Environmental activists worry over workers’ deaths in extractive industry

Environmental activists have expressed worry over alleged death of over one million extractive sector workers yearly due to what they described as environmental and human rights abuses in the industry.

A director at Health of Mother Earth Foundation, (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, said at a summit yesterday in Abuja that “almost one million workers die every year from exposure to toxic chemicals in the extractive industries.” Bassey, who said that about 2.3 million persons get exposed to work-related ailments, including cancers, leukemia and kidney diseases or accidents every year, called for elimination of what he described as a dichotomy between workers and the communities.

According to him, the summit will serve as a think-tank panel of all stakeholders on how to tackle the challenge. “This sustainability academy aims to highlight the fact that workers and communities are at the frontlines of exposure to toxic chemicals that often result in fatalities. The occupational hazards that workers face are a challenge for those in the formal as well as the informal sectors,” the director reiterated.

The HOMEF director noted that the consequences of extractive activities swallow up lives beyond the mine pits as evidenced by the death of over 400 children from lead poisoning in Zamfara State. He emphasized that the extractive sector is also an arena of conflicts and has thrown up severe human rights abuses, including displacement of communities, toxic work conditions and burying alive of artisanal miners in Ghana, Tanzania and other locations.

The Head (Education, Planning, Research and Statistics Department at the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria and Instigator at the summit, Comrade Baba Aye, highlighted occupational health hazards poised by some negligent extractive sector companies to include low life expectancy.

He also spoke on challenges of abysmally degradation of the environment by extractive sector capitalists and implications on the workers. Aye proposed promulgation of a law to identify offenders in the extractive industry. He cited the United Kingdom where, according to him, unions were undaunted and won the struggle for the extractive workers’ rights.

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