Mobile phones, computers and TVs are blockbuster consumer products but their manufacture relies on and uses more than a thousand chemicals and other materials. This causes harm in production, exposes consumers to toxic chemicals during use, and releases toxic chemicals when products become electronic waste. That is why hazardous chemicals in electronics became a SAICM Global Emerging Policy Issue in 2009.
Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry (SHARPS) is an IPEN Participating Organization in South Korea who have documented the stories of 23 people whose lives have been profoundly impacted by the electronics industry in the film Stories from the Clean Room. Since 2007, SHARPS has collected more than 300 cases of occupational diseases in workers and achieved more than ten cases of legal recognition linking diseases to work in the electronics industry, mostly as precedent-setting decisions.
But because companies routinely claim “trade secrets” to conceal links between worker diseases and the company’s working environment and to prevent its sick workers from receiving compensation, the issue of toxic electronics has remained largely invisible. SHARPS hopes to increase global awareness through a global campaign to screen Stories from the Clean Room. Stories from the Clean Room will screen in 20+ countries and will bring greater visibility to the issue, bring support for SHARPS campaign for justice, and help to grow the movement for health and environmental safety.
In Kenya, the Environmental Compliance Institute, an IPEN Participating Organization, held two screenings of the documentary film in July and October 2018 respectively. Over 70 participants drawn from government, civil society (NGOs, trade unions, women and youth organizations), academia, industry and attended the screening.
In addition to the issues of worker right to know, the Clean Room screening raised awareness about women and chemicals and sustainable development.
- Women and Chemicals: Toxic exposures to electronics workers is an example of women and chemical issues as in many countries over 80% of the electronics assembly force is comprised of young women of child-bearing age. A number of peer reviewed studies have determined an association between work in the electronics industry and reproductive aberrations including increased risk of miscarriage.
- As the global hub for electronics production shifted from the US to Asia, the industry also outsourced toxic chemical use as production soared. By the mid-1970s, there were about one million workers in electronics production in Asia and 90% of them were women. The growing sector is expanding into countries where labor is cheap and protections minimal or non-existent. Samsung offers developing countries manufacturing and job development, and in return, governments offer Samsung significant tax breaks with public funds.