Chinese benzene cancer victims speak out

Workers employed by Chinese electronics giant Johnson Electric have spoken out after developing blood cancers they say are caused by chemical exposures at work.

Three employees or former employees of Huaseng Motor (Guangdong) Limited in Shenzhen, a subsidiary of Johnson Electric, believe they contracted leukaemia due to prolonged exposure to hazardous chemicals, including the potent human carcinogen benzene. They say the company provided neither safety equipment nor training for workers, with a number of them contracting leukaemia as a result.

Xie Fengping, a mother of two daughters, had worked for Johnson Electric since late 2008. Her main duties were to handle inks and thinners to print labels on products. In September of 2013, she was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. Zeng Shumei worked for the company from August 2009 and was diagnosed with the cancer in 2013 after being exposed to substances including paints, thinners and industrial alcohol. Zou Xiuhua, who had worked for Johnson Electric since early 2013, was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in June 2014.

The firm has denied any of the cancers are work-related and has refused to pay either medical costs or compensation. It also obstructed efforts to get the workers assessed by the occupational health clinic.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) affected workers went public in a July press conference in Hong Kong, before going on to the Johnson Electric annual general meeting, where company CEO Dr Patrick Wang declined to hear their complaints. The Johnson Electric website notes: “The Company also welcomes comments and questions from individual shareholders at its Annual General Meeting,” a welcome not apparently extended to employees.

The workers want the company to recognise their cancers are work-related, provide compensation and medical expenses, and to improve health and safety at the company. They also want an end to the use of benzene and other potentially deadly chemicals.


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