The relation of Research, University, and NGOs

The Impact of Privatization on the Expansion of Garbage Collector Children

It is an interview with one of the active volunteers of the Pooyesh Association, who has done a lot of activities in the human resources unit, as well as the development and research of the association. Mohammad Hassan Karimian holds a Master’s degree in Sociology from Shahid Beheshti University. He has devoted his research topic to ” Mechanism of informal workforce formation in waste collection in Tehran ” based on his experiences in the Pooyesh Association. In the following, we had a conversation with an academic volunteer and researcher of the association about his dissertation work and also the position of research in the field of social sciences in our society today:

What was the reason for choosing this topic for your thesis? How did this concern you?

I have to start first when this issue becomes problematic. As you know, our association is located in the Ashrafabad and Mahmudabad villages, and the continuous presence of activists in these two villages about five years ago made us sensitive to the expansion of the number and activity of garbage dumps in these two villages and surrounding villages.

The first thing we saw on the garbage dumps was an open environment in which people were sorting wastes collected from the city’s streets.

Child labor in the pits, polluted environment, and deficient level of access to safe water, toilets, and baths made us sensitive to these places and the increase of these garbage pits.

In the initial inquiries, we found out that the people working in the landfills are indirectly related to the municipal dry waste contractors. The increase of labor force in these landfills directly depends on the rise in need of contractors for them.

This was the starting point because we found the existence of garbage collecting in the streets directly connected with policies that should be reviewed and criticized.

In fact, the speed of expansion and aggravation of the landfill situation led us to conclude that direct and small-scale support activities of non-governmental organizations do not open the way to solve the problem, and there was a necessity for research and analysis of the conditions that create this phenomenon.

“Tell us a little about your research process and the results you obtained?”

As I said, our first vital data that became clear was that municipal contractors have informal and direct connections to landfills. Our study aimed to an analysis of waste management policies as well as policies related to the presence of Afghan refugees in Iran.

Let me say that the prominent people working in the garbage dumps are Afghan immigrants.

We noticed that in the garbage dumps around Mahmudabad and Ashrafabad villages, people enter into contact with garbage collectors through a connection called “Arbab”(Superior).  In some pits, the garbage collectors work directly under the contractors and their agents, and at a much lower price than the final sale price, they sell the waste they have collected from the city to the contractor.

In some others, the landlord is responsible for selling the valuable waste and pays the contractor a monthly fee for each waste operation.

In some areas, these amounts are five or six million per month for each garbage collector.

Based on examining of waste management policies over time, in the 1370s, policies that led the waste organization to irresponsibility were related to privatization.

In 1378, all areas of Tehran were transferred to the private sector. According to our study in global experiences, the issue of waste management first costs a lot in order to form mechanisms over time and to establish its technical system, and to form a culture of separation from the source.

But with privatization, from the beginning, we expect profit and eliminate environmental and worker protection mechanisms. In short, the municipality is demanding the costs through a cheap, cost-effective and defenseless labor force instead of collecting taxes from citizens, and dry waste producers.

However, the evidence shows that the portion of intermediaries such as the contractor is much higher than the municipality itself. Unfortunately, the phrase “dirty gold waste” has taken root in the minds of many of our officials and people without any scientific or logical support, so that we do not realize the consequences of our environmental decisions and consider the profitability of dry waste collection normal and forget the total cost of this issue. However, a recent World Bank study states: “Recycling household segregated waste is almost never a profitable activity, and at best it is a cost-free activity.”

The second event that led to the continuation of the profit logic was the implementation of a mechanized project in Tehran. According to this mechanism, which was implemented in 1387, storages were placed in Tehran that facilitated access to dry waste and there was no need that contractors collect garbage from each place.

These conditions enabled contractors to use cheap, unregulated labor in the dry waste collection method. The third stage also occurred when the terms of the contract were assigned to the municipalities of each region and were removed from the supervision of the waste management organization. As a result, urban areas deal with waste policy separately, and in practice, the Tehran Municipality has been deprived of the possibility of making unified policies.

With the increasing price of auctions in the regions, the collection of dry waste has become one of the sources of income for Tehran Municipality and it isn’t one of the municipalities responsibilities anymore. The non-transparent market for the sale of dry waste in the country is another factor influencing this issue, which requires detailed discussion and research. On the other hand, according to our country’s immigration policies there is tendency for immigrants work hard and have a low socioeconomic status.

These policies don’t distinguish between the types of immigrants in terms of time spent in Iran and work skills, and ultimately end in favor of the mafia and informal institutions gaining power. In addition, the presence of temporary migrants traveling between Iran and Afghanistan is not considered in any of the existing formal relations and criteria. The requirments for obtaining a work visa don’t correspond to the conditions of the applicants.

This situation concerning garbage collectors is accompanied by the contractors’ desire for a covert and informal life of garbage collectors;

In other words, legal conditions encourage the continuation of informal living and serve the exploiters of the informal sector.

  • Who is responsible for monitoring the pits and landfills?

The supervision and management of this issue are entirely the municipality’s responsibility, but the fact that our contractors can easily use unpaid workers is not only related to the municipality. There is a contextrelated to the economic situation of our country and Afghanistan and the need for work, which must be met in the most challenging  ways. There are places that are no longer under the control of the municipality and the Ministry of Labor because of the nature of our legislation in the field of waste and immigrants, which exposes so many individuals to illegality and it makes opportunity for contractors to use labors in such an easy way.

  • Do garbage collecting children work under a particular gang? Is there a mafia in this area?

The activities of the garbage mafia are the same as the contractors. The other intermediaries like “Arbab” s work under the  supervision of the contractors.

Of course, the superiors also have their profit in the meantime, but it is not the case that these children work under strange circumstances under the domination of a particular individual. Most of the active groups in the landfills are family-based and ethnic. It is very likely that the child will work in a garbage dump with his uncle or brother.

  • Are the statistics of garbage collecting children determined?

Statistics from the Research of the Rights Protection of the Child Association were published.  According to this study, considering that the average dry waste in Tehran is more than 2600 tons per day and only 400 tons of this amount is collected by the municipality through official channels, and since each garbage collector collects about 159 kg of waste per day It can be estimated that there are about 14,000 garbage collectors in Tehran, about one-third of whom, more than 4,600, are children. Of course, as it turns out, no independent survey research has been done in this regard, and we are only dealing with some approximate numbers.

  • Which areas of Tehran have the most garbage?

It is impossible to comment on this in detail, but mainly areas such as one, two, three and six municipality zone which have high value dry waste, also have a lot of garbage collector.

“According to your experience with social harm research, what do you think should make students interested in social harm research?”

This is in fact the main task of the professors and the university. We graduate in social sciences while we may not have experienced any practical researches. Now, some high school students in nonprofit schools do more practical studied more than social science students at the University of Tehran. More contact of the researcher and people and their problems, leads to a greater the interest in these areas. I spoke about the responsibilities of the universities and the professors, on the other hand, NGOs and charities can also invite researchers.

Evidence shows, in some non-governmental organizations, the presence of the researchers isn’t favorable because they afraid of being criticized and questioned.

In any case, this is a necessity that requires connection between universities and NGO’s.

  • Do you agree that research in the humanities is unknown and there is no belief in it?

The answer to this question varies according to different institutions. Yes, I have come across departments and institutions that do not realize the deep need for research, or sometimes, they don’t seek to meet their needs through a researcher with pessimism about the humanities science.

But in many cases, it is not really questioning the principle of research. I think in these cases the applied research has been so little that the policymaker has not considered it serious. During my research activities with various institutions, I have realized that sometimes, these small research budgets of the institutions don’t have any fruitful results.

Of course, part of this problem is related to the different and disorganized activities of institutions related to social harms, which makes the ways provided by research for an organization reach the impasse of “the need for the participation of other institutions.”

Of course, there is another point. We see a large amount of research ignores the policymaker’s challenges that they face in practice.

دیدگاهتان را بنویسید

نشانی ایمیل شما منتشر نخواهد شد. بخش‌های موردنیاز علامت‌گذاری شده‌اند *