Human rights activists will stage a protest at a major jewellery exhibition today in support of a claim that a Hong Kong firm is exploiting its mainland workers. Activists said the Dongguan factory of Hong Kong company Lucky Gems and Jewellery had neglected safety standards and that at least 50 workers had contracted silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust. The company is an exhibitor at Asia's Fashion Jewellery and Accessories Fair 2004, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Its owner acknowledged past problems with safety standards, but said they had improved and were now 'very good'. 'We cannot accept what [the company] has done,' said Parry Leung Pak-nang, a researcher with the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, a labour group that is backing the workers. The group claimed workers contracted silicosis after inhaling tiny particles while cutting and polishing semi-precious stones such as opals without any protection. 'Particles accumulate in their lungs,' Mr Leung said. 'People suffering from silicosis often die within a few years. 'These workers contracted the disease because the factory's protection facilities were insufficient. They wore no protective clothing and were not taught about work safety issues.' He said most of the workers discovered they had contracted the disease in mid-2001 and had been demanding compensation, to which they were entitled under mainland labour laws. 'The company only compensated some of these workers after they struggled for a long time, and the money the company offered was not enough to sustain the workers' livelihoods,' he said. Mr Leung also claimed the company asked its 3,000 workers to lie during random audit checks on wages and working hours. 'We should stop buying this company's products. The industry should also pay attention to the issue as it does not only occur within this single company,' he added. The jewellery company's owner, Wang Shenghua, admitted safety standards at his Dongguan factory were not good enough before. 'It was only in 2001 that we began to know that some of our workers had silicosis. We have improved a lot, and now protection is good,' he said.