National and International Labour unions file complaints against cement giant Holcim in the OECD. The complaint is likely to cause much embarrassment to the Swiss multinational which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Holcim through its subsidiaries like the ACC and Ambuja cement is presently the largest cement manufacturer in India.
As HOLCIM, the Swiss multinational giant, and the largest cement manufacturer in India celebrates its 100th anniversary this week, in January 2012 several Indian and international unions have lodged a complaint against its Indian subsidiaries ACC and Ambuja Cement Ltd (now Holcim India) with the OECD in Switzerland for gross violations of the OECD Guidelines.
The OECD, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is an international economic organization of 34 economically developed countries, and has laid down guidelines for MNC enterprises in these countries to operate transnationally, which includes respecting international norms for labour standards and human rights. It is these guidelines that are being grossly violated by Holcim companies in Chhattisgarh.
Shalini Gera of the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh (PCSS), an independent union of contract workers in Chhattisgarh, said that PCSS lodged a complaint to OECD with the support of international federations ICEM (International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers\\\’ Unions, representing more than 20 million workers worldwide) and BWI (Building and Wood Workers International, comprised of 328 trade unions representing around 12 million members in 130 countries) and national federation NTUI (New Trade Union Initiative, a federation of independent trade unions across India).
Indian, International Unions file OECD Complaint against ACC, Ambuja Cement, Holcim Ltd.
Profits soar while contract workers get paid only minimum wages or less than the Cement Wage Board wages
Union leader in jail since 10 months on trumped up charges by the Management; Village lands encroached, ground water exploited and settlements affected by mining and blasting, yet no permanent jobs.
The speakers at the interaction were Mr Phee Jungsum, Asia Pacific Representative and Director for Materials Industries of ICEM, Advocate Vrinda Grover, Mr Rajeev Sharma from BWI, Mr Gautam Mody from NTUI and Shalini Gera from PCSS.
Phee Jungsum strongly condemned the non-compliances by the Holcim Group of Core Labor Standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO). He drew attention to the fact that while Holcim Global states its commitment to international labor standards as a member of UN Global Compact, its India Subsidiary, ACC, does not recognize the legitimate union-PCSS and refuses to discuss on collective bargaining. The management calls PCSS “dangerous”, and wants to deal with a single national union of its choice. This, he said was a clear violation of fundamental principles of workers’ basic right to representation of their choice, guaranteed by UN, OECD and ILO,It is also a violation of similar principles under the Indian constitution. He also said that it is through such practices that Holcim has doubled its profit margins in India, as compared to its global average. In a response to a question about internationalising Indian concerns in the context of the row over the Dow Chemicals sponsorship of the London Olympics, Phee said that as MNCs use globalization to maximize their profits, the struggling people must internationalise their concerns to assert their rights against MNCs and their differential standards between the developed and developing countries.
Phee added that Holcim workers over the world joined the protest and planned global actions. On the occasion of 100th Anniversary of Holcim in April 2012, Unions and NGOs in Switzerland will submit the Holcim Manifesto and stage protest activities in Switzerland. Phee also urged the Holcim Group to respect international principles on basic trade union rights and sustainable and environmental protection for local communities.
Dr. Rajeev Sharma representing BWI expressed concern on the growing contract-based work in the cement industry in India and the gross undermining of the rights of contract workers. In the wake of the OECD complaint made by the PCSS, representatives of ICEM and BWI recently visited the ACC (Village Jamul, District Durg) and Ambuja (Village Rawaan, District Baloda Bazar) plants in Chhattisgarh, and spoke to contract workers and farming communities around the plants. Rajeev Sharma described how they witnessed signs of Holcim’s over exploitation of contract workers, community lands and threatened livelihoods of the villagers.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, who has been associated with the workers’ struggles for over two decades and is currently representing the case of Bhagawati Sahoo, PCSS leader jailed on dubious charges and denied bail. She elaborated how ‘contractualisation’ of industrial labour and harassment of unionists through fake cases dates back to decades. She emphasized how criminal law and denial of bail are being increasingly used as an instrument of repression.
Gautam Modi of the NTUI drew attention to the human tragedy of the lengthy litigation forced upon the PCSS workers, who already lost over half of their working lives in their legal battle for regularization. He said that the idea clearly was to wear them out. Increasing contractualisation (currently at 4 out of every 5 workers, or 80% in Holcim India) is also making them more vulnerable to assert their rights such as the freedom to have a union of their choice and collective bargaining, guaranteed under the India constitution, apart from international laws.
Besides raising the question of rights, the complaint also provides a powerful critique of the whole paradigm of neo-liberal development, wherein large projects of industrialization are seen as a way to bring prosperity to local communities. These cement plants provide a classic counterpoint: here, the communities first lost land to a cement plant, for which they have still not been given the promised permanent jobs. Many farming families, having lost their means of livelihood, settled for short-term contract jobs. But here they are not even paid the minimum wages. The complaint documents how labour contractors discriminate against locals and prefer to hire labourers without local connections. Finally, even the lands not acquired by the company get degraded and lose their productivity due to the environmental toxins produced by the manufacturing process. After the plant has started, almost 25% of the families migrate in search of livelihood every year.