The Men Who Make the Manhole Covers

There's a story in the New York Times today about a foundry in Haora, West Bengal that makes New York City's manhole covers. It's written largely from a photographer's point of view, and there's a great audio + images slideshow accompanying the piece here. Adam Huggins' photos are indeed pretty intense:


When you see pictures like this, it's hard not to think of the issue of worker safety, which might be somewhat predictable (i.e., from the discussions of child labor at Sepia Mutiny): isn't it possible that manholes can be produced so cheaply in India precisely because there aren't high worker safety standards? Shouldn't Con Edison insist on certain minimal worker safety protections when it signs contracts with Indian companies?

On the other hand, it could be argued that raising this issue potentially hurts the workers as much as it helps them, as it increases the chance that they'll lose their jobs if American contracts are canceled. And while I'm not aware of statistics relating to worker injuries at this or other plants, it's at least possible that the factory owner isn't lying when he says that the system that's been worked out is safe enough -- as long as the workers remain completely focused on what they're doing. (Interestingly, the photographer doesn't seem outraged by the conditions he sees; if anything, his tone reflects admiration for the strength and fearlessness of the workers at the foundry.)