Benzene-Poisoned Chinese Workers Speak About Their Fight With Leukemia
Johnson Electric is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of motion subsystems and components for automotive and industrial applications. As of now, the company has an annual production capacity of over one billion motors and subsystems. But Johnson Electric has been neglecting its duty to provide safe working environment for its employees. Three employees or former employees of Huaseng Motor (Guangdong) Limited in Shenzhen, a subsidiary manufacturer of Johnson Electric, contracted leukemia due to prolonged exposure to hazardous chemicals and lack of adequate protection equipment provided by the employer in workplace.
One of such hazardous chemicals is Benzene, which can be found in paint, industrial glue, cleaning fluids, thinners, ink, and other equipment seen in factories. The chemical is known to be a cause for a number of diseases including leukemia, leukopenia, anemia, asthma, and many others. However, the company had neither provided safety equipment nor cautionary training for workers, a number of them were diagnosed with leukemia as a result.
Xie Fengping, a mother of two daughters, has been working for Johnson Electric since late 2008. Her main duties were to handle inks and thinners to print labels on products. In her workplace, she had been exposed to benzene, and in September of 2013, she was diagnosed with acute leukemia that had been caused by the chemical.
Zeng Shumei is another worker who found herself ill after working for the company. She has been giving her efforts for Johnson Electric since August of 2009, and throughout her job, she had been exposed to paints, thinners, industrial alcohol, and others that are known to contain chemicals. She was diagnosed with acute leukemia as well in 2013.
Zou Xiuhua, who has been working for Johnson Electric since early 2013, was diagnosed with acute leukemia in June 2014. Because Johnson Electric delayed the process of investigating the cause of the illness, it is not confirmed whether exposure to benzene really brought leukemia.
Regardless of their prognosis, Johnson Electric refused to admit their contraction is occupational related. Thus, the workers’ claims for statutory medical expenses and other compensations were rejected by the company. Moreover, the company repeatedly obstructed or deferred the examination process carried by the Occupational Health Clinic.
The three workers were in Hong Kong on July 14 to meet the media to tell their stories of how benzene poisoning has affected them and their families. They went to the company’s Annual General Meeting after the press conference and demanded the CEO of the company, Dr. Patrick Wang, to address the precarious Occupational Health and Safety conditions. However, the workers’ protest was left unheard as Dr. Wong did not receive the workers on the occasion. Regardless, the workers continue to demand Johnson Electric to:
- Assume occupational disease responsibilities for the contraction of leukemia of the three workers;
- Immediate compensation in wages, social security, and medical expenses owned to the three workers who contracted leukemia;
- Immediate negotiation with the three workers who contracted leukemia regarding compensation package;
- Provide adequate occupational, health, and safety trainings to all employees;
- Provide adequate occupational, health, and safety protective equipment to all employees;
- Stop the use of benzene and other health hazardous chemicals;
- Assume occupational disease responsibilities for all workers who contracted benzene related occupational disease before the company terminated the use of benzene in 2016.