Increased Environmental Awareness amongst Developing World Factory Workers


Industry development plays a pivotal role in the economy of a country. It not only provides employment to local working class but also, it boosts economy by selling and exporting the products manufactured by the factories. As we all know, factories have direct impact on our environment and eco-system. The emissions of gases and disposal of waste products have always been serious threats to the environment.

With the beginning of factories’ infrastructures, laws relating to working conditions of the workers and environment protection were enacted in order to improve working conditions of the factory workers and to safeguard the environment from industrial pollution with poisonous gases and waste disposal being the main threats to the local environment.

However, a lot needed to be done as the factories grew larger in number with the passage of time. In 1994, I happened to visit a Pakistani garments factory with my father who was working there. He took me with him to take a tour of the factory. I visited different sections of the factory and came to know that the working class were not aware of the safety and hygienic measures. Even the factory did not have much advanced environment-friendly measures to protect local environment from different modes of pollution. The heavy garment machinery was producing a deafening noise which made me run away from the site. Likewise, I saw workers bare-footed, wearing dirty dresses and many even without caps.

I got the idea from my father that there were factory rules and acts which bind the factory management to follow them strictly but, on spot, nothing like this seemed. I remember to have talked to some workers of my age and at that time, I was a teenager. The workers told me that there were factory inspectors who would make inspection visits to the factory once a week to inspect the working of the factory in accordance with factory laws. This surprised me that even inspection were being made, the factory labor’s condition was miserable; they didn’t have proper working dresses and safety wears to put on while working. Similarly, the factory itself lacked safety tools and safety management in case of fire etc. One of the workers told me that they had never been trained about or provided with safety measures.

This is just one story of a factory in Pakistan where fundamental facilities and proper training and coaching of the workers was not being held. The same was the case elsewhere in Pakistan, a decade ago or so. Likewise, in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and China, much was non-existent some 15 years ago as regards the awareness for environment and health is concerned.

To give you a better view of awareness created amongst the factory workers, I put below some basic factors and requirements.

Comparison of Awareness with respect to Management

When we speak of awareness about environment amongst working class of a factory, the very first thing that hits our mind is the management of the factory. In developing countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc. certain standards were not met when setting up an industrial unit. To make sense to you, the first pollutant is the planning by itself rather than the factory that polluted the environment later on. Below are the factors, which played havoc with awareness level of both the factory owner and the government agency, monitoring the industrial units.

Site Selection and Feasibility

I have observed that site selection and feasibility for setting up an industrial unit play a key role to keep the environment pollution free. The awareness ratio has increased over the years. Back a couple of decades or so, such requisites were hardly met. Most factories were set up without taking into consideration the site selection and feasibility. As the awareness increased, this trend started changing till it became imperative for the new factory applicant to set up new industrial unit out of population area at a proper place which should not affect the surrounding population as well as the agricultural lands. To achieve the goal, I have witnessed appreciable awareness that, in recent times, a factory or a commercial plant can only be installed, keeping in view the following environmental factors.

– Factories must be set up at places distant from human population. This awareness has been brought to light since human population is vulnerable to the factory’s noise, emission and effluents. Some 20 years ago, such measures were hardly adopted that means the proportion of environmental awareness has considerably increased.

– Factories must be set up on barren lands so that the agriculture of the area should not be affected by the industrial wastes. The awareness came into focus when effluents of many factories in Pakistani Punjab rendered the agricultural lands barren and deserted, which resulted in forcing the concerned authorities to promulgate such laws that hold the planners responsible for selecting such sites for factory set up that are not at reasonable distance from the agricultural holdings.

Disposal of Effluents

Environmental awareness also made the planners think of saving aquatic life. For this purpose, under law, no factories are allowed to dispose of their effluents in the streams, rivers or sea. Whereas, waste material needs to be disposed of in big pits or destroyed properly at disposal points to protect the environment from pollution.

Air and Temperature

The awareness to keep the building environment-friendly aroused when factories caught fire due to overheating of machinery and interior of the building. Despite the fact that the factory act of 1934 is in force in Pakistan according to which special arrangements must be made to keep the interior of the building cool and conducive to the environment, it took the factory owners and the government decades to realize that airy building is prerequisite for a factory set up. In recent time, a factory building is made equipped with air conditioning facilities so that the internal temperature is adjusted so as to avoid any untoward incident like fire, blasting of machinery or suffocation of the workers.

These are some of the important factors that led the concerned to be aware of certain issues while setting up and then running factories in developing countries like those of South Asia and Eastern Asia. Now, we come to the main point that deals with factory workers and their increased awareness about environment friendly activities when working at the plants.

Comparison of factory workers regarding increase of awareness about environmental safety measures

The factory act of 1934 declares that any building where 10 or more workers are working is called a factory. Under the act, all such places are factories, whereas I observed in Karachi some 20 years ago that the act was being infringed and blindly violated. I saw many house-turned-factories that worked stealthily with ten or more workers busy at work. I couldn’t understand till later that the workers working there lacked awareness about their rights and privileges as factory workers. When I compare that period of time to modern times, I realize that workers are now much aware about their rights and other responsibilities. This is mainly because of labor unions and electronic media’s specific role in raising voice for their rights and also bringing to light the environmental threats.

I still remember that when I first went to a garment factory with my father in Karachi, I saw many shortcomings, lack of facilities, infrastructure, proper workers training and courses till I have recently visited my friend working at a factory in the Punjab province of Pakistan. I have observed 100% difference between the working and mental conditions of the labor of some 20 years ago and that of today. Below I produce some of the comparison from environment perspective.

Iron Gloves: I saw modern labor well-equipped with iron gloves on their hands working at the plants with heavy machinery. This arrangement was not much in use some 15-20 years ago. The modern- age labor is much trained and learned about their safety measures whereas such awareness was few and far between even in recent past.

Leather Gloves: Leather gloves also keep workers’ hands safe and infection-free. At the same time, gloves protect workers from coming into contact with harmful chemicals that may tend to affect their skin. At the Karachi factory, I saw workers working bare-handed, not wearing and kind of hand wear, mainly because of unawareness and lack of adequate training by the employer. While at the Punjab factory workers were wearing leather gloves for their safety.

Long Shoes: While working at the industrial plant, it is necessary that the workers should follow international working standards and wearing proper shoes is one of them. At the Punjab factory, I found almost every worker with long shoes on, when asked about this, one of them told me that long shoes serve as big insulator in the event of any electricity shock. Similarly, long shoes keep workers safe from hitting any hooked mechanics and crooked machine parts. They also serve as protective layers on their feet to avoid contact with any detrimental liquid or solid while the feet remain comfortable as well. If I again take you back, workers were not provided with long shoes or guided about getting their own for safety and hygienic reasons.

Special Dresses: Workers need to put on special dresses when working at the factories. I did see it recently. These special dresses were hardly made available to the workers some 15 years ago. This means they are safer than before from all hazards like heating and chemical contacts.

Special Ear Devices: Factories produce noise and the workers working insides are directly affected by the noise pollution if they are not equipped with special ear devices. I did not notice this facility being offered to the workers in the past. They usually worked bare eared and bore the brunt of thundering of the heavy machinery. That is why, I found my father a bit deaf, mainly because of not wearing the ear device. The awareness increased via special courses and trainings and the modern workers, as I have noticed, have no option to protect themselves from noise pollution at the factories.

Use of Glasses or Mask: It is important that all necessary precautions be adopted while working at the factory. The workers were not much aware of the benefits of wearing a mask or glasses. This resulted in inhaling poisonous gases and, sometimes, they tended to receive direct heat waves when they worked in close contact with heavy installations. This is very simple to use a mask and glasses to protect their eyes and face.

However, lack of awareness and proper training kept the workers at the danger end. I read in an article that factory workers have high ratio of eye infections and asthma. Now, I realize that if they were fully equiped with glasses and masks, they would have avoided such diseases. At the Faisalabad factory, things are quite different. The workers are wearing glasses specially manufactured for the purpose and face masks to protect themselves and to contribute positively to the environment.

Washing hands and multiple restrooms: This goes without saying that cleanliness is a key to safe environment. It starts right from a person’s own self. A decade or so ago, workers were not educated to keep their hands washed before and after meals and also other times. This ignorance caused contagious diseases and epidemics as it spread from one worker to the other, making the environment hazardous. Similarly, it was not uncommon to only have one shared lavatory. The factory owners did not pay much attention to this important issue.

Training: Training is one of the essentials to start any job around the world. Lack of proper training will not make a person professionally fit for the job he wants to do. Unfortunately, most factories in developing countries like Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka did not initiate any mentionable training program for the factory workers when we look at the past. I still remember that hardly a worker could reply to my questions regarding safety measures, when I visited the factory where my father was working.

To tell it frankly, even my father did not know much about health and safety as he was never imparted training at the factory.

The trend changed later on as the population increased and the world united to hold conferences and signed several environmental agreements, which paved the foundation for better health and environmental conditions of the workers.

In today’s factory life, much has changed. The factories now arrange workshops, training courses to bring about awareness in the labor and the staff to fully equip themselves with safety gadgets and wears to ensure implementation on the factory laws and regulations. The working class of the modern day seems more experienced and aware of all essentials that are necessary not only for them, but also for friendly environment.

Assembly Point: I have observed at the Faisalabad factory that there are professional trainers appointed to impart training to the workers at regular interval of time and that there is an assembly point where all workers gather mostly in the morning session to get training feed from the trainers and environment coaches. This training helps them become aware of all state-of- the-art measures and techniques for personal and environmental safety.

At the training and at the assembly, the workers are also taught and instructed to make timely use of different devices in case of emergency. For example, how to ring alarm in case of fire, or when any emergency arises, how to get out of the factory building via exit points. A sanitation lecture is also delivered with the emphasis at adopting cleanliness habits for a well-hygienic atmosphere with in the factory premises.

Level of Increase of Environmental Awareness

Analytically speaking, I have noticed a remarkable increased awareness among the working class of modern era. I have been observing changes from time to time till I realize now that illiteracy and ignorance are some of the key factors which are responsible indicators of lack of environmental awareness amongst the factory labor. To add fuel to it, there was inefficient administration that focused mainly on productivity rather than environmental standards. The government’s negligence to ensure enforcements of laws put the plight of workers in the back burner. But, the level of awareness increased with the literacy rate and the influx of modern technology.

I see I have recently met with many graduates and undergraduates working at different factories in Pakistan. They are well aware of environmental importance and are literate enough to take better care of themselves. The comparison of environmental awareness between modern age and that of a decade back explicitly demonstrates lack of planning as well. This clearly manifests modern age’s literacy that resulted in awareness of the workers as a whole.

Other aspects of awareness are that social media like facebook, twitter and the concerned government agencies are acting as watchdog, which serve as major player in regulating the factory laws and internal environment of the factories. Now days, electronic media in the private sector is telecasting such programs that determine the severity of the issues confronting the factory workers. Therefore, the workers are getting updated about their problems, latest technology and its application.

Similarly, print media is continuously publishing articles, features and stories about the environmental awareness amongst masses and factory workers are the direct beneficiaries of such information published. There are international observers and the UNOs environmental agencies are equally engaged with the task of bringing about environmental awareness in the factory working class. The presence of such information tools has also enabled the factory workers to become aware of environmental issues. This strategy is very much effective in translating the real goal of the planners who tend to come up with their expert opinion to ease out environmental issues.

The aforesaid explanation, in the light of my personal observations, shows that not only the thinking of the factory workers has advanced but also they look more interested in adopting themselves with requirements of the present era; they want to be vigilant and active in discharging their duties as responsible workers and being environmentally aware is one of them.

But, a lot still needs to be done. This environmental awareness is not ideally perfect to compare it with that of in the developed countries. A plethora of issues and ignorance still exist. There are factories in the developing countries where workers are still deprived of facilities that can help protect them from hazards and mishaps.

Recently, when I went to Punjab I saw some factories working near the population, emitting huge balls of smoke. I wondered how the local population was living in such a polluted environment. I thought of the workers if they were literate enough to compensate the wrong site selection with their environmental awareness approach in order to minimize the plight. I hoped they surely did.

To draw a final comparison, I feel that environmental awareness of factory workers in the modern age in developing countries has increased remarkably with respect to social and educational factors. If we move back to 15-20 years back factory history, we realize that the workers themselves cannot be held responsible for the environmental ignorance exclusively but the entire gamut of factory infrastructure lacked proper planning and awareness training. As the literacy rate goes up in proportion, even the factory owners were replaced by their literate successors who took serious steps to inoculate environmental awareness among the factory workers. The factory workers always seemed welcoming the reformative changes, as many of them were sufficiently educated enough to feel the pulse and improve their working standards to become environment friendly addition to the globe, particularly to the region comprising developing countries.

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