For years now, the Chinese company Gold Peak Industries Limited is at loggerheads with civil society groups in China as well as abroad over recurring Occupational Health and Safety issues. In 2004, an outbreak of cadmium poisoning cases occurred in four subsidiary factories of Gold Peak Batteries in mainland China as well as in Hong Kong. One case concerns the cadmium poisoning of workers of the Gold Peak Batteries plant in Hong Kong. Another case concerns the cadmium poisoning of workers at JetPower, a Gold Peak subsidiary based in Shenzhen, China. Workers of this factory recently struck up new protests against the projected closure of the Shenzhen plant for fear their medical claims will not be settled.
For years now, the Chinese company Gold Peak Batteries Limited is at loggerheads with civil society groups in China as well as abroad over recurring Occupational Health and Safety issues. In 2004, an outbreak of cadmium poisoning cases occurred in four subsidiary factories of Gold Peak Batteries in mainland China as well as in Hong Kong. One case concerns the cadmium poisoning of workers of the Gold Peak Batteries plant in Hong Kong. Another case concerns the cadmium poisoning of workers at JetPower, a Gold Peak subsidiary based in Shenzhen, China. Workers of this factory recently struck up new protests against the projected closure of the Shenzhen plant, for fear their medical claims will not be resolved. Starting from last week, 10 JetPower workers with excessive cadmium levels started a new round of action again and take turn (24hours) to stop JP plant to deliver their products. They have been demanding negotiation with management on their compensation package
Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal and an important constituent of Nickel-Cadmium batteries as produced by GP Batteries. Cadmium is a known carcinogen for humans that causes damage to lungs, kidneys and bone tissue in case of long term exposure.
Gold Peak Batteries has long-established supply agreements with some of the world’s biggest consumer brands. Gold Peak rechargeable batteries and components are used in electronic products manufactured by Black & Decker, Canon, Casio, EverReady, Fuji, JVC, Kodak, Konica, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Rayovac, Ricoh, Siemens, Sony, SonyEricsson, Toshiba and Uniden, to name some. Its batteries are found in cordless and wireless phones, toys, power tools, and are sold across the world.
In April 2006, the International Trade Union Confederation ITUC launched a campaign addressing Gold Peak concerning the insufficient protection from cadmium at its factories and those of its subcontractors in China. ITUC cried out about the serious health problems among workers, counting at that time 16 confirmed cases of cadmium poisoning and 400 cases of excessive exposure to cadmium.
Globalization Monitor is a Hong Kong based research and campaigning organisation and a member of the GoodElectronics network. Since 2004, Globalization Monitor has been supportive of the struggle for recognition and compensation of cadmium poisoned GP workers. Globalization Monitor stresses that the recurring cadmium poisoning cases in the Gold peak affiliated plants are not accidental. These cases are the result of continuous negligence in occupational safety and non-compliance of related laws on the part of the plants. The management has failed to provide effective protection and occupational safety training to workers as required by law.
Huizhou PP Plants, China
In 2003, workers at the Huizhou PP plants, Gold Peak subsidiaries, started falling ill. Later, according to Globalization Monitor, it turned out that the management of the plants as well as the local government were already aware of the fact that these plants contained excessive cadmium levels in their environment, which was the cause of the illness of their workers. The sick workers of Huizhou requested that the company would take care of them and would arrange for medical check-ups. The company only met the demand after the workers went on strike. Then, the company kept delaying the release of the results of the medical tests to the workers and only yielded when the workers went on strike again. In June 2004, it was confirmed that 121 workers were having excessive cadmium blood levels, including two pregnant workers. Soon, however, workers found out that were huge discrepancies between the test results as arranged for by the company and those initiated by the workers themselves.
Later, workers at the ABT plant, another subsidiary of Gold Peak Batteries in China, encountered the same problems. From July 2004, Globalization Monitor started supporting the affected workers. In September 2004, workers of the Huizhou PP and ABT plants were forced to ‘voluntary’ resign after huge pressure from the company and the local government.
Starting from 2005, these ex-Gold Peak workers have come back every year for medical tests as required by law to check their cadmium levels. The management has never been collaborative, but test were carried out. By June 2008, there were 250 workers with excessive cadmium levels among the workers of the PP and ABT plants. The number of poisoning cases had risen from 2 to 24!
JetPower – Shenzhen, China
At the end of 2004, it turned out that 80 workers of the JetPower plant in Shenzhen had excessive cadmium levels and three workers were diagnosed with cadmium poisoning. Globalization Monitor is of the opinion that the management of Gold Peak Batteries did not take its responsibility towards these workers, despite pressure from the workers and international campaigns.
Gold Peak Batteries claims to have responded adequately to the workers’ demands by ceasing the production of Nickel-Cadmium batteries. According to Globalization Monitor, however, the production of this type of batteries was merely outsourced to a factory in Hunan province, out of sight of civil society organisations. The Gold Peak Group has set up an Industrial Safety Trust Fund of HK Dollar 10 million. Globalization Monitor, however, points out that many workers are not at all aware of the existence of this fund. Since its introduction, Gold Peak has not made any public statement as how the Fund has benefited workers from GP Batteries. Also, the Fund’s target group consists of all possible occupational disease victims from all Gold Peak Group plants, not just the workers of GP batteries or the cadmium affected workers.
In September 2008, a drastic downsizing of the Shenzhen JetPower factory was suddenly initiated. Managers and machinery were relocated from the factory and the workforce was reduced from 1,000 workers to about 500. It was rumoured that the factory was going to close down, but the company offered no clarification neither to the workers nor to the enterprise union.
When by February 2009, all questions remained unanswered, workers decided to go on strike in the hope of forcing the management to provide information on the future of the plant, their jobs and the settlement of cadmium compensation claims dating back from 2004. The strike lasted from 19 to 25 February, and resulted in the company finally providing the confirmation that the JetPower plant was being closed down and would move to Huizhou before June 30th, 2009, as a way to cut costs. Also, on February 24th, the company announced a compensation proposal.
In support of the workers, Globalization Monitor has written two open letters to Mr Victor Lo Chong Wing, Chairperson of Gold Peak Industrial Holding Ltd. Globalization Monitor states that “the most worrying factor was that in your company’s (compensation) proposal, there was no mention of compensation, medical treatment or follow-up arrangements for those being poisoned by the toxic cadmium at work.”
Numerous requests by the workers to discuss the compensation proposal went unanswered. The workers, with support of Globalization Monitor, have formulated a number of concrete compensation demands to Gold Peak Industrial Holding. Workers demand the company to:
- Immediately start negotiations with workers who have excessive cadmium levels concerning the compensation proposal made by the company on February 24, 2009 (see appendix 1);
- Come up with a proposal covering medical treatment and follow-up arrangements for workers with excessive cadmium levels and cadmium poisoning;
- Immediately release the promised payment of 5,000 Yuan for workers’ urgent medical treatment (see appendix 2);
- For workers who have worked between 5-10 years at JetPower and whose contract will not be renewed, compensation should be calculated on the basis of one month compensation for every year of employment.
Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd) batteries
Up until the mid 1990s, Nickel-Cadmium batteries had an large majority of the market share for rechargeable batteries in consumer electronics. NiCd batteries contain cadmium, which as a toxic heavy metal requires special care during disposal. In the United States, part of the price of a NiCd battery is a fee for its proper disposal at the end of its service lifetime. In the European Union, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) bans the use of cadmium in electrical and electronic equipment products since July 2006. The sale of nickel-cadmium batteries has now been banned within the European Union except for medical use; alarm systems; emergency lighting and portable power tools. This last category is to be reviewed in 2010.
Recently, nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) and lithium-ion batteries (Lithium-ion) have become more commercially available and cheaper, the former type now rivaling NiCds in cost.
Cadmium is currently under review by the UN 'Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)' which could lead to possible restrictions by such UN bodies as the ILO, UNEP and the WHO. International civil society and trade union bodies, including the ITUC, have already called for a phasing out and replacement of cadmium products.