A Conversation for H2G2 Speaker's Corner
beware of jute bags
GwendolenW Started conversation Feb 22, 2007
I live in Germany, but am just back from a trip to my family in the UK where in supermarkets like Sainsbury's and Booths there were jute bags for sale at the check-outs. An accompanying notice claimed that in buying a jute bag you would protect the environment.
PLEASE, before you buy a jute bag, I would beg you to reconsider your decision.
Last year we visited Calcutta and one day were taken to a jute factory south of the city. It was about the most horrifying experience of my life, and I was assured that the situation is no different in other jute factories in India and Bangladesh, which is where most jute production is located.
The factory was quite appalling. The machinery was Victorian (imported from Dundee in colonial times) and with no protective covering. I've never seen anything like it - it was like some Dickensian nightmare, a mad world of rattling cogs and whirling spools and machines and belts, all apparently about to fall to pieces any moment. The risk of injury, even to us just walking through, was very high indeed. The atmosphere was very hot, stifling in fact, but there was no air conditioning of any sort. The battered old machinery was deafeningly loud, and when we come out we couldn't hear anything properly for about half and hour. The workers wore no ear protectors and I imagine that after a few weeks on the factory most of them would suffer severe damage to their hearing. The whole interior was covered in six-inch thick layers of jute dust and fibre, so the workers were not only subjected to noise pollution but breathed in jute fibres all day, as they had no protective masks of any kind. My husband, who is a doctor, told me that breathing in jute dust and fibre in that quantity is deadly for the lungs and can cause terrible diseases and even death.
We were taken to the dyeing shed, where the jute is dyed those nice bright colours you see in supermarket bags in Britain, but couldn't go in because of the stench. Running out of the open sheds were rivers of poisonous substances like vitriol that are used in the dyeing process. The workers here, as in the rest of the factory, were thin as rakes and bare-footed and and dressed only in a few pathetic rags - generally threadbare t-shirts and trousers full of holes. We were told there was a workers' canteen but did not see anything of the sort, only a few men brewing up tea on a home-made stove outside.
We were told that the jute business is highly competitive and that firms can only pay workers an absolute minimum. We were also told that the watchword of the firm was ACCOUNTABILITY. If a worker made an error he would be warned, and if he made an error twice he would be sacked. ACCOUNTABILITY, however, seemed to be a totally one-sided affair. There was no mention of the accountability of the management towards the workers.
Since that I have only used plastic bags, which I store and re-use as often as possible.
Researcher 7575407; journal entry
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