Cadmium babies

May 3, 2007 at 3:00 am 1 comment

Japanese flowerWhilst in Hong Kong in March, I heard about ‘grey babies’ and the Gold Peak Cadmium poisoning incident. So I decided to investigate further and found a truly disturbing story that should make us all feel very worried about what really goes on in factories in the developing world. This story is a classic case of blatant disregard for worker safety.

Hong Kong based NGO, Globalization Monitor, has just released this comprehensive report, which is a full account of cadmium poisoning and a subsequent cover-up. Here’s how the sorry story goes:

  • Gold Peak Industrial Ltd is an Asian TNC based in Hong Kong and Singapore and has a subsidiary, GP Batteries, based in mainland China. The GP group has a dozen battery factories in China and three of these factories have experienced an outbreak of cadmium poisoning. Cadmium is used to produce batteries but is banned in developed countries due to its highly toxic effects and it is a class one carcinogenic substance.
  • More than 400 workers have excessive levels of cadmium and once in the human body, it takes between 7-30 years to leave the system. Health problems range from kidney and liver failure to cancer and may be slow to manifest.
  • Allegedly, the factories implicated did not provide adequate safety equipment such as masks and pregnant women were placed in cadmium processing jobs. Nor did they inform workers of the poisonous nature of cadmium.
  • Blood tests arranged by factory management allegedly understated or failed to report the high levels of cadmium poisoning. In fear for their health, many workers were forced to fund private medical tests.
  • As news of the poisoning and cover-up spread, Globalization Monitor, along with factory workers and various trade unions, protested against abuse of workers. Workers allegedly received death threats or were intimidated by Chinese officials.
  • GP products are sold worldwide under different brand names (see report) and you may be using them.
  • Cadmium in the air surrounding one of the factories is 35 times higher than standard safety limits.
  • Cadmium poisoning is not confined to mainland China. 24 workers in GP’s Hong Kong factory are also suffering from exposure.
  • In 2005, a group of workers filed a civil suit but the local Huizhou Court found against the workers, raising questions about the Court’s impartiality and whether medical documents were forged by factory management.
  • At least 40 women workers have given birth to children who suffer health problems or have abnormal skin discolouration. Go here to see a disturbing photo of a ‘grey Cadmium baby”.
  • Workers have been subjected to humiliating health checks at the factories, with workers being ordered to strip, shower and provide urine samples under the watchful eye of dubious officials of unknown status.
  • Workers have been offered small compensation: RMB 3000 or 8000 per worker.

This is a shocking story and you should take the time to read Globalization Monitor’s full report, including the many appendices. Here we have a classic example of Globalised Capitalism at its worst – in pursuit of profit and growth, basic human rights and dignity are simply screwed. I’ll be doing a future post about denial – how contemporary society seems to be in the grip of existential denial, which leads us to side step worrying about tragedies of this kind in the hope (as we say in Australia) that “she’ll be right mate”.


Entry filed under: Corporate Social Responsibility, Environment, Social problems.

Thinkingshift good news story The surveillance society is here

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. bre  |  September 7, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    I am a middle school teacher in NC and came across your site while researching some information about the periodic table for my chemistry class this year. I just wanted to thank you for the great information.

    We would love it if you could write a few articles for us, but I understand if your busy so a link to some of the current articles would be very helpful as well to help us spread trusted resources to other teachers. I have included a link to our page about cadmium and its toxic effects in case you would like to help us out by linking to it, tweeting it, or adding it to your Facebook profile.

    Thanks and keep the great resources coming

    Bre Matthews


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