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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Travailler tue en toute impunité

by Fondation Copernic

Working kills with total impunity

Translated Friday 6 March 2009, by Laure Tallot

A Call to action by the Fondation Copernic. [1]

The findings are unquestionable: independent of sector or socio-economic group, working sickens and kills. The official number of acknowledged industrial diseases has skyrocketed: 13,658 in 1996, 52,979 in 2005. The number of serious or fatal industrial accidents remains very high: 537 deaths in 2006, an increase of 13% in a year. These official figures are – as everybody knows – greatly underestimated, chiefly because many casualties don’t get reported. Work-induced suicides are estimated at 400 a year, most of them not recognized as industrial accidents.

Several million employees are exposed without any protection to products known to be cancer or mutation producing, or toxic for procreation, a fact which contributes greatly to social inequalities in the face of cancer: a working-man’s risk of dying from cancer before 65 years of age is ten times higher than an executive’s.

This situation does not drop out of the blue: it is the result of private and public entrepreneurial policies that demand that social costs be ever more reduced. These policies have favoured and generalized sub-contracting, and stepped up work pressure as never before in preceding decades. Furthermore, work inspection and industrial medicine still do not have the means to carry out their tasks.

The intractable struggle of the victims together with their associations and trade-unions have brought about advances, but the unfettered rush toward bigger and bigger profits is still spreading disease and death. Whereas your average purse-snatcher will be summoned to appear immediately before a criminal court and be sentenced to six months’ imprisonment without remission, the employer responsible for an allegedly unintentional homicide of his employee will get a few months’ suspended sentence – when and if he is convicted after years of investigation.

Deliberately putting the safety of one’s employees in jeopardy as the result of a choice of economic policy is viewed with incredible leniency in this country. Employers are not considered real delinquents. Too often the criminal procedures concerning fatal industrial accidents come to nothing. Too often the sentences –when there are any – affect only the employers at the end of the sub-contracting chain and are symbolic. The big shots giving the orders, including the French state, whose responsibility in the organization of economic activity is crucial, are very rarely incriminated, and the compensations are greatly inadequate.

Asbestos is a case in point: whilst the risk has been known for decades, whilst thousands of people have died or will die in the coming years because of the manifest negligence of companies or even their deliberate choices, justice has not been done yet.

The inequality between the employee’s arms and his/her employer’s is obvious and shockingly disproportionate: equality before the law has become a sham. This inequity is fueled by our collective silence.

The undersigned intend to denounce this unacceptable and intolerable situation here and now.

They demand that employers’ crimes be punished: criminal law must be fully applied to employers.

They demand that human and financial means be made available so that justice can be administered properly.

Health and safety at work will never be improved as long as we have a two-tiered system of justice.

No advance will be possible as long as the ordering parties will be allowed to hide behind the rules of business law to be exempt from their responsibilities.

All together we declare: “enough is enough!” and we shall act to put an end to this scandal.

[1See the signatures received, and sign this text online:

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