Telenor, Peace Prize winner caught in labour scandal

Dhaka Correspondent

Dhaka Correspondent

A report from AFTENPOSTEN by Nina Berglund.

 A Danish TV documentary has revealed miserable working conditions and environmental violations at companies in Bangladesh that act as suppliers to GrameenPhone, which is co-owned by Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor and firms founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

The documentary shows miserable working conditions at several firms supplying Telenor-owned GrameenPhone. Hard-hats were donned when Telenor came to inspect.

PHOTO: TELENOR

Telenor’s Baksaas with Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Together, they own GrameenPhone, although Yunus has wanted Telenor to reduce its stake.

PHOTO: TELENOR

 

 

 

 

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It’s an embarrassing labour scandal for Telenor, which itself is majority-owned by the government of Norway, a country that prides itself on championing fair labour conditions and human rights.

 

 

It also reflects poorly on Grameen Telecom and Grameen Bank, which own 38 percent of GrameenPhone (Telenor has 62 percent) and which were founded by Peace Prize-winner Yunus not least to help lift people in Bangladesh out of abject poverty through the micro-credit system.

The documentary, made by Danish journalist Tom Heinemann and to be aired on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Thursday evening, reveals shocking working conditions at the firms supplying GrameenPhone. Employees were shown working with hazardous chemicals and heavy metals virtually without protection. Workers were as young as 13 years, a clear violation of child labour laws. The firms were caught allowing polluted wastewater to spill into nearby rice fields.

And in one case, a worker was killed when he fell into an unsecured pool of acid.

Telenor, clearly believing that the best defense is a good offense, opted to reveal some of the findings of the documentary even before it was aired. Telenor officials claim they were shaken by the documentary’s findings, and admit they failed to adequately monitor the operations of GrameenPhone’s suppliers.

“We are deeply moved by the case, and the human side of it,” Telenor chief executive Jon Fredrik Baksaas told reporters. He called the labour violations “completely unacceptable,” claiming Telenor had trained the firms in health and safety issues. “But we’ve clearly been bad about following up afterwards,” Baksaas admitted.

He neglected to mention the worker fatality, but confirmed it when questioned by a reporter from Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende.

Telenor and the Norwegian state have generated huge profits on GrameenPhone, which has as many as 20 million customers, but Baksaas said he didn’t feel badly that the operation earns a lot on the work of poor employees. “We haven’t taken out substantial dividends on what we’ve earned in Bangladesh,” Baksaas said. “The money has gone into investments that are building up the country.”

Norway’s government minister in charge of business and industry, Dag Terje Andersen, wrote in an e-mail to Aftenposten that the working conditions shown in the documental “assuming they are accurate, clearly are unacceptable.”

Andersen claimed, however, that Telenor has worked actively for years to make its own ethical regulations part of all operations, also those at suppliers. “It looks like the follow-up on the part of Telenor was inadequate,” he wrote. Telenor has since conducted inspections at five suppliers of mobile telephone masts, and has fired one of them.

Telenor and Yunus have been involved in a long-simmering conflict over ownership of GrameenPhone. Yunus has wanted Telenor to reduce its stake.

Note: The article belonges to  AFTENPOSTEN.


156 Responses to “Telenor, Peace Prize winner caught in labour scandal”

  1. Boka Manush

    The real face of Dr. Md. Yunus and his scams with the poor people need to be exposed.

  2. Charles

    “The real face”?
    “scams with the poor”?
    Wow.
    That’s a pretty scathing comment considering how many steps there are between Dr. Yunus and the manufacturing plants in the article.
    It’s clear that he has a distant relationship with them, but to deduce that he had personal knowledge of the day-to-day operations is quite a stretch of the imagination.
    Has Dr. Yunus been accused of scandals in the past that I am not aware of?
    I know him only from the perspective of a foreigner, not of a Bangladeshi. But I have always thought him to be a champion of the poorest of the poor. Have I been deceived?

  3. V

    Even without resorting to any research jargon I can assure you that I have talked to many villagers face to face including the borrowers whose stories I found very enlightening. Hearing those stories, Yunus reminded me of Shylock, the vicious money lender in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Becuase he happens to be our only Nobel laureatte – there used to exist an unwritten policy in the media not to drag his name down; that time has now passed, thankfully. I think, with the new social capital gained by the Nobel prize, these days Yunus’s capacity to do harm to the country and its poor has increased manifold. Now a days, almost every week there are revealing items on micro-credit in the news which even the Yunus-friendly media cannot ignore anymore. These are the stories of suffering farmers, of the bankrupt, of the people who committed suicide under Grameen Bank’s pressures.

    I do understand the reason behind capitalist West’s huge enthusiasm in Yunus. Becuase the conventional banking system was a system which could only exploit the rich. Traditionally, banks were the institutions from which one could only ‘borrow unbrellas on sunny days on condition that they must be returned when it rains.’ So the conventional banks’ exploitative dragnet only caught the rich of the society, not the poor. Yunus, incidentally showed the capitalist banking system a way–that even the have-nots can be exploited through a banking system. Yunus showed them–that money can be made even from the destitute, using their enterpreneurships, dreams–while at the same time making sure that their real condition never improves, at least not above the limit Grameen executives set for them. No wonder that the West became too anxious to award him the Nobel prize, perhaps to add an aura of nobility in this new brand of exploitation, deceptive but pretty effective. We know that Grameen’s interest rates are higher than all other commercial banks.

    What a formula ! you make billions (exploiting the poor) and at the same time can have plenty of cheer leaders in the global civil society who would propagate continuously that you are one of the good guys. Wow ! disturbingly diabolical but quite impressive nevertheless!

    It is just my opinion — I cannot help but think that these so-called “Social Businesses” are the greatest frauds of our time.

  4. Dr.B.Ahmed

    World is a show. Yunus is earning livlihood for himself.
    People who borrow from Grameen Bank will never be able to repay the compound interest in their life time , But world is a show dances with showy people.
    Do you ever thing a Bank like this will survivew in the west?
    Grant him more novel Prizes like hasina wajed got many phds without a pen & paper.
    Thank you.

  5. Tariq

    Charles is wondering “..how many steps there are between Dr. Yunus and the manufacturing plants in the article” so he is assuming Dr. Yunus dosn’t know about it. Charles might be correct. But Dr.Yunus knows that his bank charges around 28% interest from the poor village womens. Can he also deny that he did not know his Grameen Phone was involved in the illegal VOIP call termination business. They were the pioneers of this illegal business and the biggest in the country.Last 10 years they have earned few hundreds of crore taka from this illegal business. Bangladesh govt also knows about it but are mum for obvious reasons. Maybe with this money he went in a charter plane to receive the Nobel prize. Maybe he is the only recipient of Nobel prize to go in a charter plane and act as a king waving to his Bangladesh subject from his hotel balcony for more than an hour which was telecast live by Bangladesh television.

  6. M B iswas

    Good report. will our mainstream news media pick up this report? they have been giving GB and its chief immunity to all kinds irregularities.

  7. Jagoruk Manush

    Dr Yunus: Liability of our pride

    Nobel Prize, particularly in peace has often been tainted with political intrigues which can be likened, in the context of Bangladesh, with the action plan of DUDAK. DUDAK is using it’s anti-graft campaign as a strategy to achieve it’s goal to decouple politics from public. Nobel Peace Prize, often seems to have a political agenda behind it’s peaceful façade. It gets mired in further controversies when an economist, instead of getting recognition for his giant contribution in economics, gets a peace prize.

    Henry Kissinger has been indicted for war crime and bloody political conspiracies in Vietnam, Cyprus, Cambodia, Chile, East Pakistan and Bangladesh. He was the architect of ‘Operation Condor’ which unleashed killing, execution, disappearance and torture of hundreds of thousands of left political activists and intellectuals throughout Latin America in 70s. He received Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. Menachem Begin, in 1945 had dead or alive bounty of ₤10,000 on his head by British Imperial Administration in Palestine, won Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 with Anwar Sadat of Egypt for Camp David Peace treaty. The peace treaty has ever been collecting dust in the shelf of White House. Nobel Prize in Peace, literally, gave him the license of heinous crime to invade Lebanon and to slaughter hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

    These are the few examples to expose the nobility and novelty of the Peace Prize. Dr. Yunus has joined the hall of fame of the global capitalist elites for turning poverty into a lucrative commodity for capital. To unmask his other face, take a snapshot of his recent choreography on our political stage when the curtain dropped to a mysterious end. But truly that is not the end. He is still lurking in the murky water of our post one-eleven politics. Remember, when DU campus exploded against present regime and then military sledge hammer came down ruthlessly on the teachers and students of DU, in frugally worded single sentence, our guardian angel expressed his reaction – ‘everything is going fine.’ During his recent visit to USA, Dr Yunus gave a keynote speech in front of the august audience of Commonwealth Club of California. Next day, he was speaking to a selected gathering of glamour-struck, myopic gold-fish Bangali community in USA. Please listen to these two speeches, if you can, which will help you diagnose the diabolic bipolarity of our Nobel Laureate Dr. Yunus.

  8. Moina

    People have option not to take loan from Grameen Bank. Every bank or money lender in the world is a ripper. Credit card, mortgages, loan, a big ripping business. So, there is a thought!

  9. 'free democracy' forum

    If Hillary Clinton is a psychopath then her trusted friend Yunus of Bangladesh is a sadist criminal who is subjecting two of Bangladesh`s former PMs and high rankng political prisoners to inhumane circumstances through his connections with the fascist army and friends like Fakruddin and others of the CTG.

    Yunus`s endorsement of Hillary in the US and the unconstitutional military-backed government in Bangladesh reveals the fascist impulses and compulsions residing inside the two. While Hillary hopes that the only way she can assume her role as the first dictator in US history by eliminating Obama, Yunus is banking on decimating the top brass of Awami League and BNP including Hasina and Khaleda with help of close links with the fundamentalist elements in the army and th Bush administration.

  10. Saleque Sufi

    Se must not jump to conclusion on the basis of a very unreliable report. Grameen bank has done wonder in Bangldesh. It has completely changed the living standard of so many poor people of Bangladesh.Thousands have become self relinat.The Role of Grammeen Bank, BRAC can not be underestimated in poverty alleviation. We must not try to disgrace for a very different person who has made every Bangladeshi proud in the committee of world nation.The fcat that Bangladesh remains virtually least affected from global recession is due to works of Yunus, Abed Khan and others. It is our inferiority complex that make us make futile attempts to malign our own role models.

  11. Jagoruk Manush

    I can’t agree less with Mr. Sufi in most respect, even to the extent that while talking about Dr. Yunus and likes, sense of inferiority may conspicuously override judicious sensibilities. Complexity, ignorance or even insanity does not preclude one from engaging in a debate or hurling a comment to someone, may it be Jesus, worshipped by millions. This is the serendipity of democracy. A lamp while brightens the surrounding, gathers shadow around it’s own base. Therefore, debating precarious working situation of labours related to GP production supply chain, or snatches from the plights of certain GB clients, how inferior it may sound with respect to global value of Dr Yunus, how controversial it is to his worshipping clan; regardless, the issues have merits to be debated as those people in sufferings are equally valuable as Dr. Yunus in human rights and democracy perspective.

    Mr. Sufi, Dr. Yunus has many hats to put on, one of them is a successful businessman and the other one is a Bangali politician. Unlike the first one, unfortunately, the latter could not gain any feather of success as yet. I shall briefly talk about his comet-like debut and meteoric disappearance in our politics. When all the windows of politics in Bangladesh were closed by our military and their henpeck government, he appeared in our dark political sky as a bright star of hope. And then, mysteriously, he opted out of politics, leaving dark sky even darker to the nation. Since then, he has been endorsing all the depoliticizing conspiracies of this regime directly or through his political spokesperson cum little brother Mr. Jahangir. Very recently, perhaps little more than a month or so ago, in USA, he again tipped his political loyal hat to the present regime. Not everyone supports democracy in politics. Only if you relish democracy, now may I ask you a question? In the context of Bangladesh, not of Little Rock, do you still feel yourself politically inferior to Dr. Yunus? Or, in our legacy of struggle for human rights, democracy, secularism and anti-imperialism, beyond demagogy, you find myriad of people having unambiguous and unflinching commitment to the country, very much superior but conflicting to the rule of corporate business or to military narcissism.

  12. Grameen Ripper

    Yunus should be awarded another Nobel Prize for destroying democracy in Bangladesh and selling off the country to his MNC masters through Boeing purchases and signing PSCs under an undemocratic, unelected governent. He is the monster created by the MNCs acting behind the scene to experiment with pseudodemocracy Pakistani style under Musharraf and Satraj Aziz of WB.

  13. Free lance

    Yunus cannot and should not be compared to what elected governments can do for the people. The developing world must not be allowed to become guinea pigs in the hands of such hyperinflated blown-out-of proportion personalities brought to the limelight by the West. Once they are created they project themselves as alternatives to democratically elected governments which is sheer nonsense and absurd!

    Yunus has strong anti-Awami League bias and shamelessly extended his support to the puppet caretaker government put in power by kleptocrat and fascist Khaleda Zia and her terrorist corrupt sons.

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