|The circuit boards are desoldered by placing them on shallow grills that are heated underneath by a can filled with coal or by direct use of a flame. In the grill is a pool of molten lead-tin solder. The circuit boards are heated in the pooled solder until the components are removable. The solder is removed by slapping the board hard against a brick. Then components, such as ICs, capacitors and resistors are plucked out with pliers and processed.
|The ICs are sorted into those valuable for resale and those to be sent to the acid chemical strippers for gold recovery.
|| Local well water is already undrinkable, even after boiling, so fresh supplies must be trucked in from the town of Chan Dim 15 kilometres away.
Our goal as participatory researchers was to collaborate with activists to produce new knowledge that would also be of potential use
to those pursuing an agenda for social change.
Free Soil: Could you tell a bit about what led you to write the book "The Silicon Valley of Dreams"?
David Pellow has had a long-running interest as a scholar and activist focusing on environmental and labor issues. During a postdoctoral year at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, David began to work with an environmental justice organization in San Jose and got to know the community activists in the area. Much of my work has focused on immigrant labor and health. That same year, I was a postdoctoral fellow across the Bay at UC San Francisco at the Institute for Health Policy Studies. The stories and issues that David raised from his work in Silicon Valley intrigued me because they coincided not only with my research interests but also with my family history. When my family first emigrated to U.S. from South Korea, we lived in the Mountain View area of Silicon Valley and my parents, aunts, and uncles all worked in the high-tech industry at some point. The book “The Silicon Valley of Dreams” became a culmination of both of our scholarly and personal commitments.
Free Soil: For the book you have been doing a lot of fieldwork, and have been working in Environmental Justice organizations. You describe this as participatory research. Can you tell about you research methodologies?
Our goal as participatory researchers was to collaborate with activists to produce new knowledge that would also be of potential use to those pursuing an agenda for social change. Our work was reviewed not only by academics but also activists. Personally, I was more nervous about the activists’ response given their “on-the-ground” expertise. In the end, it worked out well and this research project has helped us develop strong, continuing relationships with people we respect.
Free Soil: The book puts emphasis on docu- menting and describing the often dangerous conditions in which people work and live. At the same time, you make an effort to talk about what there is to fight for, i.e. environmental justice. Can you describe this concept?
Environmental justice is a goal, a vision in which all communities have the right to live, work, play, pray, and learn in environments free of toxics; these are environments characterized by democratic governance and accountability. In other words, environmental justice is the combination of social justice and ecological sustainability. As we investigate this concept further, we find that where there is oppression there is always resistance. Frequently, resistance manifests in hidden ways that are not always self-evident. You have to look for it and we believe that documenting these activities is an important tool for understanding the politics of environmental justice.
Free Soil: Can you give an example of how the high-tech industry has endangered the environment and peoples working conditions- an example of environmental injustice in Silicon Valley/San José area, and where it is most evident?
The electronics industry is a chemical intensive industry, which means that environmental injustices are par for the course, rather than accidental occurrences or aberrations. The chemicals being used in this industry are inherently dangerous, and have been linked to a wide range of health impairments that disproportionately affect immigrant women and other workers of color. There is still much work to be done in Silicon Valley to ensure better, safer working and living conditions.
Free Soil: There has been some efforts to clean up after pollution made by the high-tech industry. What is your view on the Superfund program?
There has been little progress in this regard. The Superfund program itself has been effectively dismantled and defunded by the Bush regime and the most toxic operations in Silicon Valley have not been cleaned up; instead, the toxics have been shipped abroad to places in Latin America and Asia, as the electronics industry globalizes.
Free Soil: There are some organizations working with the issues you are dealing with in your book; Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, and the Basel Action Network to mention two. Can you give examples on how grassroot organizations have shaped the agenda or contributed to change.
Grassroots organizations have not only contributed to the social change agenda but formed and lead the movement. There wouldn’t be a story without them. From the media campaigns that first exposed the environmental issues in the high-tech industry to the on-going worker safety and leadership training programs, community organizations have kept the issue in the public eye and forced the government and corporations to at least pay some attention to environmental and worker hazards.
Free Soil: What are in your view the most effective strategies for change, and what would be the most important steps in bettering the condition?
Social change in this field requires collaborative transnational strategies. In 2002, the International Campaign for Responsible Technology was launched in San Jose. This is a solidarity network comprised of activists and scholars supporting environmental justice and labor rights campaigns around the world where electronics industry clusters are found. As a result of legislative and corporate campaigns, many states in the US, the EU, and companies like H-P, Compaq, Dell, and Apple all have adopted more environmentally friendly approaches to electronics production and disposal as a direct result of the pressure that the ICRT and its member groups have applied.
Free Soil: Since you have written the book, the industrial production of computer parts are increasingly being moved to Mexico and Asia. Can you talk about the global perspective in this, because it seems that when production moves it is often to areas that haven't got environmental standards in place and have little or no tradition for environmental activism?
These transnational movements of production are not happenstance. Hazardous technologies and toxic wastes from high-tech production move to those countries with weak environmental regulations. But as we noted earlier, we often must look deeper to find resistance practices, including environmental activism. Judging by recent campaigns against the electronics, timber, mining, petroleum, and hydropower industries, we think it’s safe to say that Latin America and Asia both have impressive environmental justice movement networks operating within indigenous and working class communities. But even these home grown movements must reach out transnationally to create a true global grassroots resistance force, and this is why the ICRT and related global networks have formed in recent years. Global problems require global solutions.
Environmental Injustice, Immigrant Workers, and the High-Tech Global Economy
David Naguib Pellow and Lisa Sun-Hee Park
New York University Press, 2002
The Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
The Basel Convention was created in 1989 in an effort to counter the unsustainable and unjust effects of free trade in toxic wastes.
Challenging The Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry
Temple University Press, 2006
This book a comprehensive examination of the impacts of electronics manufacturing on workers and local environments around the world.
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
San Jose, Santa Clara County, California
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) is a diverse grassroots coalition that engages in research, advocacy, and organizing around the environmental and human health problems caused by the rapid growth of the high-tech electronics industry.
Basel Action Network
BAN is the world's only organization focused on confronting the excesses of unbridled free trade in the form of “Toxic Trade” (trade in toxic wastes, toxic products and toxic technologies) and its devastating impact on global environmental justice.