, which in turn will be “rewarded through the market.”[301]
The SRTI is a positive first step towards transparency and opens shipping companies to public scrutiny of their ship recycling policies. However, the SRTI may promise more than it delivers. While the SRTI says that shipowners are sharing information on their “policies, practices, and progress,” in reality, the disclosure data is primarily general information on policy and does not include, for example, how many ships were sold for recycling in a given year and to which yards as well as what hazardous materials are onboard.
Without requiring commitments to safe and sustainable practices as a condition of membership, the SRTI could serve simply as a whitewashing exercise, offering the appearance of engagement in responsible shipbreaking practices without real action.
The SRTI should adopt public commitments as a requirement of membership, including not to sell ships to cash buyers and to ensure ships are not sold to yards that practice ‘beaching.’ It should also include public reports on annual sales of ships for recycling in its data disclosures, including a list of specific ships and the conditions of the specific facilities where they are recycled.
 
This report was researched and written by Julia Bleckner, Senior Asia Researcher at Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Ingvild Jenssen, Nicola Mulinaris, and Sara Rita da Costa at the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. Jim Wormington, senior researcher and advocate in the Economic Justice and Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, provided expert analysis and editing.
At Human Rights Watch, the report was reviewed by Meenakshi Ganguly, Deputy Asia Director; Tom Porteous, deputy Program director; Kyle Knight, Senior Researcher on Health and Human Rights, Richard Pearshouse, director of Environment and Human Rights Division, Bede Sheppard, Deputy director of the children’s rights division, and Kriti Sharma, Senior Researcher in the Disability Rights Division. Hélène de Rengervé and Emilie McDonnell provided advocacy review. Clive Baldwin provided legal review. Robbie Newton, Asia Coordinator, provided editing and production assistance. Matthew Gill, Senior Associate at Howard Kennedy LLP provided additional review.
This research and reporting would not have been possible without the brave and gracious support of shipbreaking workers who risk their lives to shed light on abuses in the industry and advocate for the rights of their colleagues.
 
[1] Human Rights Watch wrote to Arefin Enterprise on April 21, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[2] Human Rights Watch wrote to Tide Line Inc. on May 5, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[3] Human Rights Watch wrote to the Comoros Registry on May 8, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[4] Also known as “docking” or “dry-dock recycling,” the ship is placed on a dock, water is pumped out before the ship is dismantled.
[5] Also known as the “alongside” or “top-down” method, the ship is secured alongside a pier and pieces are removed with a crane, starting from the top.
[6] By “beneficial owner” we mean the entity that benefits financially from the rent and/or the sale of the ship.
[7] Human Rights Watch interview with Abul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[8] Human Rights Watch interview with Kamrul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[9] Human Rights Watch interview with Sabbir, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 27, 2022.
[10] United Nations Human Rights Council, “Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Claudia Mahler,” July 24, 2023, A/HRC/54/26/Add.2.
[11] Dr. Muhammod Shaheen Chowdhury, “Study Report on Child Labour in the Shipbreaking Sector in Bangladesh,” June 19, 2019, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Child20Labor20Final_compressed.pdf (accessed January 6, 2022).
[12] Ibid.
[13] For this reason, ILO Recommendation No.28 advises that the maximum permissible weight to be transported by a male worker should be no more than 55kg. ILO R128 – Maximum Weight Recommendation, 1967 (No. 128).
[14] Mohammad Jahedul Islam, “Occupational Safety and Health of Shipbreaking Workers,” SCLS Law Review, Vol. 3. No.2 (2020), pp. 09-16.
[15] According to the Basel Convention Technical Guidelines, a ship can only be safe for cutting after “concentrations of flammable vapours or gases in the atmosphere are declared to be less than 10 percent of the lower explosive limit. Further, hollow metal containers must be filled with water or be thoroughly cleaned of flammable substances, vented and tested prior to cutting.” Basel Convention Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Full and Partial Dismantling of Ships, adopted by the Conference of the Parties 6, Dec 2002. Basel Convention series/SBC No. 2003/2, http://www.basel.int/Portals/4/Basel%20Convention/docs/meetings/sbc/workdoc/techgships-e.pdf, 11 (i-viii) (accessed January 24, 2023).
[16] Human Rights Watch interview with Syed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[17] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 14, 2021.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Human Rights Watch interview with Hasan, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011, 17.2.
[22] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 14, 2021.
[23] Human Rights Watch interview with Mizanur, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 25, 2022.
[24] Human Rights Watch interview with Abul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[25] Human Rights Watch interview with Syed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[26] Human Rights Watch interview with Asif, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 27, 2022.
[27] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 14, 2021.
[28] Ibid. 
[29] Ship Breaking and Recycling Rules, 2011 (VII, 29). The health units are to be regularly inspected by the BSRB, and governed by the yard, the BSRB, and the civil surgeon.
[30] NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Press Release – Major explosion at Bangladesh shipbreaking yard kills two workers and severely injures five,” May 15, 2019, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/explosion-malaysian-tanker-chittagong/ (accessed September 28, 2022).
[31] Human Rights Watch interview with Nurul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[32] Human Rights Watch interview with Rakib, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[33] Human Rights Watch interview with Omar, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Masum, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[35] Human Rights Watch interview with Aarul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 27, 2022.
[36] United Nations Human Rights Council, “Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Claudia Mahler,” July 24, 2023, A/HRC/54/26/Add.2.
[37] Bangladesh Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011, Chapter VIII (Penalty Provisions and Miscellaneous), para 45.3.
[38] Human Rights Watch wrote to the Ministry of Labour and Employment on June 8, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Sakawat, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 13, 2022.
[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Sabbir, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 27, 2022.
[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Rakib, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Sohrab, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 27, 2022.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Nurul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Asok, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 27, 2022.
[46] Ibid.
[47] See section I on legal framework above.
[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Abul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Ariful, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 14, 2021.
[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Syed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Ariful, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Faizul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 14, 2021.
[56] Human Rights Watch phone interview with labor rights activist, January 4, 2023.
[57] Bangladesh Gazette, Additional, February 11, 2018, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Ministry of Labor & Employment, Branch- 6, Schedule, Monthly and daily wage rates of workers, (1493), Serial Number 3, “Semi-skilled / Grade: 3.” An English translation of the minimum wage act for shipbreaking workers is included in Appendix IX.
[58] Ibid., Serial Number 4, “Unskilled / Grade: 4”
[59] Accounting for inflation rates in Bangladesh from 2015-2021, BDT 290 in 2015 has the purchasing power in 2021 of about BDT 203, meaning despite the raise of 20 BDT, Ariful is making less in 2021 (in terms of purchasing power) than he did in 2015.
[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Ariful, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Rashed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 22, 2021.
[62] Ishtiaque Ahmed, “The Origin and Evaluation of Ship Breaking Regime of South Asia: A Critical Perspective From Bangladesh,” Legal Issues Journal, Vol.8 issue. 2 (2020).
[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Asok, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 27, 2022.
[64] Human Rights Watch interview with Kamrul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Abul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[66] Human Rights Watch interview with Syed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[67] Human Rights Watch interview with Tanvir, Bangladesh, November 3, 2021.
[68] Human Rights Watch interview with Rashed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 22, 2021.
[69] Human Rights Watch interview with activists, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 22, 2020.
[70] Interviews with multiple workers.
[71] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[72] Human Rights Watch interview with Sohel, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[73] Bangladesh Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011.
[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Shaheen Chowdhury, Chittagong, Bangladesh, October 12, 2021.
[75] Basel Convention Secretariat, “Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Full and Partial Dismantling of Ships,” Adopted 2002.
[76] A collection of oil, sludge, and other residues accumulated in wells in the hull of the ship.
[77] Water contained in tanks to keep the ship steady.
[78] PCBs are highly toxic industrial compounds that have been shown to cause cancer and harm reproductive health, the immune system, and the endocrine and nervous systems. See: United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Learn about Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs),”  https://www.epa.gov/pcbs/learn-about-polychlorinated-biphenyls-pcbs (accessed January 4, 2022).
[79] International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, “The Ship Breaking and Recycling Industry in Bangladesh and Pakistan,” December 2010, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/2968/582750ESW0Whit1LIC1011098791web1opt.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (accessed September 5, 2022).
[80] Basel Convention Secretariat, “Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Full and Partial Dismantling of Ships,” Adopted 2002, Pg. 27-28.; Patel AB, Shaikh S, Jain KR, Desai C, Madamwar D. “Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Sources, Toxicity, and Remediation Approaches.” Frontiers in Microbiology, vol.11 (2020). doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2020.562813. PMID: 33224110; PMCID: PMC7674206.
[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Tanvir, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 3, 2021.
[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Syed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, November 2, 2021.
[83] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 14, 2021.
[84] International Maritime Organization, “Asbestos,” https://www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Safety/Pages/Asbestos.aspx (accessed September 7, 2022).
[85] Mayo Clinic, “Asbestosis,” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asbestosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354637 (accessed September 7, 2022).
[86] Venkiteswaran Muralidhar, Md Faizul Ahasan, Ahad Mahmud Khan, “Parenchymal asbestosis due to primary asbestos exposure among ship-breaking workers: report of the first cases from Bangladesh,” BMJ Case Rep (2017).
[87] Anne-Helen Harding, Andrew Darnton, John Osman “Cardiovascular disease mortality among British asbestos workers (1971-2005),” Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 69 iss.6 (2012) pp. 417-21.; National Asbestos Hotline, “Asbestosis Prognosis,” https://www.nationalasbestos.co.uk/asbestos-diseases/asbestosis/prognosis/ (accessed September 5, 2022).
[88] Human Rights Watch interview with Nazmul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, December 22, 2021.
[89] Human Rights Watch focus group discussion, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 8, 2022.
[90] Human Rights Watch interview in focus group discussion with Imran, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 8, 2022.
[91] Bangladesh Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011; Ministry of Labor & Employment, Notification by Bangladesh Gazette, Schedule of Monthly and daily wage rates of shipbreaking workers. February 11, 2018.
[92] Human Rights Watch interview in focus group discussion with Arif, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 8, 2022.
[93] Human Rights Watch interview in focus group discussion with Ali, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 8, 2022.
[94] World Health Organization, 2014, “Elimination of asbestos-related diseases,” WHO/FWC/PHE/EPE/14.01.
[95] Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Rajat Biswas, Chattogram, Bangladesh, January 5, 2022.
[96] OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor. Hazards associated with shipbreaking. 2010 https://www.osha.gov/oshDoc/data_MaritimeFacts/shipbreaking-factsheet.pdf (accessed January 25, 2022).
[97] Human Rights Watch email with Peter Wyntin, Ghent, Belgium, August 28, 2023.
[98] Bangladesh Ship Breaking and Recycling Rules, 2011, Section 15.2(b).
[99] PPE, vacuums, tools to wet the fibers.
[100] Bangladesh Ship Breaking and Recycling Rules, 2011, Section 17.19(h) Human Rights Watch wrote to the Department of Environment on June 8, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[101] Human Rights Watch focus group discussion, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 8, 2022.
[102] Human Rights Watch interview with local activist (name withheld), Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 8, 2022.
[103] Hasan AB, Kabir S, Selim Reza AHM, Zaman MN, Ahsan MA, Akbor MA, Rashid MM, “Trace metals pollution in sea water and groundwater in the ship breaking area of Sitakund Upazilla Chittagong, Bangladesh.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 71 iss. 1-2 (2013) pp. 317–324; Aktaruzzaman M, Chowdhury MAZ, Fardous Z, Alam MK, Hos- sain MS, Fakhruddin ANM, “Ecological risk posed by heavy metals contamination of ship breaking yards in Bangladesh.” International Journal of Environmental Research, vol. 8 iss. 2 (2014) pp. 469–478; Chowdhury N, Rasid MM, “Heavy metal contamination of soil and vegetation in ambient locality of ship breaking yards in Chittagong, Bangladesh,” Journal of Environmental Science, Toxicology and Food Technology vol. 10, iss. 10 (2016) pp. 20–27; Asma Binta Hasan, A. H. M. Selim Reza, Sohail Kabir, Md. Abu Bakar Siddique, Md. Ahedul Akbor, Md. Aminul Ahsan, “Accumulation and distribution of heavy metals in soil and food crops around the ship breaking area in southern Bangladesh and associated health risk assessment,” SN Applied Sciences, vol. 2, iss. 155 (2020), https://doi.org/10.1007/s42452-019-1933-y.
[104] Cu, Zn, Cd, and Pb. Of the fruits and vegetables tested (Olive, ladies finger (okra), rice grain, papaya, bottle gourd, guava, teasle gourd, and banana) “Zn concentration in bottle gourd, teasle gourd, okra, and olive exceeds the WHO limit (50 μg g−1); Cadmium concentration in rice grain is at the threshold limit of the WHO standard (0.20 μg g−1) But Cr concentration in all food samples, i.e., rice grain, banana, bottle gourd, guava, papaya, teasle gourd, okra, and olive, in the studied ship breaking area exceeded the WHO limit (1.00 μg g−1) (Fig. 2c). Copper concentration in bottle gourd, guava, teasle gourd, okra, and olive exceeded the WHO limit (10.00 μg g−1). Lead concentration in the olive exceeded the limit.”
[105] Asma Binta Hasan, A. H. M. Selim Reza, Sohail Kabir, Md. Abu Bakar Siddique, Md. Ahedul Akbor, Md. Aminul Ahsan, “Accumulation and distribution of heavy metals in soil and food crops around the ship breaking area in southern Bangladesh and associated health risk assessment,” SN Applied Sciences, vol. 2 iss. 155 (2020) https://doi.org/10.1007/s42452-019-1933-y.
[106] Kim, T. H., Kim, J. H., Le Kim, M. D., Suh, W. D., Kim, J. E., Yeon, H. J., et al. “Exposure assessment and safe intake guidelines for heavy metals in consumed fishery products in the Republic of Korea” Environmental Science and Pollution Research, vol. 27 (2020) pp. 33042–33051, doi:10.1007/s11356-020-09624-0; Jiang, J. H., Ge, G., Gao, K., Pang, Y., Chai, R. C., Jia, X. H., et al. “Calcium signaling involvement in cadmium-induced astrocyte cytotoxicity and cell death through activation of MAPK and PI3K/Akt signaling pathways,” Neurochemical Research, Vol. 40, iss.9 (2015), 1929–1944. doi:10.1007/s11064-015-1686-y; Richter, P., Faroon, O., and Pappas, R. S., “Cadmium and cadmium/zinc ratios and tobacco-related morbidities,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 14, iss. 10 (2017) pp. 1154, doi:10.3390/ijerph14101154; Mahdi Balali-Mood, Kobra Naseri, Zoya Tahergorabi, Mohammad Reza Khazdair, Mahmood Sadeghi, “Toxic Mechanisms of Five Heavy Metals: Mercury, Lead, Chromium, Cadmium, and Arsenic,” Frontiers in Pharmacology (2021), https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.643972.
[107] Batáriová, A., Spěváčková, V., Beneš, B., Čejchanová, M., Šmíd, J., and Černá, M., “Blood and urine levels of Pb, Cd and Hg in the general population of the Czech Republic and proposed reference values,” International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, vol. 209, iss. 4 (2006) pp. 359–366. doi:10.1016/j.ijheh.2006.02.005.
[108] Fang, Z., Zhao, M., Zhen, H., Chen, L., Shi, P., and Huang, Z., “Genotoxicity of tri-and hexavalent chromium compounds in vivo and their modes of action on DNA damage in vitro,” PloS One vol. 9, iss. 8 (2014) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103194; Mahdi Balali-Mood, Kobra Naseri, Zoya Tahergorabi, Mohammad Reza Khazdair, Mahmood Sadeghi, “Toxic Mechanisms of Five Heavy Metals: Mercury, Lead, Chromium, Cadmium, and Arsenic,” Frontiers in Pharmacology (2021) https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.643972.
[109] Human Rights Watch, “Mercury: A Health and Human Rights Issue.” 2010, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/Mercury%20A%20Global%20Health%20Treaty%20ENGLISH%20LOWRES.pdf (accessed September 12, 2023).
[110] Calin Georgescu, Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, “Preliminary assessment of whether the Hong Kong Convention establishes an equivalent level of control and enforcement as that established under the Basel Convention,” 2010, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/UN-special-rapporateur-on-Basel-IMO-conventions-comparison.pdf (accessed September 5, 2023).
[111] A. S. M. Alauddin Al Azad, Kazi Samsunnahar Mita,Md. Wasif Zaman, Marin Akter,Tansir Zaman Asik, Anisul Haque, Mohammad Asad Hussain, and Md. Munsur Rahman, “Impact of Tidal Phase on Inundation and Thrust Force Due to Storm Surge,” Institute of Water and Flood Management, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, vol. 6 iss. 4 (2018) p. 110; https://doi.org/10.3390/jmse6040110.
[112] Human Rights Watch interview with Asok, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 27, 2022.
[113] International Law and Policy Institute, “Shipbreaking Practices in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan: An Investor Perspective on the Human Rights and Environmental Impacts of Beaching,” May 18, 2016, https://www.shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Shipbreaking-report-mai-2016.pdf (accessed January 4, 2022).
[114] Isacco Chiaf, Tomaso Clavarino, “With Bare Hands,” Al Jazeera, 2017, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/spotlight-with-bare-hands/ (accessed January 26, 2023).
[115] Human Rights Watch interview with Aijaz, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 27, 2022.
[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Masum, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[117] Human Rights Watch interview with Nurul, Chattogram, Bangladesh, July 26, 2022.
[118] Arif Chowdhury, Md. Khalid Hasan, Md. Robiul Hasan, Tahmina Bintay Younos, “Climate change impacts and adaptations on health of Internally Displaced People (IDP): An exploratory study on coastal areas of Bangladesh,” Heliyon, vol. 6 Iss. 9 (2020) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e05018.
[119] Jonathan Sanderman et al, “A global map of mangrove forest soil carbon at 30 m spatial resolution,” Environmental Research, Letter, 13 (2018).
[120] NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “The Environmental Costs,” https://www.shipbreakingplatform.org/our-work/the-problem/environmental-costs/ (accessed January 4, 2022).; Dr. Md. M. Maruf Hossain, Mohammad Mahmudul Islam, “Ship Breaking Activities and its Impact on the Coastal Zone of Chittagong, Bangladesh: Towards Sustainable Management,” Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Chittagong, Chittagong-4331, Bangladesh. https://www.ypsa.org/publications/Impact.pdf (accessed May 29, 2023).
[121] International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Adopted December 16, 1966 by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI), entered into force January 3, 1976, in accordance with article 27.
[122] International Labour Organization, “International Labour Conference adds safety and health to Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work,” June 10, 2022, https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_848132/lang–en/index.htm (accessed September 15, 2023).
[123] Human Rights Watch wrote to the Ministry of Industries on June 8, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[124] Bangladesh Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011, Chapter IV (17) Safety and Compliance and Chapter VII (29) Health Compliance.
[125] National Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Policy, 2013, Clause.4. d.7.
[126] OSH policy, clause 4.a.12.
[127] Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, section 78A.
[128] Ibid., section 75.
[129] Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, Section 90; Bangladesh Labour Rules, 2015, Rule 73.
[130] Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 Section 160 (1), BLA Amendment 2013.
[131] Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, Section 159.
[132] Amount of compensation is detailed in Schedule 5 of the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006.
[133] Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, Section 150(a).
[134] Fatal Accidents Act, 1855, section 1.
[135] Bangladesh Sramikkalyan Foundation, https://www.sramikkalyan.org/ (accessed September 5, 2022).
[136] Bangladesh Workers Welfare Foundation Act, 2006 (Act No. 25 of 2006), art. 5.
[137] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force January 3, 1976, arts. 12 and 27.
[138] The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the independent expert body charged with monitoring compliance with the ICESCR, maintains that there are certain core obligations that are so fundamental, all states must fulfill them regardless of financial status, observing that “a State party cannot, under any circumstances whatsoever, justify its non-compliance with the core obligations … which are non-derogable.” 
[139] ICESCR, art. 12(b).
[140] The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is the U.N. body responsible for monitoring compliance with the ICESCR. UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 14: The right to the highest attainable standard of health, UN Doc. E/C.12/2000/4, adopted August 11, 2000, para. 15.
[141] ICESCR, art.12; CESCR General Comment No. 14, para. 15.
[142] CESCR General Comment No. 14, para 51.
[143] Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949.
[144] ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association, art. 3(2) and art. 2.
[145] ILO Convention No. 98 on Collective Bargaining, art. 1(2).
[146] Bangladesh Labor Act (2006, amended 2013), Section 195.
[147] ICESCR, art. 7 (d).
[148] Workers can work more than 40 hours a week provided that the total hours do not exceed 60 hours in any week and do not exceed an average of 56 hours per week in any year. Under Section 102 (2), the government can make an exemption for up to 6 months in industries understood to be in the public interest or for economic development.
[149] Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006, 101(d).
[150] Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006, 116
[151] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23.
[152] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 7(a)(ii).
[153] Ministry of Labor & Employment, Notification by Bangladesh Gazette, Schedule of Monthly and daily wage rates of shipbreaking workers. February 11, 2018. For those working less than a month, the day rate for Grade three is 820 BDT ($7.49).
[154] Ibid. For those working less than a month, the day rate for Grade three is 615 BDT ($5.62).
[155] Bangladesh Hazardous Work List, March 2013, http://www.ilo.org/ipec/Informationresources/WCMS_382487/lang–en/index.htm (accessed August 19, 2023).
[156] Bangladesh Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011.
[157] Dr. Muhammod Shaheen Chowdhury, “Study Report on Child Labour in the Shipbreaking Sector in Bangladesh,” June 19, 2019, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Child20Labor20Final.pdf (accessed January 6, 2022).
[158] Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, art. 3(d). ILO Recommendation 190, which accompanies Convention 182, suggests that states parties identify the as hazardous labor to be prohibited: work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; [and] work in an unhealthy environment which may expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health. ILO, R 190, Worst Forms of Child Labor Recommendation, 1999, para. 3, http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/english/convdisp1.htm.
[159] The Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees all children under eighteen the right “to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be . . . harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, acceded to by Bangladesh on August 3, 1990 art. 32; ILO Convention No. 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention), adopted June 17, 1999, 38 I.L.M. 1207, entered into force November 19, 2000, ratified by Bangladesh on March 12, 2001, art. 3.
[160] International Labor Organization Recommendation No. 190 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor, adopted June 17, 1999., para 3.
[161] The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, adopted March 22, 1989 by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland, entered into force May 5, 1992. Article 2, paragraph 8.
[162] Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Article 2(10), Article 6.
[163] Ibid., Article 6.
[164] Basel Convention Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Full and Partial Dismantling of Ships, adopted by the Conference of the Parties 6, Dec 2002. Basel Convention series/SBC No. 2003/2, http://www.basel.int/Portals/4/Basel%20Convention/docs/meetings/sbc/workdoc/techgships-e.pdf (accessed January 24, 2023).
[165] The Basel Convention Technical Guidelines do not mandate a particular set of agreed upon standards.
[166] Detailed guidelines for such a system are included in the Technical Guidelines.
[167] The Basel Convention Technical Guidelines do not mandate a particular set of agreed upon standards for facility certification but recommends for example the ISO 14001 (the International Organization for Standardization, Environmental management systems — Requirements with guidance for use).
[168] The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal Ban Amendment, Decision II/12, UNEP/CHW. 2/30, adopted as a decision of the 2nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties, March 1994, entered into force December 5, 2019.
[169] Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Article 2(10).              
[170] The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, adopted May 15, 2009,https://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000343354.pdf (accessed September 5, 2023).
[171] Ibid.
[172] Ibid.
[173] Rizwana Hasan, “Final Speech of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking Before the International Conference on the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships,” May 15, 2019, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/IMOSpeechRIZWANA_HASAN1.pdf (accessed September 7, 2022).
[174] The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, Part B (Preparation for Ship Recycling), Regulation 8 (general requirements), paragraph 2.
[175] PCBs are a type of synthetic organic chemicals. They are classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. See: World Health Organization, “Polychlorinated biphenyls and polybrominated biphenyls / IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans,” 2015, IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 107, https://publications.iarc.fr/131.
[176] International Maritime Organization, “The development of the Hong Kong convention,” https://www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Environment/Pages/Ship-Recycling.aspx (accessed September 5, 2022).
[177] The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, Part B (Preparation for Ship Recycling) Regulation 9 (Ship Recycling Plan), paragraph 4.2.
[178] Ibid.
[179] Calin Georgescu, Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, “Preliminary assessment of whether the Hong Kong Convention establishes an equivalent level of control and enforcement as that established under the Basel Convention,” 2010, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/UN-special-rapporateur-on-Basel-IMO-conventions-comparison.pdf (accessed May 20, 2022).
[180] Calin Georgescu, Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, “Preliminary assessment of whether the Hong Kong Convention establishes an equivalent level of control and enforcement as that established under the Basel Convention,” 2010, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/UN-special-rapporateur-on-Basel-IMO-conventions-comparison.pdf (accessed May 20, 2022).
[181] Ibid. 5.
[182] Ibid. 6. 
[183] The requirements for a statement of compliance are unspecified.
[184] NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “HKC Statements of Compliance,” https://shipbreakingplatform.org/issues-of-interest/the-law/hkc-soc/ (accessed September 5, 2022).
[185] Gie Goris, “Rainbow Warrior on shipbreaking beach in Bangladesh,” December 11, 2018, Mondiaal Nieuws, https://www.mo.be/en/news/rainbow-warrior-shipbreaking-beach-bangladesh (accessed September 5, 2022).
[186] Outside of Europe, there are also the 2004 International Labour Organization (ILO) Guidelines on Safety and Health in Shipbreaking in Asian countries and Turkey. While not legally binding, the 2004 ILO guidelines on safety and health in shipbreaking in Asia essentially set out parameters for ensure safer shipbreaking practices and to adhere to other ILO commitments on labor, occupational health, and safety. The guidelines strongly discourage the use of beaching but, recognizing that it is widely practiced in Asia, set out recommendations towards improving safety and moving towards dry-dock facilities. See International Labour Organization, “Safety and health in shipbreaking Guidelines for Asian countries and Turkey,” Geneva, International Labour Office, 2004.
[187] Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2006 on shipments of waste.
[188] Ibid., Article 50.1.
[189] Gulating Court of Appeal, March 22, 2022, Case Number 21-073085AST-GULA/AVD1 https://shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Translated-judgement-from-the-Appeal-Court-in-the-Tide-Carrier-case.pdf (accessed September 5, 2023).
[190] Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Shipments of Waste and amending Regulations (EU) No 1257/2013 and EU No 2020/1056. Brussels, 11, 17, 2021. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/docs_autres_institutions/commission_europeenne/com/2021/0709/COM_COM(2021)0709_EN.pdf (accessed September 5, 2023).
[191] Amendments adopted by the European Parliament on 17 January 2023 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on shipments of waste and amending Regulations (EU) No 1257/2013 and (EU) 2020/1056 (COM (2021)0709 – C9-0426/2021 – 2021/0367(COD). https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2023-0003_EN.html (accessed September 5, 2023).
[192] Legislative Observatory, European Parliament, 2021/0367(COD), Shipments of waste, https://oeil.secure.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/ficheprocedure.do?reference=2021/0367(COD)&l=en (accessed April 24, 2023).
[193] Regulation (EU) No 1257/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on ship recycling and amending Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 and Directive 2009/16/EC https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A02013R1257-20180704 (accessed September 11, 2023).
[194] European Commission, “Ship Recycling: Updated list of European facilities includes three new yards,” July 27, 2023, https://environment.ec.europa.eu/news/ship-recycling-updated-list-european-facilities-includes-three-new-yards-2023-07-27_en (accessed August 19, 2023).
[195] European Commission, EU Ship Recycling Regulation – evaluation, https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/13377-EU-Ship-Recycling-Regulation-evaluation_en (accessed April 24, 2023).
[196] Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of the environment through criminal law and replacing Directive 2008/99/EC. Brussels, adopted December 15, 2021, COM (2021) 851.
[197] Bangladesh High Court Judgement in Writ Petition No 7260 of 2008.
[198] Ibid.
[199] Ibid.
[200] Supreme Court of Bangladesh, High Court Division, Judgement in Writ Petition No. 8477 of 2017, on November 14, 2019, p. 9.
[201] NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Press Release – Bangladesh High Court issues contempt rule against 14 Government Officials: ministries and shipbreakers asked to account for non-compliance with 2009 judgement,” April 12, 2016, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/press-release-bangladesh-high-court-issues-contempt-rule-against-14-government-officials-ministries-and-shipbreakers-asked-to-account-for-non-compliance-with-2009-judgement/ (accessed January 26, 2022).
[202] Translation in Appendix IX.
[203] Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act, Act No VIII of 2018, Chapter 3, section 11. Human Rights Watch wrote to the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Board on June 8, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[204] Human Rights Watch wrote to the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Board on June 8, 2023, detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[205] Ibid, Chapter 5, Section 17(2).
[206] Ibid, Chapter 5, Section 19(2).
[207] Ibid, Chapter 5, Section 20(2).
[208] 2011 Shipbreaking Rules, Chapter 6, paragraph 25.
[209] Writ Petition 7260 of 2008 in the matter of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association versus Bangladesh and others. Supplementary affidavit for and on behalf of the petitioner-applicant for placing additional pertinent documents and for amendment of the prayer for the application dated 06 March 2019. On file with Human Rights Watch.
[210] Ibid.
[211] Supreme Court of Bangladesh, High Court Division, Judgment on November 14, 2019 on Writ Petition No. 8466 of 2017 in the matter of an Application under Article 102 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and in the Matter of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyer’s Association (BELA) vs. Bangladesh and others. On File with Human Rights Watch.
[212] Ibid.
[213] Ibid.
[214] Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011.
[215] Ibid., Art. 16.2
[216] Ibid., Art. 19 f(iii).
[217] Ibid., Art. 16.2
[218] Environmental Conservation Act, art. 18 (viii).
[219] Ibid., art. 12.
[220] Ibid., art. 7.
[221] Labour Act (2006), section 54.
[222] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” Principle 13(a) https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/GuidingPrinciplesBusinessHR_EN.pdf (accessed August 19, 2023).
[223] Ibid, principle 13 (b).
[224] Ibid, principle 22.
[225] UN Commission on Human Rights, “Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Annex, I.A.1,” A/HRC/17/31, March 2011, http://www.business-humanrights.org/media/documents/ruggie/ruggie-guiding-principles-21-mar-2011.pdf (accessed July 9, 2022).
[226] NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Annual Lists,” https://shipbreakingplatform.org/annual-lists/ (accessed March 30, 2023).
[227] Ibid.
[228] Ibid.
[229] Human Rights Watch wrote to Cyprus Sea Lines SA on May 15, 2023, detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023; Human Rights Watch wrote to Ziri Subedar Shipbreaking yard on April 21, 2023, detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[230] NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Press Release – Accident on board Greek ship kills two and injures thirteen”, September 3, 2019, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/accident-greek-ship-kills-two-injures-seventeen (accessed September 28, 2022).
[231] Ziri Shipbreaking temporarily closed following the incident and opened an investigation. Ziri Shipbreaking yard was ordered to pay 600,000 BDT ($6,322) to Aminul’s family by a Chittagong labor court.
[232] Human Rights Watch interview with Delawar Begum, location withheld, July 13, 2022.
[233] Luisa Schröder, “Update: Ferry struck container ship off the coast of island of Corsica,” FleetMon October 9, 2018, https://www.fleetmon.com/maritime-news/2018/23861/update-ferry-struck-container-ship-and-remained-st/ (accessed January 30, 2023).
[234] “Damaged CSL Virginia Heads for Romania,” Offshore Energy October 26, 2018, https://www.offshore-energy.biz/damaged-csl-virginia-heads-for-romania/ (accessed January 31, 2023).
[235] Activity report for Virgin Star (IMO 9289568) Issued by Vessels Value, August 8, 2023.
[236] Demolition history report for Virgin Star (IMO 9289568) Issued by Vessels Value, August 8, 2023; NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Press Release – Accident on board Greek ship kills two and injures thirteen,: September 3, 2019, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/accident-greek-ship-kills-two-injures-seventeen (accessed September 28, 2022); “Damaged CSL Virginia Sold for Demolition in Bangladesh,” World Maritime News January 17, 2019, https://www.offshore-energy.biz/damaged-csl-virginia-sold-for-demolition-in-bangladesh/ (accessed November 28, 2022).
[237] UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), adopted December 10, 1982, G.A. Res. 37/66, at General Assembly 37th Session, 91st plenary meeting December 3, 1982, entered into force 16 November 1994. Part VII, High Seas Section 1, General Provisions, Article 91, paragraph 1.
[238] When calculating by weight. When calculated by number of ships, just over 55 percent of the world’s fleet is flagged by a country other than the vessel’s country of origin; United Nations Conference on Trade and Development “Review of Maritime Transport, 2021,” https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/rmt2021_en_0.pdf (accessed May 18, 2022).
[239] Measured by weight; Ibid.
[240] NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Press Release – Platform publishes list of ships dismantled worldwide in 2020,” February 2, 2021, https://shipbreakingplatform.org/platform-publishes-list-2020/ (accessed September, 27, 2022).
[241] International Transport Workers’ Federation, “Flags of Convenience,” https://www.itfglobal.org/en/sector/seafarers/flags-of-convenience (accessed November 28, 2022).
[242] “About IRI,” International Registries website, https://www.register-iri.com/about-iri/ (accessed September 28, 2022); “About the Liberian Registry,” Liberian Registry website, https://www.liscr.com/ (accessed August 19, 2023); Human Rights Watch wrote separately to the Liberian Registry on May 9, 2023, and International Registries (the Marshall Islands Registry) on May 11, 2023, detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 15, 2023.
[243] “Segumar,” Panama Registry website, https://panamashipregistry.com/maritime-services/segumar/ (accessed September 28, 2022).
[244] Human Rights Watch wrote to separately to the St Kitts and Nevis International Ship Registry and the Palau Registry on May 9, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. On May 10, 2023, a representative of the St Kitts and Nevis International Ship Registry replied stating that “The St Kitts & Nevis International Ship Registry adheres to the international rules and regulations as stipulated by the International Maritime Organisation and, as a matter of policy, does not comment on individual vessels.”  Human Rights Watch has received no response from Palau Registry as of September 5, 2023.
[245] International Transport Workers’ Federation, “Flags of Convenience,” https://www.itfglobal.org/en/sector/seafarers/flags-of-convenience (accessed November 28, 2022). The ITF Fair Practices Committee—a group of ITF seafarers and dockers—maintains a list of flags of convenience that can be found here: https://www.itfglobal.org/en/sector/seafarers/flags-of-convenience (accessed September 5, 2023).
[246] Ibid.
[247] Human Rights Watch wrote to the International Maritime Organization on June 8, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch’s letter and the International Maritime Organization’s reply are included in Appendix III.
[248] Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry, “About The Liberian Registry,” https://www.liscr.com/about-liberian-registry (accessed January 24, 2023).
[249] Transparency International, “Governance at the International Maritime Organization,” July 2, 2018, https://www.transparency.org/en/publications/governance-international-maritime-organisation (accessed May 24, 2022).
[250] Ibid.
[251] Ibid, para 9.
[252] Letter from the International Maritime Organization to Human Rights Watch dated June 29, 2023. The full letter can be found in Appendix III.
[253] Ibid, para 35.
[254] NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Cash Buyers,” https://www.shipbreakingplatform.org/our-work/the-problem/cash-buyers/ (accessed September 28, 2022).
[255] GMS webpage, “About,” https://www.gmsinc.net/gms_new/index.php/about (accessed September 28, 2022). The company has offices in the United States, Germany, Greece, the U.A.E., India, Singapore, Korea, China, and Japan and sells ships to yards in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, India, and China. Human Rights Watch wrote separately to GMS, Wirana, and Best Oasis on May 8, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch received a reply from Best Oasis on June 1, 2023. However, the company requested that we do not publish the reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response from GMS or Wirana as of September 5, 2023.
[256] Shell companies, according to the US government Treasury department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network are defined as “non-publicly traded corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs), and trusts that typically have no physical presence (other than a mailing address) and generate little to no independent economic value.” US Treasury, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, “Potential Money Laundering Risks Related to Shell Companies,”  https://www.fincen.gov/resources/statutes-regulations/guidance/potential-money-laundering-risks-related-shell-companies (accessed November 29, 2022).
[257] Human Rights Watch wrote to Conquistador Shipping Corporation on May 11, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5,2023.
[258] Margot Gibbs, “‘A moral crime’: Leaked contract reveals how shipowners wash their hands of toxic vessels via offshore world,” July 23, 2019, Finance Uncovered https://www.financeuncovered.org/stories/shipbreaking-toxic-ships-offshore-beach-yards-cepsa-gms (accessed April 12, 2023); NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Maersk’s Toxic Trade: The North Sea Producer Case,” https://shipbreakingplatform.org/spotlight-north-sea-producer-case/ (accessed April 12, 2023).
[259] Letter from Novonor to Human Rights Watch dated July 3, 2023 (Appendix V).
[260] Letter from Novonor to Human Rights Watch dated August 22, 2023 (Appendix V).
[261] Human Rights Watch interview with Peter Wyntin, Ghent, Belgium, September 19, 2022.
[262] NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Press Release – NGOs win FPSO North Sea Producer case,” November 19, 2019 https://shipbreakingplatform.org/north-sea-producer-judgement/ (accessed September 28, 2022); NGO Shipbreaking Platform, “Maersk’s Toxic Trade: The North Sea Producer Case,” https://shipbreakingplatform.org/spotlight-north-sea-producer-case/ (accessed September 28, 2022). Human Rights Watch wrote to A.P. Moeller Maersk on May 11, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch’s letter and Maersk’s reply are contained in Appendix IV.
[263] Human Rights Watch wrote to Novonor, the parent company of Odebrecht, on June 8, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch’s letter and Novonor’s reply are contained in Appendix V.
[264] “Maersk Tightens its Ship Recycling Procedures,” April 4, 2019, https://www.maersk.com/news/articles/2019/04/04/maersk-tightens-its-ship-recycling-procedures (accessed July 27, 2023).
[265] Letter from Novonor to Human Rights Watch dated July 3, 2023 (Appendix V).
[266] Supreme Court of Bangladesh, High Court Division, Judgment on November 14, 2019 on Writ Petition No. 8466 of 2017 in the matter of an Application under Article 102 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and in the Matter of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyer’s Association (BELA) vs. Bangladesh and others. Page 15. On File with Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch wrote to Janata Shipbreaking yard on April 25, 2023, detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5,2023.
[267] Ibid.
[268] “Maersk Tightens its Ship Recycling Procedures,” April 4, 2019, https://www.maersk.com/news/articles/2019/04/04/maersk-tightens-its-ship-recycling-procedures (accessed July 27, 2023). Letter from Novonor to Human Rights Watch dated July 3, 2023 (Appendix V).
[269] Nikolaj Skydsgaard, “Maersk defends sending ships to Indian shipbreaking yard,” Reuters, October 17, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/maersk/maersk-defends-sending-ships-to-indian-shipbreaking-yard-idUKL8N1CN397 (accessed April 24, 2023); Maersk webpage, “Maersk tightens its ship recycling procedures,” April 4, 2019, https://www.maersk.com/news/articles/2019/04/04/maersk-tightens-its-ship-recycling-procedures (accessed May 30, 2023).
[270] Letter sent to Human Rights Watch on June 1, 2023.
[271] Ibid.
[272] Ibid.
[273] GMS, Best Oasis, and Wirana additionally sell vessels to Turkey, where there are currently 6 EU-approved ship recycling yards out of the 28 total yards. Wirana also sells vessels to China.
[274] Wirana webpage, “About Us,” https://www.wirana.com/about-us/why-wirana/ (accessed September 28, 2022); Best Oasis webpage, “About Us,” https://www.best-oasis.com/about-us (accessed September 28, 2022); GMS webpage, https://www.gmsinc.net/ (accessed July 27, 2023).
[275] Human Rights Watch wrote to Maran Ltd. on May 5, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[276] Corporate Accountability Lab, “Hamida Begum v. Maran (UK) Limited: Shipbreaker’s Death Turning the Tide in Third-Party Liability Claims Under English Law,” May 17, 2021, https://corpaccountabilitylab.org/calblog/2021/5/17/hamida-begum-v-maran-uk-limited-shipbreakers-death-turning-the-tide-in-third-party-liability-claims-under-english-law (accessed September 28, 2022).
[277] England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Decisions, Begum v Maran (UK) Ltd (Rev1) [2021] EWCA Civ 326 (10 March 2021) https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2021/326.html (accessed September 11, 2023).
[278] Bangladesh law additionally requires that before a ship can come ashore, the yard owner must obtain a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the SBSRB, which includes an IHM, a certificate from the department of Environment after examining the ship for hazardous waste and toxic materials, and two certificates from the Department of Explosives certifying that the ship is safe to cut with torches.
[279] Shipbreaking and Recycling Rules, 2011.
[280] Bangladesh High Court Judgement in Writ Petition No 7260 of 2008.
[281] Human Rights Watch wrote to Maximus Shipping Ltd on May 8, 2023 detailing the findings of Human Rights Watch’s research and offering right of reply. Human Rights Watch has received no response as of September 5, 2023.
[282] 2015 Guidelines for the Development of the Inventory of Hazardous Materials, Resolution MEPC. 269(68), Adopted on 15 May 2015.
[283] In contrast to the two-sentence statement provided for the Virgin Star, see appendix VIII with the tables that illustrate the requirements according to IOM guidelines on hazardous material which can range from ozone depleting substances to filament bulbs.
[284] 2015 Guidelines for the Development of the Inventory of Hazardous Materials, Resolution MEPC. 269(68), Adopted on 15 May 2015. Appendix IV pp 28.
[285] Human Rights Watch interview with activist (name withheld) Chattogram, Bangladesh, May 17, 2022. 
[286] International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/ The World Bank, “The Ship Breaking and Recycling Industry in Bangladesh and Pakistan,” December 2010, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/2968/582750ESW0Whit1LIC1011098791web1opt.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (accessed September 5, 2022).
[287] Human Rights Watch interview with Peter Wyntin, Ghent, Belgium, September 19, 2022.
[288] Supreme Court of Bangladesh, High Court Division, Judgment on November 14, 2019 on Writ Petition No. 8466 of 2017 in the matter of an Application under Article 102 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and in the Matter of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyer’s Association (BELA) vs. Bangladesh and others. On File with Human Rights Watch.
[289] Mostafa Yousuf and Margot Gibbs, “Toxic ships sail in on false papers,” The Daily Star December 19, 2020 https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/news/toxic-ships-sail-false-papers-2013621 (accessed September 28, 2022).
[290] Sustainable Shipping Initiative, “Exploring shipping’s transition to a circular industry,” June 2021, https://www.sustainableshipping.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Ship-lifecycle-report-final.pdf (accessed September 28, 2022).
[291] EU Commission, “Site inspection reports of yards located in third countries,” https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/waste-and-recycling/ships/site-inspection-reports_en (accessed January 31, 2023).
[292] “Maersk Pushes Back on Shipbreaking Practices,” The Martime Executive October 201, 2016, https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/maersk-pushes-back-on-shipbreaking-practices (accessed September 28, 2022).
[293] ING webpage, “Sustainability: Our Stance: Ship Recycling,” https://www.ing.com/Sustainability/Our-Stance/Ship-Recycling.htm (accessed September 28, 2022).
[294] KLP, “Decision to exclude Evergreen Marine Corporation Ltd, Korea Line Corporation, Precious Shipping PCL and Thoresen Thai Agencies PCL,” January 2018, https://www.klp.no/en/english-pdf/Skraping%20av%20skip%20beslutning%20ENG.pdf (accessed September 28, 2022); Rachel Fixsen, “​KLP banishes NAT in bid to end ship scrapping on Asian beaches,” IPE Magazine March 15, 2019 https://www.ipe.com/klp-banishes-nat-in-bid-to-end-ship-scrapping-on-asian-beaches/10030074.article (accessed September 28, 2022).
[295] Jonathan Saul, Simon Jessop, “Shipping’s financiers turning the tide on shipbreaking practices,” Reuters May 14, 2018 https://www.reuters.com/article/cbusiness-us-shipping-investment-beachin-idCAKCN1IG0JC-OCABS (accessed September 28, 2022).
[296] Responsible Ship Recycling Standards, https://www.nordea.com/en/doc/nordea-rsrs1.pdf (accessed January 24, 2023).
[297] Danske Bank (Danish), Nordea (Danish), DNB (Norwegian), Eksportkreditt Norge (Norwegian), SpareBank 1 SR-Bank (Norwegian), Sparebanken Vest (Norwegian), Hamburg Commercial Bank (German), KfW-IPEX-Bank (German), Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB (SEB) (Swedish).
[298] Responsible Ship Recycling Standards.
[299] Ibid.
[300] These include A.P. Moller – Maersk, Altera Infrastructure, CMA CGM, Crowley Maritime Corporation, Evergreen Marine Corporation (Taiwan) Ltd., Hapag-Lloyd AG, NORDEN, NYK Line, Seaspan Corporation, Stolt Tankers B.V., Swire Shipping, Teekay, Wallenius Wilhelmsen.
[301] Ship Recycling Transparency Initiative, “Theory of Change,” https://www.shiprecyclingtransparency.org/srti-theory-of-change/ (accessed September 28, 2022).
[302] While international law mandates that the flag state is responsible for ensuring ships meet international requirements, port state controls offer an additional regulatory safety net. Port state controls are required inspections of foreign ships when they enter national ports to verify their condition and that they are operating in compliance with international regulations. If a vessel is found in violation of regulations, the port state control office can require the ship to rectify the problem within a certain time-period, or it can be detained at the port if the ship is unfit to sail or poses undue risk to the crew or the environment. According to the IMO, “These inspections were originally intended to be a backup to flag State implementation, but experience has shown that they can be extremely effective,” in part because ship owners will face real penalties for failing to comply with international regulations. Most MoUs will publish ongoing monthly and annual lists of ships detained for violations, including their flag state. Publication of the number of port state control violations received by ships registered to a particular flag state can be a useful way to identify and pressure those flag registries persistently used by shipping companies that violate international standards. Each year the Paris MoU on Port State Control for Europe and the North Atlantic publishes a list of state flags that are grey and blacklisted for persistently failing to exercise regulatory control over their ships and are thus subject to trading restrictions.
EU Should Revise Law to Promote Safe, Sustainable Ship Recycling
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