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Monday, 26 May 2008

Live Blogging ETC - makeITfair presentation

Donna is speaking about the history of rubbish collection. This has to do with how electronics get recycled or not. Good Electronics is an organization that looks into this. MakeITfair is linked to the Clean Clothes initiative.

The makeITfair guys are now talking about the story of stuff: where do things come from? This is an awareness raising campaign working with NGOs through the world. Raw materials, production, distribution: what's the story?

They're giving us a quiz, with a prize! (ooh) But first a movie. Maybe.

Extraction

Things start with "extraction." Raw materials. Aka, exploiting the environment and killing the planet. People who live in the way of extraction are screwed.

Every phone has 65 different elements. 25% of a phone it metals. The IT industry uses a lot of metals. They come from mines, of course. Largely mines in the third world.

MakeITfair did research about three kind of metal: platinum group - used in hard disks, motherboards and screes, cobalts and tin. Oh, and is it bad. Forests cut down. Nasty pollution. Weirdly colored snow. Child labor in the Congo. 50k kids working in cobalt mines there. The workers are sub-contracted. Migrants. Untrained. Uninsured.

The Congo is not the happiest place on earth politically. Mine revenues end up in the hands of armed groups: rebels and military, both of whom use it for weapons. The local communities get screwed and shot at. "Social Disruption"

makeITfair asked electronic companies about this. They said, "oh, it's untraceable. we can't find out where things come from." and "We hardly use any of this stuff. Nobody cares what we say about it." MakeITfair countered that they could trace stuff and the companies do buy a lot of stuff. The companies changed their tune. "Oh, maybe we should do something. huh. But what? talk to us for a long long time in many many talks."

NGOs care about these issues. Investors also care. The ones that are accountable to anybody. Investors are sometimes now setting criteria and conditions.

Production

Toxic chemicals! We use it in products, it ends up in the environment. It ends up in us. Breast milk has super high levels of toxins. Factory works get doused in it. New urban arrivals live in slum and get to work in toxic factories. Toxins also end up in waste, aside from products.

Donna won the quiz!

Phones and computers are not made by the brand, obviously. They're made by huge western multinationals with factories in the developing world. Seagate. Up to 80% of factories workers are young women from rural areas but now in urban ones. Low wages! Factory workers get fined often which lowers their wage further. They have long hours and non-voluntary unpaid overtime. And they get to work with toxic materials with no protective gear. And they don't get to unionize. Unions are illegal in many places, including China.

Brand companies say they can only they can only talk to their direct suppliers. makeITfair says, the whole chain is your problem. In China, it's hard for NGOs. There's one national union which is not very effective. NGOs that exist are based offshore and underground.

Distribution and Consumption

Selling as fast as possible. Low prices. Costs are externalized. Who pays for stuff then? Workers. By not getting benefits. Only 1% of stuff we buy in the US lasts longer than 6 months. (Including food?)

European consumers (age 16 - 30) say they're willing to pay 10% more for fair trade electronics.

What can we do? Recycle. Longer functional part of life cycle. Complain to brand companies.

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