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Printing the Bible in free zone

Poor environmental performance and union-ban:
In the Katunayake export processing zone, just north of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, the Norwegian-owned company New Life Literature owns a factory printing bibles and other Christian literature. Since the factory came into being in 1984, the company has been a supplier of Christian literature to all parts of the world, and at a very low price. The backside of the coin, however, is a ban on trade unions, and all hazardous wastes simply being poured untreated into the sink.

Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.

Poor environmental performance and union-ban:
In the Katunayake export processing zone, just north of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, the Norwegian-owned company New Life Literature owns a factory printing bibles and other Christian literature. Since the factory came into being in 1984, the company has been a supplier of Christian literature to all parts of the world, and at a very low price. The backside of the coin, however, is a ban on trade unions, and all hazardous wastes simply being poured untreated into the sink.


By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
Norwatch
 
- Trade unions are not good! says Paul Perera, in charge of for personnel administration and salaries at New Life Literature.

- We have to talk to the Board of Investment and tell them that we should not have any trade unions in this zone, like they have in one of the other free zones. The unions have political goals. The important thing is for us to have a dialogue with our workers.

- The BOI decides
In accordance with the BOI regulations, the workers at the Norwegian missionary printshop are prohibited from membership in trade unions. Instead of unions, the management arranges meetings with some of the workers a couple of times a year. At these meetings questions regarding wages and working conditions may be brought up. In Paul Perera's opinion, this is sufficient to cover the workers' needs. General manager of New Life Literature (NLL), Mr. Bjarne Helgesen, explains to NorWatch that the views presented by Paul Perera do not represent the official policy of the company. He emphasises that Paul Perera has no authority regarding the company's policy on organising, but Helgesen confirms that the company has banned trade unions from their factory.

- Our policy is to comply with the regulations of the zone authorities, be it for or against trade unions. If the zone authorities would allow trade unions, then of course we would not put any obstacles in the way of our workers getting organised. Also, our workers have better conditions than workers at other companies, so they have nothing to gain on getting organised, Helgesen says.

Down the drains
During a guided tour in the company's press works, the company warehouse manager, Jon Christian Robsrud, halts in front of two workers who are processing a printing plate. After exposing the plate to light, the workers treat the plate with various chemicals. Then it is washed in water, and all the hazardous chemicals are flushed downs the drains of a sink in the same room.

- We are not required to measure or treat the waste chemicals from our production, Robsrud explains. He continues:

- All waste chemicals from developing pictures, preparation of printing plates, cleaning machines and so on, is poured directly into the sink. It is not measured, cleaned or treated in any way. That's how it is done in the export processing zone.

In Norway, this procedure would have been regarded an obvious violation of the law.

- According to Norwegian law, photographic chemicals and chemicals used for processing printing plates should be handed in to be safely taken care of at a special category waste disposal. Even the rinsing water used when processing photographic films, may no longer be freely flushed down the drains; it has to be rinsed of silver components first, says Atle Breiby in the printshop of the Norwegian company Hippo Trykk AS.

NorWatch confronts New Life Literature with the fact that this way of treating waste chemicals is prohibited in Norway.

- We wish to be environmentally friendly. We want to make use of the possibilities for returning such chemicals, but as of today, we don't have any way of safely depositing the chemicals. As soon as we get information that it is practically possible, we will make use of a special category waste disposal, Helgesen says.

However, a few days later, Helgesen returns with not-to-good news on the possibilities of improvement:

- We have inquired at the Board of Investment what would happen if we handed in used chemicals as hazardous waste. If we handed it in to the Board of Investment, then THEY would be the ones pouring it down the drains.

Special history
The missionary couple Arnfinn and Hildur Andaas started New Life Literature in 1984. This is how the company describes its own history:

"During his whole life, Arnfinn Andaas has wanted to spread the Word of God to the unreached millions of the world. He has long realized that by having his own printshop, he could spread the Gospel more efficiently. In 1984, he wanted to start a new printshop in Sri Lanka.

The reasons were:
•Living expenses for missionary printers are only 10-20% of Western countries.
•Workers' wages are less than 10% of the wages in the Western countries.
•A factory was available in a Free Trade Zone.
•This would make it possible to import raw materials duty free.
•With efficient management, this printshop could be very economical.

They needed money, a factory, printers and binders, printing presses and bindery equipment.

So Hildur, Andaas' wife, started to pray to God for one million dollars. (She was quick to specify "US", to make sure she would not get Hong Kong dollars. They lived in Hong Kong at that time) And her prayer was answered."

The money came from Norwegian donors, and in 1985, NORAD supported the company with a NOK 1 million loan.

A missionary company
Today, New Life Literature has 39 locally hired employees, and three Norwegian staff are members of the company management. Wages vary from 3450 rupees per month and upwards, and a bonus of Rs 1000 per month is given to all workers. Thus, the company pays quite a bit more than the minimum wages recommended in the EPZ. In addition, the company employees are entitled to other benefits, like financial support for medical expenses, weddings and funerals, as well as free meals during working hours. New Life Literature is owned by the Nytt Livs Lys foundation, Norway. It is a non-commercial organisation, from which the owners do not make any profit. Books are to be printed as cheaply and plentifully as possible, as the sole aim of New Life Literature is to evangelise. So far, about a third of the company's production has been of bibles. The bibles are printed in various languages, China being the largest marked. The NLL prints different translations of the bible, and reserves the right to refuse to print bible versions they find "incorrect". For as long as Robsrud has been in the company, (two years), he has not experienced this happening. Only little of the company's production is intended for the Norwegian market. However, some Christian literature has been printed in Norwegian. Also, they have printed New Testaments for Gideon and they have printed, on commission from the Norwegian Bible Society, a reprint of the Gospel according to Luke meant for the Students' Welfare Organisation of Norway.

When NorWatch visited the printing works on Sri Lanka, the company had just received an order from the missionary society SIM to print 12.000 packets of books, 30 books in each packet, meant for Vicars in India. Much of this was bible-related literature and other literature relevant for working as a priest. Also New Life Literature produces bible boxes for the Norwegian market.

Once, the company was asked to print a tools catalogue.

- There is nothing wrong with printing tools catalogues as such, but that's not why we are here, Robsrud says.

New Life Literature in Sri Lanka
Nytt Livs Lys is a Norwegian foundation in which the song-evangelists Arne Gundersen and Egil Solheim are members of the board. It was founded with an evangelical aim. Financing is derived from Norwegian donors. Nytt Livs Lys is the sole owner of the New Life Literature printshop, which has 39 persons locally employed. The printshop exports bibles and other Christian literature to countries all over the world, China being the principal market. In its initial phase, New Life Literature received support from NORAD. That loan has been paid off.

Norwatch Newsletter 9/99

- Annonse -