American War Machine Finds Its Way to Hong Kong

Photo: Kin Cheung (AP)

As the world watches pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong get pelted with tear gas, it turns out Americans need to look closer to home. In an investigation published Thursday, BuzzFeed News reported that western Pennsylvania company Nonlethal Technologies has been making the tear gas used in Hong Kong.

From reporter Rosalind Adams’s investigation, emphasis mine:

Employees described aging equipment that caught fire and injuries and severe irritation caused by working long hours with chemicals. After one of its buildings burned down, the company declined to rebuild the facility, instead shifting more of the production into shipping containers. The company has been fined multiple times for safety violations by the Department of Labor; the owner himself severely burned his hands in a fire while handling hazardous chemicals. Yet while its American workers are paid very little to work in potentially dangerous conditions, its shipments continue — largely to foreign governments who reap the benefits of its products, employees said, including Turkey, Bahrain, and Egypt during the height of the Arab Spring.

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Not only did this company, Nonlethal Technologies, providing product to Egypt  during the Arab Spring, but even a severe injury to the owner couldn’t convince the company to change. I guess if you’re in the business of making “crowd-control equipment” (an absurdly placating phrase), the politics of the Arab Spring don’t concern you, but you don’t value your own body?!

An owner of Nonlethal Technologies “answered questions briefly outside the factory before asking BuzzFeeds News to leave the premises” and didn’t respond to email inquires by the news site.

An aside: I think it’s weird how much the low-paying aspect of this job is emphasized. Yes, it’s bad that an American company isn’t providing anything close to a livable wage, but I think it’s much more troubling how the workers are assembling this “crowd-control equipment” in hazardous conditions. Maybe the focus should be on the fact that “crowd-control equipment” is still such a viable industry for this town.

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Read the full investigation by BuzzFeed News here.

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