World Bank memos

Tom Lehman TLEHMAN at
Wed Dec 2 19:36:41 PST 1998

Dear Doug and the LBOers,

Tom Kruse pretty much lays out in his description of a Bolivian glass factory the idea that I was trying to get across in an earlier post on the same subject.

The factory that Tom describes has no pollution control and this is reflected in both the unsafe conditions and the general environment of the site. Worker safety and health are nonexistent. I'd be willing to bet that their are more deadly conditions present than Tom's tour picked up on---things that we know about in this country that they are ignorant of in Bolivia. Ignorance can be bliss, it also can kill you.

Pollution control equipment generally breaks down into two general categories. WQC which is water quality control, and, AQC which is air quality control. There are small scale inexpensive solutions for small plants like the one Tom describes. There are safety solutions for the safety problems that Tom describes. Here too we are talking small scale and a minimum of investment.

So that makes me think that the business community is stupid and greedy. The engineering community is ignorant and incompetent. The government is military feudal. And the countries philosophy is pre-reformation.

Sincerely, Tom Lehman

Tom Kruse wrote:

> Brad writes:
> >In a lot of manufacturing industries, "dirty" production processes are a
> >lot cheaper than "clean" ones. Since labor productivity in many developing
> >economies is still very low, a demand that developing countries adopt
> >first-world standards of pollution control may be a demand that they not
> >industrialize--that they stay very poor.
> Henry reponded:
> >The post-war international division of labor has degenerated into the
> >export of pollution and sub-standard working conditions from the
> >developed economies. And it has to stop.
> Brad's right: under the current rules of the game, "a demand that
> developing countries adopt first-world standards of pollution control may
> be a demand that they not industrialize--that they stay very poor." And
> that's why the rules themselves MUST be chagned. Not a practical
> proposition, I know, but I REALLY bristle when I hear suggestions that the
> options are (a) poison, or (b) poverty.
> This morning I joined some union friends in a surprise visit to a local
> glass factory that employs 80 people. Until 3 years ago, all workers had
> contracts, benefits, etc. According to the managers, this was untenable.
> So they shut the factory, fired everyone, and rehired 80 people 2 weeks
> later. About 20 were given contracts, and of those 8 were charged with
> contracting another 7 people each of the line production. The 8 each have
> a work group that is paid by the piece. In the words of the owners, these
> 8 groups are are "micro-enterprises, "that is, small business "owned" by
> the group boss, which sell services to the plant. Now the plant it doing
> pretty well.
> Raw glass for melting is brought in by an informal army of people -- the
> bosses suggested 500 families "benefit" from the "ant work" of collecting
> and selling used and broken glass to the factory.
> Workers wear shorts and sandals as molten glass is hefted and shifted
> about. 4 people carry the semi finished glasses to a tempering oven on the
> ends of long steel forks, the tines wrapped in asbestos cord. The asbestos
> cord is wrapped by hand, and changed 2-3 times daily. Imagine: 4 people
> scurrying about, dodging other workers, machinery, pools of water and
> powerlines, as fast as they can with glass at 600 degrees celcius on the
> end of asbestos wrapped rods. Just watching scared the caca out of me.
> The sound of the oven is deafening; over it the company play loud cumbias
> to "entertain" the workers.
> One woman we spoke to was requried to work until 2 days prior to giving
> birth; the child lived for 6 days.
> About 30% of the production is bought by intermediaries who export it to
> Italy and Germany. The glasses are advertised as "ecological" (recycled
> glass!) and "hand made by craftsmen".
> Average monthly wages -- excuse me, remuneration for the sale of services
> by micro-enterprises -- are around 65-80 US dollars. Poverty AND poison.
> Tom
> Tom Kruse
> Casilla 5812 / Cochabamba, Bolivia
> Tel/Fax: (591-4) 248242
> Email: tkruse at

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