Posted January 11, 2011 by SVTC
Categories: Uncategorized

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Formal But Not Yet Safe

Posted August 24, 2012 by SVTC
Categories: Uncategorized

In 2009, SVTC traveled to India to work with Chintan, a group in Delhi working on the electronic waste (e-waste) issue. Together we produced the film, Citizens at Risk. In the following blog series we will be updating you on the progress of the work to work with informal recyclers to improve working conditions and legalize their operations. Below is a blog authored by Bharati Chaturvedi, Executive Director, of Chintan.

Apple products are poisoning workers who make them. This is well known, thanks to a long campaign by activists. Recently, Apple accepted this too and promised to remedy this.

That’s good news. Ensuring worker safety is an important step towards cleaner electronics. But back here in India, it is workers at the other end of a product’s life cycle that we should worry about-at the end of disposal.  Informal waste collectors and dismantlers handle over 90% of India’s e-waste. Yet, their work is not clean. They work in the heat, the monsoon and in the icy cold winter, under appalling conditions. Experience tells us that even when they become formal, by forming associations or companies, their safety and health may still be compromised, unless producers themselves shift to clean production.

Let me explain. When you form a company or an association, you can apply for permits to be an e-waste collector. When you get this permit, which can take up to a year and many indirect costs, you can go out and collect electronic waste. What then?

For most informal sector actors, collection and selling e-waste to other dismantlers is still the best option. Dismantling requires more investment in training, skilled workers already familiar with dismantling, additional equipment and tools etc. This is difficult to procure even if you are organized. What is even harder is that many bigger cities are unwilling to give permits to set up more dismantling units,  because they see dismantling electronics as a highly toxic enterprise because of what’s inside the old computers, phones, T.Vs and other electronics we trash. Delhi and its neighbouring city, NOIDA, are two cases in point. This trend is likely to expand to other bigger cities. Unfortunately, they have a point-electronics do have toxics inside them.  And while dismantling is not a toxic process, and does not burn or extract any metals, it can still lead to some toxic releases. If monitors break, for example. Or when they use blow torches, operating at high temperatures, to remove smaller components from mother boards.

This means that workers from the informal sector cannot value add and earn the most money from the e-waste they collect because the manufacturers have pumped them up with dangerous chemicals and this has the authorities very wary about dismantling except by very capital intensive plants. This is worrying for two reasons. First, that poor-and inconsiderate- design reduces the legal earning for such workers. Second, that this acts as a disincentive for workers who are currently dismantling to actually formalize, because they will have to change their line of business to collection, where their core skills will be unused. They may even experience a reduction in incomes. Such a disincentive is bad for them and bad for the environment. If they continue to dismantle, they bear the brunt of the toxics in electronics. If they expand their business, as many of them hope to do, collection will only be a means of vertical integration and to secure their dismantling  businesses. It will be peripheral. For most, real expansion means adding value and increasing incomes from opportunities in extraction-even if it is illegal. Again, they will end up exposing themselves and other workers to dioxins, lead and acid fumes.

The new rules on e-waste in India, the E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011,  mandate toxics reduction. Despite the occasional criticism of these, they are a first step to making electronic waste handling fair on the workers. More important is that producers of electronics clean up the insides of their products. Apple has taken a step, although it has a long way to go. The others must take their first step soon. It’s time to stop letting the workers at either end of the product chain to take in the poisons from our hyper-connected, comfortable life-styles.



Posted May 10, 2012 by SVTC
Categories: Uncategorized

Solar industry leaders are making slow but steady progress toward achieving the sustainability goals outlined in our 2009 report, Toward a Just and Sustainable Solar Industry.

Despite economic disruptions and dramatic price drops in solar panels, many solar companies remain committed to the environmental principles outlined by SVTC.  SolarWorld, First Solar, Solon, Sovello, and Yingli have responded to the Solar Scorecard since 2010 and we would like to thank them for their leadership.

Although the overall number of companies responding to the Solar Scorecard survey has remained steady at about 14, the total market share of the participating companies has doubled from 26% in 2010 to 51% in 2012.

We think that the increase in participation from larger companies is a good sign for the solar industry. SunPower (4.4% market share), REC (3.3% market share), and Trina (8.1% market share) have responded to the Solar Scorecard survey since 2011. In 2012 we welcomed the participation of Suntech (10.4 % market share). Companies that are actively implementing environmental programs want to differentiate themselves from the laggards who are actively cutting cost by sacrificing environmental protections.

Solar companies are considered “green” businesses and therefore should enthusiastically report their environmental practices.

We have learned that start-ups and smaller companies, typically strapped for time and resources to commit to sustainability programs, do not score as high as the larger companies. We are very encouraged and impressed by Motech, Solon, SoloPower, and Sovello’s willingness to continue to respond to the survey and demonstrate their commitment to environmental issues.

As the industry continues to consolidate, less than 15 companies sell 90% of the PV modules on the market.  It would be a travesty for the solar companies with the cheapest modules, yet most egregious environmental practices, to be deemed industry winners.

Any company that refers to itself as a “green” business should make its environmental record available to the public.  Thus, SVTC turned to the information publicly available on the websites of companies who did not respond to the Solar Scorecard to score their environmental practices.   LDK and Jinko Solar earned zero points.  Hanwha SolarOne, Schott, and Canadian Solar earned two points each. In SVTC’s third year of releasing the Scorecard, we’ve come to realize that companies who respond to the Scorecard survey are industry leaders who are driving environmental changes.  Conversely, companies that do not respond to our survey and do not post information on their websites probably have very little positive news to report.

We hope customers will use the Solar Scorecard to make purchasing decisions that support companies with the best environmental records.

Here is a summary of the progress we’ve seen among the industry leaders over the last 3 years:

  • 92% companies responding to the survey said they would publicly support extended producer responsibility, up from 57%  in 2010.
  • 100% of the companies reported they do not use prison labor and eight of the companies have written policies forbidden this practice. This is up from the 64 % of the companies that reported they would not use prison labor in 2010.
  • 86% of companies that respond to survey have a code of conduct in with their suppliers that is in alignment with Social Accountability International 8000 standard, which ensures that working conditions are free from child or forced labor, provide a safe and healthy living environment, and comply with local laws for collective bargaining, working hours, discrimination, and compensation. In 2010 only 42 percent of the companies required their direct suppliers to follow a worker code of conduct or other set of publicly available standards