Nobel laureate Yunus blasts Telenor ethics in Bangladesh

September 4, 2008 | By | Reply More

[youtube=]Norwegian telecom operator Telenor, which recently tightened ethical procedures in Bangladesh, still has sub-contractors there using child labour, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus charged Thursday.

Telenor was forced to review and strengthen its ethical guidelines after Norwegian media last May revealed deplorable conditions for workers, including children as young as 13, who supply antenna towers to GrameenPhone, one of the Norwegian company’s subsidiaries in Bangladesh.

“They promised that now it’s cleaned up … So you had hoped that after this lesson they would be very careful … to make sure that it doesn’t happen again, but it happened again,” Yunus told the news station TV2 Nyhetskanal.

“They are not showing the kind of efficiency you’d be expecting from a company like Telenor,” he added.

Telenor owns 62 percent of GrameenPhone, while Yunus’ Grameen Bank, with whom he shared the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for creating a micro-credit system for people too poor to qualify for bank loans, holds a 38-percent stake through a subsidiary.

The Bangladeshi economist has long had a stormy relationship with Telenor, accusing it of breaching a deal concerning control of GrameenPhone.

He said Thursday he had received a call recently informing him of another child labour case involving a GrameenPhone supplier.

Telenor spokesman Paal Kvalheim confirmed that such a case existed involving a small company called Gazi Engineering, but stressed that the firm was “a supplier of a supplier.”

“We have 700 suppliers in Bangladesh and we have concentrated on the ones with whom we have a direct relationship. But it is a known fact that child labour is widespread in this country,” he told AFP.

He also pointed out that it was Telenor itself that had alerted Yunus to the new case.

Company executive Hilde Tonne meanwhile issued a statement insisting that “when we or others reveal unacceptable conditions further down the value chain, we will of course respond. We are now on to the case.”

“Neither Grameenphone nor Telenor can, however, take responsibility for all social wrongdoings in Bangladesh, but we have taken our share of the responsibility to improve conditions with our suppliers and to work for long-term improvements in all the communities where we operate,” she added.

According to Telenor, more than 160 Bangladeshi suppliers have so far been subjected to audits and been provided good practice courses.

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Category: Knowledge for Development, Opinion

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