The New York Times brings us an interesting audio slideshow feature on the Shakti Industries in Haora (West Bengal)which produces manhole covers for Con Edison and for departments of New York City, New Orleans and Syracuse. Con Edison, for instance, buys a quarter of its manhole covers, roughly 2,750 a year from India.
The accompanying article states: "Seemingly impervious to the heat from the metal, the workers at one of West Bengal’s many foundries relied on strength and bare hands rather than machinery. Safety precautions were barely in evidence; just a few pairs of eye goggles were seen in use on a recent visit. The scene was as spectacular as it was anachronistic: flames, sweat and liquid iron mixing in the smoke like something from the Middle Ages.
Naturally, the reason for these manhole covers being manufactured in India is that they can be anywhere from 20 to 60 percent cheaper than those made in the United States, and the workers at Indian foundries are paid the equivalent of a few dollars a day, while foundry workers in the United States earn about $25 an hour.
This may raise peoples' hackles, but I don't totally agree with the notion that the buyers in the United States and elsewhere should stop buying these products from the Indian manufacturers until the standards of workers safety improve. Should that approach be taken, it'll inevitably be the workers who suffer the consequences.
The New York Times' Forged Barefoot in India