Exploring Fragility: Industrial Delocalization, Occupational and Environmental Risks, and Non-Governmental Organizations
- Expulsion forces, related to ecological reform under way in countries of origin, subject to stricter requirements in patterns of health, work and environment, in response to cultural and political transformations produced by society;
- Attraction forces, offered in new chosen territories, such as the price of land; ease of access and cost of water and power, amongst other natural resources; characteristics and cost of labor; tax exemption policies and infrastructural facilities offered by local governments;
- Welcoming forces for companies that relocate, built upon the condition of social privation of the communities in which they establish themselves and the hegemony of development ideology, shared by most of the local stakeholders, and which cause such corporations to be presented and greeted as the advent of “progress”;
- Protection forces, represented by the fragility of the executive branch and local civil society organizations in regulating and enforcing regulations governing work, health and the environment – which contributes, in practice, to preservation of the “paradise” in which new investment takes shelter;
- Reinforcement forces – those which, acting on a symbolic level, contribute to the covering-up of negative impacts of capitalist development and reproduce its ideology.
- The metal-mechanical industry, located opposite the Coach Station downtown, performs galvanization and painting of metal plates, and has used the residue from the liquid waste effluent plant to landfill the company’s main patio, causing pollution of soil and both surface and subterranean water.
- The chemical industry, originally from Rio Grande do Sul and which operates as a joint-venture with an Italian company, is located in a residential neighborhood, where it produces pigments and solvents for the footwear industry. This causes the frequent circulation of trucks with dangerous cargoes in residential areas, as the just-in-time paradigm is used. In turn, workers and local residents are exposed to inhalation of clouds of toluene and n-hexane, amongst other highly toxic solvents, causing drowsiness in children at school during emission peak times; in addition to the danger of fire and explosion – both of which happened in March 2005.
- The electrical appliances industry, with French and Brazilian capital, sends its liquid waste, including effluent from refrigeration tower, to a septic tank, without prior treatment. This is located in another residential neighborhood, on the banks of the Vavaú Reservoir, where there is a community laundry, while children bathe and boys fish (Figure 1)
- The footwear industry, also from Rio Grande do Sul originally, employs between 2,500 and 3,500 people, aged 22 on average, two thirds of whom are female. They work on their feet for eight or more hours per day. After being required by the Ministry of Labor to supply seats for employees, the company produced a technical report stating that it was better to work standing, and the case was sent to the appeal court. There is also considerable home-based work amongst women and children (Figure 2).
2. Results and Discussion
- Clothing Industry Worker’s Trade Union, whose base is composed of workers from the footwear industry studied;
- UNECOM – Maranguape Community Bodies Union, a product of the strong local tradition in community movements, some of which arose from ecclesial communities in the 70s and 80s, today organized as neighborhood associations or cooperatives of small-scale farmers;
- Maranguape Citizen’s Council, which brings together eight county councils in which civil society is represented, as a form of participation in public administration and social control;
- Maranguape Community Social Economics Network.
2.1. Clothing Industry Workers’ Union
Here in Maranguape, it’s hard to talk about better salaries. Most people don’t belong to a trade union; those who do get a minimum salary plus a little more. At the time of the convention, we bring everyone together and talk. It’s hard because for most of them it’s their first job, it’s for them to learn. Because the footwear industry is Ceará is relatively new, people there had never seen a machine. After they learn, the company has minimum salary levels according to the capacity of each employee.(My italics)
We have direct contact with the board of directors: everything that goes on there we get to know. Every week I go there two or three times: there are problems involving mistreatment of workers by supervisors, silly things like that. First-time employees are always talking about rights, but they have obligations too. A company like this must have discipline! We have to inform workers about how the company words, so they’re not penalized on account of something silly. I go into the factory when I feel like it, I talk to whomever I wish, which helped reduce the number of issues being settled in court.(My italics)
One creature turned up here, stayed 30 days without coming into work, because his son was sick: ‘The doctor said I had the right’! There’s no such right! What do you mean take us to court, boy? What are you going to complain about there? I’m gonna have the firm fire you with just cause, you go and negotiate, like lots do, bonuses and severance pay!(My italics)
There’s also RSI. It’s tiring. We’ve had a lot of meetings with engineers to look at that situation. It’s complicated. We have to find the best method. If you change it and things get worse, then what? In 1955, I worked with two machines, when I left there were ten, a few days later there were fifteen: modernization is a nightmare. Everyone just cares about productivity. All companies are the same. It’s a national problem in Brazil.
I was a representative here for 11 years, and I know how much we sacrificed to attract these companies, with collaboration from the State government and Raimundo Viana. Things improved considerably with the jobs we gained! Everything was in decline, all closed down. The [Footwear factory] has generated lots of jobs. I think it will be here for a long time, even with the end of fiscal incentives: where are you going to go? Productivity is the same, quality is the same... They’re very satisfied! People here are smart, good workers, I don’t know if that’s because they need the job… They’re more likely to close the Rio Grande do Sul factory than the one here.
2.2. Maranguape Community Organizations Union – UNECOM
What do we have in Maranguape? If the footwear industry closes, for example, what could happen? I’ll be brutally honest: I think it would be chaos. It’s a case of “bad with it, worse without it”, isn’t it? Now, I don’t know if that’s sufficient justification. From the economic standpoint, the impact is minimal. I believe the industrialization process in Maranguape, over the past ten years or so, has had a very small economic impact, because all that’s happened is generation of salaries, right? This salary enables people to buy things, feed themselves, get into debt – when you have a fixes salary each month, you take courage and buy something in installments. So you get into debt with a few stores and you eat a little better, at least you’re not concretely starving anymore. But the impact.... it doesn’t distribute income, there’s a very small impact on the county’s economy. If you add to all this the tax exemption policy… you end up with a situation in which what could have been added value for society, disappears in the form of tax exemption…(My italics)
Not to mention that there are, as far as we know, very complicated relations. The capital-work relation has almost feudal characteristics, doesn’t it? It’s true! What we’ve seen is a complete lack of respect for human life, through unlimited exploitation of this unskilled labor force, which is a very cheap source of labor, with the excuse that they’re not qualified. But productivity indicators don’t confirm this lack of skills amongst the labor force.(My italics)
You can’t see the mark of companies established in Maranguape, except for one or the other, especially in certain places – then we see that it makes a difference: the issue of integration with a place makes a difference! We don’t see company logos in a single social enterprise, nor in any facilities in the town. The companies are not even prepared to maintain a town square, which is a minimal cost and would have a very interesting effect on their marketing, wouldn’t it?(My italics)
In some cases, this black box has not yet been opened – it seems to me that it will be, little by little – but it’s still a black box. There are lots of things to consider, people’s fear of losing their job causes a lot of things to happen… But we have information, comments by workers, ex-workers from some companies, especially the [footwear factory], people who face problems, like pregnant women who have problems standing at their machines, but are not allowed to go for treatment, see? There are reports that I have heard personally, of people getting sick, going to the company doctor and not being allowed to go home, so they took the initiative of going to another doctor – the Public Health System (SUS) doctor, for example, and when they went back to the company with an SUS doctor’s note, the company doctor tore it up, discarded it, anyway…. So these things happen and are not resolved. Now, it’s complicated to discuss this, for example, because they’re very subjective reports…. If you call a person who makes a report like that to discuss it, they probably won’t, because people still lack courage…(My italics)
There is one complication in this story: those who should defend these issues, fight against such problems, are taking a very passive stance, which is the case of the trade union. I can see that the State has plenty of power – but specifically in this case, the Town Hall – this power is very limited. There would have to be a mayor with considerable political will, they’d have to be very clear-headed to get into a fight like this: it’s politically unfriendly to say that…. Now, we really have to do something urgently: we have to start discussing these relations!(My italics)
I’m not here suggesting.... defending that companies.... that Maranguape abandon the idea of industry. I think it’s part of the process, it’s something that’s here to stay and we can’t get away from it. Now, the relation has to be a relation that has to be as human as possible, as respectful of life as possible, right?(My italics)
They do intimidate, because the argument is very strong. No politician, and before being an administrator, the Mayor is, first and foremost, a politician, elected by popular vote – is willing to risk getting into a fight… So that’s it! A few months ago, perhaps just over a year ago, one of the companies, a lingerie manufacturer, threatened to leave the town. It was chaos! People demonstrated in the streets! So the opposition took advantage of the situation to take to the streets and announce the factory will close, and that Maranguape will have even higher unemployment, and that it’s the mayor’s fault. So the mayor found himself in a tight spot. There is one thing that interferes with all this: the foundation, so-called governability, is very fragile, because the government’s base is the Chamber of Representatives. There is no firm support, a society that can – for example, an organized community movement – that can, in a situation like this, say: “It’s OK, Mayor! Pick the fight because we’re here to support you!”(My italics)
2.3. Maranguape Community Councils Chamber
... the companies that come have only one commitment [to pay a salary]. We don’t see any other benefit. Several employees are cared for daily in the hospitals: they work with glue, with other toxins, in very hot buildings, so they faint… And then there are social issues: Not one company has a nursery school! We’re aware of all this. None of them contribute to any kind of social capital, social movements. We see that they generate income, but the workers are really being exploited. It’s exploitation! They don’t get a decent salary, they have no say in company matters. What’s more, that company doesn’t pay tax, because everyone knows why they come and set up in Ceará… and so… We still run the risk of, after fifteen years, everything closing down and moving to another county, don’t we?(My italics)
I have no data about that, I don’t know. It’s not yet a concern for the county, nor for society at large, this issue hasn’t yet been addressed here in the county. Although we know we might have companies here using chemical products, to make other products already manufactured here, but society isn’t concerned about that yet. It’s not yet on the discussion table. I think that’s why I don’t have any data on this.(My italics)
‘Don’t complain because otherwise the factory will close up and you’ll lose your salary’; ‘don’t complain because otherwise we’ll fire you, there are fifteen or twenty people out there waiting’… Although we have a few factories we didn’t have before, there is still a large group of workers outside trying to get a job, and this terrifies those who are inside! Because, ‘look, you can’t complain, you have your trade union here’ – the trade unions are formed on the inside… they don’t come near to helping at all (evasive)...
2.4. Community Socio-Economic Network
There is an outdated culture, like, let’s say, that old concept that “development equals industrialization”. Here is no exception to that rule. I think that, here in Ceará, the phenomenon of industrialization contributed to that considerably. And this culture has a very strong impact on people’s awareness!(My italics)
The second thing is the impact on workers’ health. There are many complaints. There is a high degree of exploitation of these workers. That is very clear. Then there is the impact on their families. This is problematic: the issue of intensification of exploitation, which is a pattern of behavior, let’s say, on the part of industry in general. I think these company’s profit margins are phenomenal!
The government’s investment in order for these companies to stay here, the concession, is enormous, and I consider it an anti-democratic stance, because there are no concessions to small-scale industries! The forecast is that, when the tax concession period runs out, they will move on to another development paradise... desenvolvimento...
The democratic process depends largely upon the strengthening of civil society. Experience in Brazil, in Latin America, has demonstrated that there are considerable changes towards increasing the people’s quality of life, in order to improve the services provided by the State, and even the governmental reforms so eagerly anticipated – Brazil and Latin America are still highly authoritarian – this will only be possible if there is a grass roots movement in society.
3. Conclusions: NGOs and the Risks Generated by Industrialization in Maranguape
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Rigotto, R.M. Exploring Fragility: Industrial Delocalization, Occupational and Environmental Risks, and Non-Governmental Organizations. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2009, 6, 980-998. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph6030980
Rigotto RM. Exploring Fragility: Industrial Delocalization, Occupational and Environmental Risks, and Non-Governmental Organizations. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2009; 6(3):980-998. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph6030980Chicago/Turabian Style
Rigotto, Raquel Maria. 2009. "Exploring Fragility: Industrial Delocalization, Occupational and Environmental Risks, and Non-Governmental Organizations" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 6, no. 3: 980-998. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph6030980