Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Growing evidence of illnesses and cancer among electronics workers

Global advocates challenge electronics industry to prevent harm from toxic chemicals

The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), an industry association representing over 100 electronics companies, met in Brussels on 16 March 2015 to discuss chemical management strategies. At this meeting, a formal Challenge to the electronics industry endorsed by more than 200 civil society groups from electronics production countries and across the globe was delivered, urging the industry to take meaningful actions to prevent harm and to be accountable to workers and nearby communities by improving chemical safety.

 

Cancer at Samsung plants, South Korea

23-year old Yumi Hwang died from leukaemia on 6 March 2007 after having worked for several years in a Samsung chip plant in South Korea. In court, her illness was finally acknowledged as a case of occupational disease, but only after eight years of legal struggle. Thirty-five workers in Yumi’s chip plant and one other plant in South Korea have developed leukaemia or lymphoma. Ten have died since 2007.

Today, electronics workers in Asia and Latin America continue to suffer exposure to harmful chemicals. Civil society organisations report hundreds of cases of electronics production workers who have fallen ill over the past five years in China, South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere from exposure to benzene and other highly toxic chemicals used in manufacturing. We do not know the actual situation here in Malaysia where the high tech electronics industry is one of Malaysia’s leading manufacturing industry.

Electronics industry challenged

Over 200 labour groups, environmental organisations, occupational health & safety experts, human rights organizations and other civil society groups led by the GoodElectronics Network and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT) presented a ‘Challenge’ to the electronics industry, which outlines concerns and demands with regard to chemical safety. Groups in Malaysia that endorsed this challenge are the Consumers’ Association of Penang, Sahabat Alam Malaysia and Electrical Industry Workers Union.

The Challenge emphasizes the importance of disclosure, substitution of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives, protection of workers, freedom of association, participation of workers in workplace monitoring, environmental protection, and the need for compensation of workers, communities and the environment for harm done. The industry should assume responsibility and take meaningful action beyond their current weak standards and ineffective auditing systems.

“It’s astonishing that the most technically savvy companies in the world, whose names are on our electronics, say they still don’t know all of the materials used in their own products or in their supply chain production factories,” said Ted Smith of ICRT: “What we need from this important industry is safe jobs and healthy families, where the next generation of children is at least as important as the next generation of chips.”

GoodElectronics and ICRT have invited the industry to give feedback to the Challenge. EICC has set up a chemical task force. Industry representatives, however, admit that their regular corporate audits do not find that work-related chemicals-induced illnesses are a problem. “These corporate audits don’t uncover chemical exposures and other labour rights violations all the way down the supply chain,” said Pauline Overeem, Coordinator of the GoodElectronics Network. “There is a clear disconnect between audits findings and the grim reality in many factories. That’s why we are challenging the industry to clean up its act now.”

The industry, governments and others involved in the life cycle of electronic products from material extraction and processing to product manufacturing, distribution, retail, use, and post-use recycling and disposal must proactively reduce and eliminate chemical and physical hazards through the development and adoption of safer alternatives.

S.M. Mohamed Idris
President
Consumers’ Association of Penang

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Note for the press


Contact persons at GoodElectronics and ICRT:
-- Ted Smith | Coordinator International Campaign for Responsible Technology | tsmith@igc.org | +1.408 242 6707 | USA | http://www.icrt.co

-- Pauline Overeem |Coordinator GoodElectornics Network | p.overeem@goodelectronics.org | +31.6 41344385 | Netherlands | http://goodelectronics.org

More information:

The Challenge is attached and can be viewed at:

http://www.icrt.co/images/pdf_files/Challenge_to_the_electronics_industry.pdf

Links to stories from workers:

Supporters for Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry (SHARPS), a worker rights group in South Korea, has documented a total of 193 workers who developed cancers or other illnesses at various Samsung plants in Korea, 73 of whom died. They have identified another 50 victims at other (non-Samsung) semiconductor plants in Korea, 19 of whom have died. See https://stopsamsung.wordpress.com

Workers at the now-closed plant of RCA, an American consumer electronics brand, in Taoyuan County, Taiwan, say that toxic chemicals caused nearly 1000 cancer cases, and 157 deaths. Following a long legal battle in a lawsuit filed by former workers, a Taipei court is expected to issue a ruling in this case in April 2015. Coverage of Taiwan workers’ lawsuit against RCA: http://thinking-taiwan.com/rca-taiwan-ex-workers-quest-for-justice-could-end-soon and http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/local/archives/2001/03/31/79789

Film: Who Pays the Price? The Human Cost of Electronics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns-kJ5Podjw