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Challenging the Chip

Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry

Ted Smith
David A. Sonnenfeld
David Naguib Pellow
Leslie A. Byster
Shenglin Chang
Amanda Hawes
Wen-ling Tu
Andrew Watterson
Foreword by Jim Hightower
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Temple University Press
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  • Book Info
    Challenging the Chip
    Book Description:

    From Silicon Valley in California to Silicon Glen in Scotland, from Silicon Island in Taiwan to Silicon Paddy in China, the social, economic, and ecological effects of the international electronics industry are widespread. The production of electronic and computer components contaminates air, land, and water around the globe. As this eye-opening book reveals, the people who suffer the consequences are largely poor, female, immigrant, and minority.Challenging the Chipis the first comprehensive examination of the impacts of electronics manufacturing on workers and local environments across the planet. Contributors to this pioneering volume include many of the world's most articulate, passionate and progressive visionaries, scholars and advocates. Here they not only document the unsustainable and often devastating practices of the global electronics industry but also chronicle creative ways in which activists, government agencies, and others have attempted to reform the industry-through resistance, persuasion, and regulation.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-331-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword: Technology Happens
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Jim Hightower

    Take cars. After Henry Ford began mass production, it took only a flash in time for these four-wheeled chunks of technology to wholly transformour landscape, environment, economy, culture, psychology, and … well, pretty much our whole world. For better or worse, cars created freeways, shopping malls, McDonald’s, drive-in banking—even the Beach Boys!

    The true story of the automobile, however, is not about the immutable march of technology, but about the ordinary folks who have battled the barons of industry over the years to humanize and democratize the tramp-tramp-tramp of technological forces. I think of the bloodied but unbowed workers...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 The Quest for Sustainability and Justice in a High-Tech World
    (pp. 1-12)
    Ted Smith, David A. Sonnenfeld and David N. Pellow

    Of the millions of words written over the past several decades about the electronics industry’s incredible transformation of our world, far too few have addressed the downsides of this revolution. Many are surprised to learn that environmental degradation and occupational health hazards are as much a part of high-tech manufacturing as miniaturization and other such marvels. Although most consumers are eager to enjoy their latest computers, televisions, cellular phones, iPods, and electronic games, few relate the declining prices of these and other electronic technologies to the labor of Third World women, who are paid pennies a day. Fewer still realize...

  6. Part I. Global Electronics

    • Section Introduction
      (pp. 13-16)
      David A. Sonnenfeld

      High-tech electronics manufacturing commenced in Silicon Valley, California, and select locations in Europe and Japan in the mid-twentieth century, and has since established operations around the world, including locations in Scotland, Taiwan, South Korea, and Malaysia, among others. The industry has shifted its global geography almost as rapidly as its product life cycles, investing billions of dollars in new manufacturing facilities, including in such unlikely places as Borneo. Early in the twenty-first century, new locations for electronics hardware manufacturing include Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and mainland China, with new centers of engineering design and software development developing rapidly in...

    • 2 The Changing Map of Global Electronics: Networks of Mass Production in the New Economy
      (pp. 17-30)
      Boy Lüthje

      Electronics is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the global economy. However, this characteristic is often obscured by the prevailing view of “high-tech” as a science—and service-based industry—an image that has been cautiously cultivated since grassroots environmental and labor activists began to expose the “dark side of the chip” (Siegel and Markoff 1985). Since then, a myriad of academic and media writers and researchers have been dealing with the postindustrial economy in high-tech centers throughout the world (e.g., Castells 1996; Gilder 1989; Negri and Hardt 2000)—mostly neglecting more problematic impacts of electronics production for the environment,...

    • 3 Occupational Health in the Semiconductor Industry
      (pp. 31-42)
      Joseph LaDou

      Hundreds of chemicals, metals, and toxic gases are used in the semiconductor industry, which also subjects workers to radiation exposures, as well as ergonomic and other occupational stressors. However, because of its rapid development, and its obsession with secrecy, the internal workings of the industry are poorly understood. Only a few articles on industrial hygiene and occupational and environmental health and safety in this industry have been published, and these have been mostly limited to the United States. With rare exceptions, Asia and Europe have neither reported accurate rates of illness and injury nor published the results of industry or...

    • 4 Double Jeopardy: Gender and Migration in Electronics Manufacturing
      (pp. 43-54)
      Anibel Ferus-Comelo

      On November 19, 1998, more than 6,300 workers from fourteen production units of a US$1 billion Indian multinational company went on an indefinite strike in Bangalore, the “Silicon Valley of India.”¹ About 80 percent of these striking workers were women between the ages of 18 and 25. This was the bitterest high-profile labor dispute that Bangalore had experienced in decades. At the heart of the dispute was an apprenticeship program that the company had abused to retain shop-floor workers in tenuous employment on subminimum wages for many years. Besides a lack of job security, the women had to stand all...

    • 5 “Made in China”: Electronics Workers in the World’s Fastest Growing Economy
      (pp. 55-69)
      Apo Leong and Sanjiv Pandita

      Over the past two decades, China has emerged as the fastest growing economy in the world. With an annual growth rate of more than 8 percent, it is emerging as the world’s manufacturing hub. China’s industrial production has reached unprecedented levels. Despite the global economic slowdown and health scares of the first few years of the twentieth century, China, more than any other country, continues to both grow steadily and attract foreign direct investment. Its utilized foreign direct investment for 2002 was US$52.7 billion.

      Hidden beneath the marvelous economic statistics are China’s millions of workers who toil on the production...

    • 6 Corporate Social Responsibility in Thailand’s Electronics Industry
      (pp. 70-82)
      Tira Foran and David A. Sonnenfeld

      Interest in corporate social responsibility has grown during the last two decades, particularly among nongovernmental actors and citizens in industrialized countries. That interest stems, in part, from a growing recognition that the relations among nation-states, corporations, and civil society have changed. The modern industrial corporation is transnational in its scope and impacts; its power has arguably grown: Given a context of emerging consumer markets, increasingly flexible production, and an expanded geographic search for cost-effective production, the power of states and societies to dictate the conditions of production to corporations has changed in complex ways (cf. Held et al. 1999; Sassen...

    • 7 Electronics Workers in India
      (pp. 83-95)
      Sanjiv Pandita

      Sheela is one of the thousands of invisible workers who toil night and day in India’s electronics sweatshops, remaining untouched by the sector’s apparent prosperity. The industry’s total production figure of US$21 billion (in both hardware and software) for the 2002–2003 fiscal year did not mean much to her or to the many other thousands of workers, who find it difficult to make ends meet.

      This chapter conveys a picture of India’s electronic hardwarek manufacturing industry and the condition of its workers. After a brief overview of India’s electronics sector, including its extent and geographical spread, this chapter provides...

    • 8 Out of the Shadows and into the Gloom? Worker and Community Health in and around Central and Eastern Europe’s Semiconductor Plants
      (pp. 96-106)
      Andrew Watterson

      Following the collapse of the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s, international high-tech companies moved into Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries with histories of technical expertise in semiconductor production. This chapter explores the available data regarding occupational health and safety in semiconductor manufacturing companies in the region.

      Sources consulted include various types of reports (official, labor, industry, and environmental) and publications available through libraries, the Web, and direct contact (i.e., phone, fax, and e-mail) with researchers, organizations, campaigners, and government bodies, both within the region and internationally. Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Belarus provide brief case studies...

  7. Part II. Environmental Justice and Labor Rights

    • Section Introduction
      (pp. 107-110)
      Andrew Watterson and Shenglin Chang

      Two disturbing phenomena are generally found where clusters of electronics manufacturing, assembly, and disassembly operations are located: the generation of serious occupational and environmental hazards for workers and nearby communities (Byster and Smith 1999: Fox 1991; LaDou 1984; Sonnenfeld 2002) and the intensification of social inequalities through low wages and labor disempowerment (Hossfeld 1988; Nash and Fernández-Kelly 1983; Park 1992; Robinson and McIlwee 1989). These problems oflabor rightsandenvironmental injustice(Pellow and Park 2002; see also Asia Monitor Resource Center [AMRC] 1998: Ong 1987) have been the focus of substantial efforts by workers, community members, health professionals, and...

    • 9 From Grassroots to Global: The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s Milestones in Building a Movement for Corporate Accountability and Sustainability in the High-Tech Industry
      (pp. 111-119)
      Leslie A. Byster and Ted Smith

      The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is a diverse organization engaged in research, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to address human health and environmental injustice caused by the rapid growth of the high-tech industry.

      We envision a toxic-free future, where each new generation of technical improvements in electronic products includes parallel and proportional advances in social and environmental justice. Our goal is environmental sustainability and clean production, improved health, and democratic decision making for communities and workers most affected by the high-tech revolution.

      For many years, Santa Clara County, California—an area once known as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight—flourished...

    • 10 The Struggle for Occupational Health in Silicon Valley: A Conversation with Amanda Hawes
      (pp. 120-128)
      Amanda Hawes and David N. Pellow

      International Business Machines (IBM) came to dominate and embody the personal computer industry during the early 1980s, when its first desktop model became an instant global-market blockbuster. Not long after that, IBM broke its traditional “no layoff pledge” to its workers, as the recessions of the 1980s raged on and unemployment spiked to new heights. By the 1990s, attorney Amanda Hawes was making life even more difficult for this global electronics giant, as it was discovered that scores of its workers were succumbing to environmental illness and dying of cancer. In addition to the occupational health concerns being raised about...

    • 11 Immigrant Workers in Two Eras: Struggles and Successes in Silicon Valley
      (pp. 129-138)
      David N. Pellow and Glenna Matthews

      California’s Santa Clara Valley, now world famous as Silicon Valley,¹ was also famous during an earlier period as one of the world’s leading fruit-growing and processing centers, home to thousands of acres of orchards and several dozen canneries and dried-fruit packing plants. In this chapter, we compare and contrast the struggles to improve production workers’ labor conditions in both the fruit and electronics industries; these workers were predominantly immigrant women. Ultimately, the cannery workers achieved considerable success in improving their situation by forming and defending a union, whereas the electronics workers have yet to unionize, though they have struggled valiantly...

    • 12 Worker Health at National Semiconductor, Greenock (Scotland): Freedom to Kill?
      (pp. 139-149)
      James McCourt

      This chapter examines individual, political, and societal issues associated with the occupational health, safety, and welfare of the current and former employees at National Semiconductor in Greenock, West Scotland. Also included is a discussion of civil society groups that have advocated on these employees’ behalf: a community group named PHASE Two (People for Health and Safety in Electronics), the Inverclyde Advice and Employment Rights Centre, and local trade unionists. The chapter raises the possibility of negative occupational health outcomes created by National Semiconductor UK (NSUK) and examines the impact that raising these issues has had on the local community. It...

    • 13 Community-Based Organizing for Labor Rights, Health, and the Environment: Television Manufacturing on the Mexico-U.S. Border
      (pp. 150-160)
      Connie García and Amelia Simpson

      During the 1990s, Tijuana, Mexico, became the “TV Capital of the World.” More televisions were produced in this bustling town on the Mexico-U.S. border than in any other city in the world. TV plants were a key component in the electronics maquiladora (assembly) sector on the Mexican side of the border. Yet by the end of the decade, that thriving TV manufacturing industry began leaving Mexico for lower wage countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and especially China. China offered investors tax breaks, low energy costs, and other incentives—their labor force was earning wages one third or less of what...

    • 14 Labor Rights and Occupational Health in Jalisco’s Electronics Industry (Mexico)
      (pp. 161-169)
      Raquel E. Partida Rocha

      Human rights is a relevant topic for both labor rights campaigners and social scientists. The concepts and models associated with human rights may help activists and communities understand how and why their human rights are shaped and possibly restricted. This chapter addresses the issue of human rights in the context of the electronics industry, using a quantitative approach. This chapter presents some of the preliminary findings of a survey of Jalisco electronics industry workers, conducted in December 2002 and June 2003, on labor rights issues in the electronics sector. The first section provides a brief discussion of the sociological theory...

    • 15 Breaking the Silicon Silence: Voicing Health and Environmental Impacts within Taiwan’s Hsinchu Science Park
      (pp. 170-180)
      Shenglin Chang, Hua-mei Chiu and Wen-ling Tu

      Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park (HSIP) is located northeast of Taiwan and about forty-four miles south of Taipei, the capital city. It stretches for 632 hectares over both Hsinchu County and Hsinchu City. The newly developed 138-hectare Chunan base is located in Miaoli County, south of Hsinchu (see Figure 15.1).¹ The HSIP is Taiwan’s first science-based industrial park, established in 1980 as part of the state’s strategic plan for promoting high-tech industries. It started with 17 firms in 1981, and, as of June 2003, there were 348 companies with 98,725 employees. Companies in the Park are engaged primarily in the design,...

    • 16 Human Lives Valued Less Than Dirt: Former RCA Workers Contaminated by Pollution Fighting Worldwide for Justice (Taiwan)
      (pp. 181-190)
      Yu-ling Ku

      Based on action research and in-depth interviews, this chapter reveals the Radio Corporation of America’s (RCA) illegal toxic dumping practices in Taoyuan, Taiwan. RCA’s two decades of misconduct have seriously contaminated people, soil, and groundwater in Taoyuan. When Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that RCA’s Taoyuan plant had been permanently contaminated in the 1990s, 216 former RCA employees already had died of cancer. In addition, 1,059 people were suffering from various kinds of cancer and 102 others developed tumors, with the numbers increasing every year.

      The RCA story demonstrates how developing countries have served as sites for manufacturing and...

    • 17 Unionizing Electronics: The Need for New Strategies
      (pp. 191-200)
      Robert Steiert

      The London-based non-government organization (NGO), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), published a report on working conditions at subcontractors for the computer industry in themaquiladorasin both northern Mexico and China (CAFOD 2004). The report, “Clean Up Your Computer,” stirred international interest, because it was probably the first time that an independent organization described some of the inhumane conditions under which the employees of subcontractors for the computer industry, mostly women, worked. The report exposed the conditions and wages that people in industrialized countries would regard as extremely outdated. The information was not entirely new. Previously, it mostly had...

  8. Part III. Electronic Waste and Extended Producer Responsibility

    • Section Introduction
      (pp. 201-204)
      Leslie A. Byster and Wen-ling Tu

      The world’s landfills are rapidly being filled with toxic waste from obsolete electronic and electrical equipment and accessories. The mountains of “e-waste” have been growing so rapidly that they have spawned dangerous new waste-salvaging operations in China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and other low-income countries. The European Union (EU) is instituting its new Directive on Waste from Electronics and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) in an attempt to curtail this tide of toxic junk. Electronics is at the forefront not only of manufacturing, occupational health, and environmental justice issues throughout the world, but also of the growing movement calling on manufacturers to...

    • 18 The Electronics Production Life Cycle. From Toxics to Sustainability: Getting Off the Toxic Treadmill
      (pp. 205-214)
      Leslie A. Byster and Ted Smith

      The information age has been fueled by an exponential increase in the production of high-tech electronic components, including semiconductors, integrated circuits, disk drives, printed circuit boards, video display equipment, and many other consumer products. As electronics manufacturing has expanded out of its birthplace in Silicon Valley and proliferated around the globe, so too, has the number of facilities manufacturing the materials and chemicals used in the production process, in waste treatment, and in waste disposal.

      The high-tech industry’s unprecedented globalization has been facilitated by the development and adoption of trade agreements such as the Multilateral Agreement on Initiatives and Central...

    • 19 High-Tech Pollution in Japan: Growing Problems, Alternative Solutions
      (pp. 215-224)
      Fumikazu Yoshida

      Throughout Japan, there are plans to redevelop idled urban factory sites and vacant lots that were abandoned after land prices rose during the “bubble” years of the late 1980s. Such efforts have spotlighted a major barrier: the soil and groundwater contamination at brownfields (former factory and waste management sites; seeJapan Times2001). The Geo-Environmental Protection Center has estimated that Japan has 400,000 sites with soil contaminated by organic solvents, heavy metals, and toxic substances like PCBs, which would require ¥13 trillion (about US$126 billion) to remediate (Yoshida 2002).

      High-tech pollution was discovered in the early 1980s. Events during the...

    • 20 High-Tech’s Dirty Little Secret: The Economics and Ethics of the Electronic Waste Trade
      (pp. 225-233)
      Jim Puckett

      In February 2002, the Basel Action Network (BAN), together with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), released the report,Exporting Harm: The High-tech Trashing of Asia. That report, and a subsequent BAN film of the same name, revealed to the public for the first time a disturbing fact—that about 80 percent of the electronic wastes collected in North America for “recycling” actually find their way, quite legally, to dangerously primitive, highly polluting recycling operations in Asia (see Photos 20.1 and 20.2). European recycling insiders have calculated the export figures for their own continent at 60 percent despite European Union...

    • 21 Hi-Tech Heaps, Forsaken Lives: E-Waste in Delhi
      (pp. 234-246)
      Ravi Agarwal and Kishore Wankhade

      Computers are now at the core of every IT application and having a profound impact on business processes and life styles. Computers have become synonymous with a newly educated and technologically capable idea of the nation-state, and India hopes to become a powerful player in the information age. In this endeavor, computerization is being encouraged through all means, including the import of secondhand computers from the developed world, in hopes of penetrating price-sensitive markets. During 2002–03, India’s production in this sector was approximately US$800 million, a growth of 10 percent over the previous year. Products in this category include...

    • 22 Importing Extended Producer Responsibility for Electronic Equipment into the United States
      (pp. 247-259)
      Chad Raphael and Ted Smith

      Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a policy approach that holds manufacturers accountable for the full costs of their products at every stage in their life cycle. EPR typically involves requiring that producers take back their products at the end of their useful lives, or pay a recycling contractor to do so, thereby internalizing the costs of recycling or disposal in a manufacturer’s bottom line. When companies know that they will bear the costs of product return and recycling, they are more likely to redesign their products for easier and safer handling at each step in the life cycle. This approach...

    • 23 International Environmental Agreements and the Information Technology Industry
      (pp. 260-272)
      Ken Geiser and Joel Tickner

      The production of personal and institutional computers and information-processing equipment requires a large array of materials, chemicals, and natural resources. Production materials include ceramics, heavy metals, and chemicals that are toxic to humans and other species (see Byster and Smith, “Electronics Life Cycle”; Hawes and Pellow, this volume; see also LaDou 1984; U.S. EPA 1995). During the early years of electronic product development, there was little awareness or concern about environmental or public health hazards. This positive image began to unravel during the early 1980s when serious groundwater contamination was discovered near large semiconductor manufacturing facilities in California (see Byster...

    • 24 Design Change in Electrical and Electronic Equipment: Impacts of Extended Producer Responsibility Legislation in Sweden and Japan
      (pp. 273-284)
      Naoko Tojo

      Electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is regarded as a priority for diversion from landfills and incinerators because of its increasing overall volume¹ and the hazardous substances it contains. The rapid advancement of technology has increased the variety and complexity of EEE, making it difficult for conventional municipal collection and recycling infrastructures to handle the volume. The situation becomes even worse when adequate information (e.g., the location of hazardous substances or the means of disassembly) is not transferred from the manufacturers to the treatment facilities. These interrelated features make EEE waste problematic in terms of both quality and quantity.

      A handful...

    • 25 The Dell Campaign
      (pp. 285-298)
      David Wood and Robin Schneider

      Smaller, faster, and cheaper—these are the defining qualities of today’s computers and consumer electronics. Yet, despite the persistent pace of design advancements in consumer electronics, product designers often have largely ignored the public health threats and environmental consequences of the choices they make—from materials use to end-of-life management. The rapid proliferation of computers and consumer electronics has resulted in a global mountain of high-tech trash, a culture of obsolescence, and new products being designed for disposability rather than reuse and recycling (see Photo 25.1).¹

      The Computer TakeBack Campaign (CTBC) was formed in early 2001 by a small group...

  9. Appendix A. Principles of Environmental Justice
    (pp. 299-300)
  10. Appendix B. The Silicon Principles of Socially and Environmentally Responsible Electronics Manufacturing
    (pp. 301-302)
  11. Appendix C. Sample Shareholder Resolutions
    (pp. 303-305)
  12. Appendix D. Computer TakeBack Campaign Statement of Principles
    (pp. 306-307)
  13. Appendix E. Electronics Recycler’s Pledge of True Stewardship
    (pp. 308-310)
  14. Acronyms Used
    (pp. 311-314)
  15. References
    (pp. 315-336)
  16. Resources
    (pp. 337-338)
  17. Contributors
    (pp. 339-342)
  18. Index
    (pp. 343-357)