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

Ted David; Smith David; Sonnenfeld Pellow

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. v-vii

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Foreword: Technology Happens

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pp. ix-xii

TAKE CARS. After Henry Ford began mass production, it took only a flash in time for these four-wheeled chunks of technology to wholly transform our 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! ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

SCORES OF PEOPLE around the world have been involved over the course of several years in the conceptualization, development, editing, and production of this volume. The “Global Symposium on Strategies for a Sustainable High-Tech Industry,” held November 2002 in San Jose, California, in which this volume has its origins, was sponsored by the International Cam-...

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1. The Quest for Sustainability and Justice in a High-Tech World

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pp. 1-11

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. ...

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pp. 13-16

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. ...

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2. The Changing Map of Global Electronics: Networks of Mass Production in the New Economy

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pp. 17-30

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). ...

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3. Occupational Health in the Semiconductor Industry

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pp. 31-42

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. ...

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4. Double Jeopardy: Gender and Migration in Electronics Manufacturing

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pp. 43-54

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. ...

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5. “Made in China”: Electronics Workers in the World’s Fastest Growing Economy

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pp. 55-69

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...

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6. Corporate Social Responsibility in Thailand’s Electronics Industry

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pp. 70-82

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. ...

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7. Electronics Workers in India

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pp. 83-95

Sheela1 can feel her head reeling. She works in the soldering section of a printed circuit board factory in Mumbai. She has been working for more than eight hours on a very hot and humid day. She could not get a lunch break as she had taken a day off the previous day, and there is a pending job she is supposed to finish. ...

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8. Out of the Shadows and into the Gloom? Worker and Community Health in and around Central and Eastern Europe’s Semiconductor Plants

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pp. 96-106

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. ...

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pp. 107-110

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...

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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

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pp. 111-119

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. ...

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10. The Struggle for Occupational Health in Silicon Valley: A Conversation with Amanda Hawes

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pp. 120-128

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. ...

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11. Immigrant Workers in Two Eras: Struggles and Successes in Silicon Valley

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pp. 129-138

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. ...

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12. Worker Health at National Semiconductor, Greenock (Scotland): Freedom to Kill?

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pp. 139-149

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. ...

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13. Community-Based Organizing for Labor Rights, Health, and the Environment: Television Manufacturing on the Mexico-U.S. Border

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pp. 150-160

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. ...

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14. Labor Rights and Occupational Health in Jalisco’s Electronics Industry (Mexico)

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pp. 161-169

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. ...

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15. Breaking the Silicon Silence: Voicing Health and Environmental Impacts within Taiwan’s Hsinchu Science Park

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pp. 170-180

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 ...

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16. Human Lives Valued Less Than Dirt: Former RCA Workers Contaminated by Pollution Fighting Worldwide for Justice (Taiwan)

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pp. 181-190

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...

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17. Unionizing Electronics: The Need for New Strategies

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pp. 191-199

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 the maquiladoras in both northern Mexico and China (CAFOD 2004). ...

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pp. 201-204

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. ...

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18. The Electronics Production Life Cycle: From Toxics to Sustainability: Getting Off the Toxic Treadmill

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pp. 205-214

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. ...

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19. High-Tech Pollution in Japan: Growing Problems, Alternative Solutions

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pp. 215-224

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; see Japan Times 2001). ...

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20. High-Tech’s Dirty Little Secret: The Economics and Ethics of the Electronic Waste Trade

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pp. 225-233

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...

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21. Hi-Tech Heaps, Forsaken Lives: E-Waste in Delhi

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pp. 234-246

In a dark alley in Mandoli, a backyard recycling area in New Delhi, a young boy sits on the floor, dipping a high-tech, multi-layered printed circuit board (PCB) into a crumpled metal bowl containing an acid-like liquid. He is unaware that his hands hold the past 50 years of human technological advancement in the form of integrated circuits and electronic components. ...

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22. Importing Extended Producer Responsibility for Electronic Equipment into the United States

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pp. 247-259

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...

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23. International Environmental Agreements and the Information Technology Industry

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pp. 260-272

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). ...

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24. Design Change in Electrical and Electronic Equipment: Impacts of Extended Producer Responsibility Legislation in Sweden and Japan

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pp. 273-284

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, ...

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25. ToxicDude.com: The Dell Campaign

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pp. 285-297

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 man-...

Appendix A: Principles of Environmental Justice

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pp. 299-300

Appendix B: The Silicon Principles of Socially and Environmentally Responsible Electronics Manufacturing

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pp. 301-302

Appendix C: Sample Shareholder Resolutions

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pp. 303-305

Appendix D: Computer TakeBack Campaign Statement of Principles

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pp. 306-307

Appendix E: Electronics Recycler’s Pledge of True Stewardship

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pp. 308-309

Acronyms Used

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pp. 311-314


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pp. 315-336


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pp. 337-338


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pp. 339-341


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pp. 343-357

E-ISBN-13: 9781592133314

Publication Year: 2006