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A revealing look at the dark side of the electronics industry and global efforts to move it toward greater sustainability and accountability

Challenging the Chip

Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry

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edited by Ted Smith, David A. Sonnenfeld and David Naguib Pellow, foreword by Jim Hightower

Q&A with Ted Smith, 2006

"Challenging the Chip is essential reading for anyone who owns a cell phone or computer. As its vividly written chapters reveal, our digital possessions connect us not only to global information but also to global contamination and injustice. Happily, this book shows us that we can have technology and clean water, too: Electronics sustainability is organic agriculture for iPods."
Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., author of Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment

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 Chip is 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.

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Excerpt

Read the Foreword and Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"This work is an impressive, comprehensive critique and hopeful, but realistic, blueprint for transforming the global electronics industry into a sustainable one encompassing technological advance, environmental improvement, and equitable, safe, and secure employment. A must-read for technologists, environmentalists, workers, and policy designers. The book promises to educate, persuade, and mobilize all stakeholders in the networks of mass production in electronics and to encourage advances in sustainable governance promoting environmental justice, the precautionary principle, and extended producer responsibility."
Nicholas A. Ashford, MIT Professor of Technology and Policy, and co-author of Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development

"Contrary to high tech's clean image, this pioneering work illustrates the industry's environmental and economic downsides from its birthplace of Silicon Valley to the four corners of the globe to which the industry recently has spread. Fortunately, at the same time that the industry has globalized, so too have social movements designed to improve economic and environmental justice. Told from the compelling and passionate perspective of workers and activists involved in these struggles, this compilation is a must-read for policy makers, students, and activists alike."
Jan Mazurek, Department of Urban Planning, University of California at Los Angeles and author of Making Microchips

"This is an excellent book. It is rare to see environment and labor issues brought together in a seamless fashion. Although I have heard about problems in the microelectronics industry before, nowhere have I seen such interesting reporting on the problems. This is an important contribution to the discussion of globalization and its effects—and to the understanding of the grassroots movements that have emerged in response."
Charles Levenstein, University of Massachusetts, Lowell (Emeritus)

"This book is pathbreaking and stunningly global in its presentation of cases from four continents. It is unique in mixing activist and worker voices with academic framework and literature perspectives. It unquestionably stands alone in providing so many angles and cases. These are 25 fascinating pieces."
Timmons Roberts, The College of William and Mary

"There are insightful contributions from labour rights and environmental campaigners, grassroots safety activists, international union experts and top academics."
Hazards

"[A] poignant expose of the environmental, public health and labor rights abuses of an industry that has come to symbolize progress and prosperity in the public eye. This broad anthology identifies the dark underbelly of the electronics revolution and seeks to ignite discussions between labor, environmentalist and human rights activists about how to address industry misconduct...a well-rounded understanding of challenges and struggles in the global electronics industry."
Multinational Monitor

"At first glance, this is an oft-told tale well told once more.... Taken together, the book's three parts present a cradle-to-grave (i.e., manufacture to disposal) approach to the industry and its problems. Further, the authors, a mixture of academics and activists, are not content merely to describe problems; they also advocate solutions to the challenges posed by this industry."
The Law and Politics Book Review

"Challenging the Chip is ... an important work in chronicling the evolution of grassroots activism, corporate denial, and eventually, in some cases, corporate responsibility in the electronics industry."
SEJournal

"The editors have assembled an impressive collection of articles from leading academics and activists...Challenging the Chip judiciously uses photos, tables, charts, and diagrams with detailed explanations. In addition, the book is well documented with useful appendices."
Multicultural Review

"With twenty-five chapters, much of the value of this volume lies in the encyclopaedic overview it provides of conditions in electronics manufacturing around the world...There are fascinating details strewn throughout the book...There is a valuable list of web resources and relevant organizations....The editors provide useful introductions to the volume and each section...but the strength of the book lies in the richness and variety of the empirical material rather than in any overarching explanations or insights. This book is an important intervention in significant public debate."
Contemporary Sociology

“This sweeping, ambitious, highly substantive panorama of environmental outrages perpetrated by the electronics industry and its handmaiden governments and inspectorates is nothing if not concrete, literal, rich, and entirely convincing….Challenging the Chip is a valuable resource document, a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the substance of environmental changemaking in the 21st century."
Environmental Politics

"Challenging the Chip is the story of those who valiantly fight to make the production of microchips a humane process and the products of chips safe for the environment.... each of the essays provides valuable insight into one or more aspects of the chip industry.... Challenging the Chip will be part of an effort to place the struggles of electronics workers front and center in the fight for social justice.... It is certainly a must-read for any labor activist concerned with organizing the cutting edge of worldwide production: global electronics."
Labor Studies Journal

"Challenging the Chip is certainly the most comprehensive review of the social, health and environmental consequences of the electronics industry to date and provides a critical platform for developing new theoretical and empirical research on the political economy and ecology of the industry. The plethora of topics explored also highlights the multiplicity of disciplines that can contribute to debates about the chip industry, including the social sciences, public health, and environmental sciences. A most impressive feature of the book is the way in which it developed out of a collaborative partnership of intellectuals and activists with a shared vision of sustainability and justice. Overall, the book will be of interest to students of social science, environmental science, science and technology studies, political ecology, and anybody using a computer to read this book review."
Electronic Green Journal

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  Also available in e-book

Challenging the Chip was referenced in an article in the March 21-27, 2007 issue of “Metro Silicon Valley" weekly newspaper

 

Contents

Foreword: Technology Happens – Jim Hightower
Acknowledgments
1. The Quest for Sustainability and Justice in a High-Tech World – Ted Smith, David A. Sonnenfeld, and David N. Pellow

Part I. Global Electronics
Section Introduction – David A. Sonnenfeld
2. The Changing Map of Global Electronics: Networks of Mass Production in the New Economy – Boy Lüthje
3. Occupational Health in the Semiconductor Industry – Joseph LaDou
4. Double Jeopardy: Gender and Migration in Electronics Manufacturing – Anibel Ferus-Comelo
5. "Made in China": Electronics Workers in the World's Fastest Growing Economy – Apo Leong and Sanjiv Pandita
6. Corporate Social Responsibility in Thailand's Electronics Industry – Tira Foran and David A. Sonnenfeld
7. Electronics Workers in India – Sanjiv Pandita
8. Out of the Shadows and into the Gloom? Worker and Community Health in and around Central and Eastern Europe's Semiconductor Plants – Andrew Watterson

Part II. Environmental Justice And Labor Rights
Section Introduction – Andrew Watterson and Shenglin Chang
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 – Leslie A. Byster and Ted Smith
10. The Struggle for Occupational Health in Silicon Valley: A Conversation with Amanda Hawes – Amanda Hawes with David N. Pellow
11. Immigrant Workers in Two Eras: Struggles and Successes in Silicon Valley – David N. Pellow and Glenna Matthews
12. Worker Health at National Semiconductor, Greenock (Scotland): Freedom to Kill? – James McCourt
13. Community-Based Organizing for Labor Rights, Health, and the Environment: Television Manufacturing on the Mexico-U.S. Border – Connie García and Amelia Simpson
14. Labor Rights and Occupational Health in Jalisco's Electronics Industry (Mexico) – Raquel E. Partida Rocha
15. Breaking the Silicon Silence: Voicing Health and Environmental Impacts within Taiwan's Hsinchu Science Park – Shenglin Chang, Hua-Mei Chiu, and Wen-Ling Tu
16. Human Lives Valued Less Than Dirt: Former RCA Workers Contaminated by Pollution Fighting Worldwide for Justice (Taiwan) – Yu-Ling Ku
17. Unionizing Electronics: The Need for New Strategies – Robert Steiert

Part III. Electronic Waste and Extended Producer Responsibility
Section Introduction – Leslie A. Byster and Wen-Ling Tu
18. The Electronics Production Life Cycle. From Toxics to Sustainability: Getting Off the Toxic Treadmill – Leslie A. Byster and Ted Smith
19. High-Tech Pollution in Japan: Growing Problems, Alternative Solutions – Fumikazu Yoshida
20. High-Tech's Dirty Little Secret: The Economics and Ethics of the Electronic Waste Trade – Jim Puckett
21. Hi-Tech Heaps, Forsaken Lives: E-Waste in Delhi – Ravi Agarwal and Kishore Wankhade
22. Importing Extended Producer Responsibility for Electronic Equipment into the United States – Chad Raphael and Ted Smith
23. International Environmental Agreements and the Information Technology Industry – Ken Geiser and Joel Tickner
24. Design Change in Electrical and Electronic Equipment: Impacts of the Extended Producer Responsibility Legislation in Sweden and Japan – Naoko Tojo
25. ToxicDude.com: The Dell Campaign – David Wood and Robin Schneider

Appendix A. Principles of Environmental Justice
Appendix B. The Silicon Principles of Socially and Environmentally Responsible Electronics Manufacturing
Appendix C. Sample Shareholder Resolutions
Appendix D. Computer TakeBack Campaign Statement of Principles
Appendix E. Electronics Recycler's Pledge of True Stewardship
Acronyms Used
References
Resources
Contributors
Index

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About the Author(s)

Ted Smith is founder and Senior Strategist, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, and is co-founder and Coordinator of the International Campaign for Responsible Technology.

David A. Sonnenfeld is Associate Professor in the Department of Community and Rural Sociology at Washington State University. He is co-editor of Ecological Modernisation Around the World: Perspectives and Critical Debates.

David N. Pellow is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California,San Diego. He is the author of Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago.

Subject Categories

Sociology
Nature and the Environment
Labor Studies and Work

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