Well, they mean well. Like the “boycott coffee” people meant to help the farmers in the 1980s. This demands fair trade. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, former state ewaste regulator, and current electronics recycler, it pains me to see big accounts (like the whole state of California, and now Dell) try to “one-up” the EPA, Basel Convention, United Nations, etc. by bandwagoning their anti-reuse policy. It’s like obsolescence in hindsight. Every major institution which has looked at this had ruled that export for reuse and repair is legal, ethical, sustainable, and beneficial. The problem is the junk mixed in by companies who don’t screen the loads.
What pays for $5000+ transport fees overseas? The good repairable and working stuff in the container. That value is also what is most likely to pay for a living wage and environmental health and safety. The problem isn't "export", its that exporters who care about nothing but price. Here’s a short video which explains WR3A.org’s approach.
When t-shirts are imported, or coffee, or other manufactured goods, and we care about nothing but price, that creates sweat shops. But the idea of growing coffee here in the USA is not gonna work, and t-shirt manufacturing probably won't either. The Fair Trade concept was created to make a healthy competition between overseas business partners - we'll buy more coffee from you, or increase prices, if you pay your workers better, provide health care, etc. It is cheaper to make life better in a poor country than to cut the poor country off, do the work here, and then send international aid packages.
The real irony?
The monitor refurbisher (ISO14001, described in previous blog and focus at the end of our video) is located in the same part of Malaysia that Dell manufacturing is located. Dell and other computer makers learned to sub out assembly of computer monitors there more than a decade ago. "Electronic Contract Manufacturing", or outsourcing of assembly and "non-core competencies" is credited to IBM in 1981. "Manufacturer Take-back" for TVs and monitors is a difficult idea because the assembly of those has not been with the brand company for decades.
It was done by companies which are now refurbishing. So Dell (in this case) is saying that the company in Malaysia can assemble or manufacture the monitor, but cannot disassemble it, or repair it. When the outsourcing was questioned in the late 80s, OEMs defended it as bringing good jobs to low wage countries. Now the factories are already built, and want to "take back" the monitors. First they were told to get permits, so they did. Then they were told to show end market audits, which they did. Then they were told to get ISO14001, and to recycle incidental breakage. Now BAN and Greenpeace and SVTC seem to applaud cutting them off at the knees.
Dell likes our idea of moving the Malaysia operation to Mexico (an OECD country). Here is a recent NPR story on an individual in the “nameless faceless” international recycling community, one of "Las Chicas Bravas" of Retroworks de Mexico. Can’t we improve Ms. Vicki’s life more by trading with her women’s recycling coop, rewarding them for improving work conditions, and sending them some good stuff? Do we really want to send her back to the copper mine?
Wouldn't Dell be a perfect partner for Ms. Vicki? Or her counterparts in Malaysia, who used to manufacture CRT monitors for Dell and now rebuild them? But the fear now is, if we invest all that energy in Mexico, as we did in Malaysia, will it be in time? And if we do it, as we did in Mexico, what is to keep the next Bandwagon from saying "No Exports" to Mexico, just as they now say "No Exports" to the factories where the monitors were made?
Break it unless it is under warranty? The only places that are set up to do that have ZERO monitor repair. So this is a game, "our policy is to reuse, but we only allow monitors to be processed by companies with zero repair on-site". It is so depressing to see so much positive coverage when EPA, United Nations, and the Basel Convention group all REJECTED this policy in international discussions.
Fair Trade Recycling Video