Q: What prompted
you to assemble Challenging the Chip? Where did you learn
about the stories that are included in the book?
A: The book grew out of a global symposium sponsored
by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) and the International
Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT) in 2002 where people
from 15 countries came together to share experiences and common
challenges. We realized that we had important stories to bring to
the attention of the general public, policymakers, communities,
workers, and others around the world. Many of the communities most
affected by negative high-tech impacts have been at the forefront
of creating solutions. Challenging the Chip brings these
stories together to document the incredibly brave and important
efforts of many people over the last three decades. In addition,
the book provides some direction and hope for a more sustainable
future for all of us.
Q: Would you describe Challenging the
Chip as an exposé of the electronics industry?
A: Challenging the Chip definitely exposes
the dark side of the electronics revolution. In fact, the book includes
the most comprehensive documentation ever published about the negative
impacts that the electronics industry has had on communities around
the globe. However, it is also about the bright side, written by
people who have come together in workplaces, communities, and across
borders to prompt the industry to examine the impacts to the environment
and people's health, and the social injustice towards workers in
the manufacturing of its products. Challenging the Chip
is about challenging the industry to use its incredible ingenuity
to dazzle the world all over again with cleaner, greener technologies,
products, and components that are free of toxics, easy to recycle,
and produced without harm to those manufacturing, assembling, and
Q: Your book talks about issues of health,
environment, labor, and social justice. What do you think are the
most important concerns within the electronics industry?
A: First, electronic products today are manufactured
using more than a thousand toxic chemicals—many of which are
known to cause cancers, miscarriages, reproductive problems, asthma,
and other illnesses in the workers who make them, the communities
surrounding the manufacturing facilities, and the places where e-waste
is dumped and burned.
Secondly, the industry's "planned obsolescence" of electronic
products, makes it almost impossible to repair or upgrade existing
machines, forcing consumers to buy the latest model and throw out
the old one. The rapid pace of change is a real double-edged sword
because new chemicals are being incorporated before adequate health
testing is done, and we are also consuming faster than we can recycle.
Lastly, there has been a migration of high-tech facilities to
impoverished developing countries with weak environmental and worker
protections. This increases the power and profitability of electronics
firms at the expense of local communities and workers—many
of whom are young women of color—around the world.
Q: You talk about "providing a vision
of what a sustainable electronics industry can look like" in
the book. How viable is this?
A: It's entirely possible, but only if people are
aware and come together to make the changes happen. The electronics
industry is incredibly dynamic and has shown it is capable of change.
Organizations like the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and efforts
like the Computer TakeBack Campaign have moved companies like Dell
(see Chapter 25) to take back and recycle their products. Today,
Dell offers free recycling of any brand computer from anywhere in
the world when you buy a new Dell. That's enormous progress from
where they were just a few years ago! An industry that's been able
to put thousands of songs, photos, and videos on a tiny chip has
the capacity to pave the way towards a sustainable future.
Q: Do you think it is possible to change such
a powerful and pervasive industry?
A: The stories in the book are written by progressive
visionaries, scholars, and advocates in the field from all around
the world who have already succeeded in bringing about change in
the industry over a number of years, using a diverse range of tactics,
including grassroots organizing, consumer education, market-based
campaigning, litigation, health advocacy, shareholder initiatives,
and government regulation. Until now, many of these stories have
never been told, let alone gathered in a single text.
Q: You profile several people and organizations
around the world. What similarities—or differences—do
you see in the industry and how each country handles the issues
of labor, environment, and technology?
A: Challenging the Chip describes similarities
in the "environmental footprint" of high-tech development—worker
health hazards, groundwater contamination, and air pollution—whether
in California, Texas, Scotland, Taiwan, or Mexico. In Chapter 14,
labor rights in Mexico are described in depth, showing the violations
in the length of the work day, the poor wages, as well as issues
of discrimination, harassment, and other basic human rights. Likewise,
the photos in Chapter 21, show things like a child in India sorting
through discarded electronic circuit boards without proper protection.
The book also addresses the critical questions of the long term
impacts of electronics manufacturing in China and India, where so
much of the production and disposal are now occurring.
Q: You fill this book with "people's
histories." What story moved you the most?
A: I am most moved by the story about Helen Clark,
Jim McCourt, and their colleagues in Silicon Glen, Scotland (Chapter
12). Their persistence, courage, and ingenuity moved the Scottish
government to conduct the world's most comprehensive health study
of semiconductor workers. Their efforts have helped make working
conditions in the industry safer and healthier not only in Scotland
but around the world. It's very sad that Helen gave up her life
in this struggle, but her spirit is still with us, and she is still
inspiring others to action.
Q: Challenging the Chip is an excellent handbook
and reference guide for learning more about the global electronics
industry. What are some important resources people should use to
take action and become change-makers themselves?
A: The book includes a comprehensive list of organizations,
resources, and websites for readers to follow up their interests
in working with others to change electronics in more healthy, environmentally-friendly,
and socially just ways. Such resources are growing rapidly, as the
leading groups continue to expand their work and as new groups become
more involved. These resources will be regularly updated on the
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition's website, www.svtc.org,
which will serve as a clearing house and network hub for a variety
of newly-emerging initiatives.