200 civil society groups are challenging the industry to be accountable to workers and nearby communities by improving chemical safety.
FMT Reporters | March 17, 2015
GEORGE TOWN: Workers in the electronics sector in Asia and Latin America are suffering from exposure to harmful chemicals, according to civil society organisations.
The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president SM Mohamed Idris said that civil society groups had reported hundreds of cases of electronics production workers falling ill in the past five years in Asia.
He said studies showed that electronics workers in China, South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand, among others, had been exposed 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 sector is a main industry.
“But there is growing evidence of illnesses and cancer among electronics workers,” said Idris, who is also the Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president, in a statement here today.
“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,” he said.
He explained that global activists had challenged industry players to protect workers from being harmed by toxic chemicals during an international conference on Monday, March 16.
He said the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), an industry association representing over 100 electronics companies, met in Brussels to discuss chemical management strategies.
In the conference, some 200 civil society groups from electronics production across the world endorsed a “Challenge” to the electronics industry to take meaningful actions to prevent harm and to be accountable to workers and nearby communities by improving chemical safety.
The groups included labour movements, environmental organisations, occupational health and safety experts, and human rights organisations.
Led by GoodElectronics Network (GEN) and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT), the groups delivered the “Challenge”, outlining global concerns and demands over chemical safety.
“The industry should assume responsibility and take meaningful action beyond their current weak standards and ineffective auditing systems,” the groups demanded.
Industry representatives, however, admitted that their regular corporate audits did not find that work-related chemical-induced illnesses were a problem.
Idris said CAP, SAM and the Electrical Industry Workers Union (EIWU) were Malaysian groups backing the “Challenge.”
Ted Smith of ICRT was quoted as saying that even the most technically savvy companies in the world astonishingly didn’t know all the materials used in their own products or supply chain production factories.
“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,” Smith reportedly told the conference.
The conference was informed that since 2007, 35 workers in Yumi’s chip plant and another plant in South Korea had developed leukaemia or lymphoma, and 10 had died.
One death was of 23-year old Yumi Hwang on March 6, 2007.
Hwang died from leukaemia after having worked for several years in a Samsung chip plant in South Korea.
Her illness was acknowledged as a case of occupational disease by the court after an eight-year legal struggle.
GoodElectronics and ICRT have invited the industry to give feedback to the Challenge while the EICC has set up a chemical task force to address the problem.
“These corporate audits don’t uncover chemical exposures and other labour rights violations all the way down the supply chain.
“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,” said Pauline Overeem, GEN coordinator.