Jeweller banned from fairs over its sick workers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 March, 2010, 12:00am

A Hong Kong jewellery producer has been banned from a major fair in the city and one in Switzerland for failing to compensate workers suffering from a lung disease.

Rights group Labour Action China hailed the ban and said the firm should compensate 50 workers suffering from silicosis, a preventable lung disease caused by long-term inhalation of tiny particles, as soon as possible.

Lucky Gems and Jewellery Factory, one of the largest processors of semi-precious stones in Asia with plants on the mainland, is barred from exhibiting at the Baselworld Watch and Jewellery Show from March 18 to 25 and the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show between March 5 and 9.

The organiser of Baselworld, MCH Messe Schweiz (Basel), wrote to the Lucky group, which also includes Lucky Gold & Silver Co, to say it was disappointed that the group had avoided paying compensation.

'This behaviour, at the cost of workers undoubtedly suffering from a grave illness, risks harming the image of all parties involved,' it wrote, adding that the image of Baselworld and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council were also tainted.

'We refuse your application and we do not admit Lucky Gold & Silver Co Ltd for Baselworld 2010.'

The TDC, organiser of the Hong Kong fair, would not comment.

A person familiar with the situation, however, confirmed the ban, saying rules governing exhibitions stipulated that if an exhibitor was found to have committed any act that might prejudice or damage the reputation of Hong Kong or its industries, the organiser could terminate the exhibitor's right to take part in the fair.

Labour Action China director Monina Wong Ching-man said: 'The company should compensate these workers, not because it is banned but because its working conditions led to the workers' illnesses.'

Silicosis is characterised by progressive fibrosis and chronic shortness of breath. Without proper treatment it can deteriorate rapidly and the victims die.

Deng Young-hong, 38, a stone cutter for the company's plants in Shenzhen and Huizhou, vowed to fight to the end.

'The company keeps telling me that it will only act according to a court ruling. But even though I won civil compensation [in a Huizhou court] of 426,168 yuan (HK$483,950) it still has not followed the verdict.'

Lucky did not reply to repeated requests for an interview.