Environmental Malpractice 5: Custody Case 1, Egypt

This is part 5 of a series on the impacts of "E-Stewardship" and "Watchdog" campaigns in support of a boycott of 6 billion people (the "non-OECD").

- Part 1:  Due Disclosures
- Part 2:  Accidental Racism
- Part 3:  "Collateral Damage"
- Part 4:  Poverty Porn

The hard work by the fixers, tinkerers, repairers and geeks in emerging markets, has been crushed underfoot by planned obsolescence, white guilt, and false data.  Three names should be "e-waste martyrs":

Hamdy of Medi-com (Egypt)
Joseph Benson of BJ Electronics (UK, Nigeria)
Gordon of Advanced Global (Indonesia, Taiwan, Peru)


Each of these companies suffered a massive trauma from seizures of used electronics they had purchased, tested for the specifications they gave the seller.   In each case, they accepted a narrow lot of material - TVs of a specific size with RCA plugs, working CRT monitors for direct reuse, or CRTs of a certain size and model which could be remanufactured by a factory which used to make them.  They paid and arranged shipping, and paid about 10 times the value the items would have as scrap.

In each case, they were tried and convicted in the western press based on the "primitive" associations made by Basel Action Network.   False assumptions abou exports from rich countries (the ones with nice stuff), and photos of the domestic generation of "e-waste" in their own nations, were enough for the western press to cover the story without interviewing any of these men about their own "crimes".  

The headline that the used electronics were "exported" made these men "e-waste criminals".  BANimplied that the junk on the ground was the same that these three men imported.  It was not. And Interpol believed BAN, and wrote that (because the sale was "organized") that this was evidence of "organized crime". And no American or European reporter has called ANY of these men to get their side of the "e-Waste" story.

Now universities, like University of Washington, are being asked to "sign up" and show pride in a boycott which would make Senator Joe McCarthy blush.  We need Bob Dylan to write another "Hurricane" song.

Defamation Case #1:  MediCom of Egypt

From Majella Magazine:   Here are the children of Egypt, photographed provocatively next to garbage.  Even the Egyptians are now in the act of "poverty porn" (this is not a BAN.org photo).  This is from an article, Egypt, E-Waste, and the Digital Divide, by Arwa Aburawa
Egyptian children stand in a doorway flanked by piles of waste. It is not uncommon for impoverished children in Egypt to mine waste for raw materials
"According to recent statistics, the number of Egyptians using the internet increased 39 percent to 13.5 million between 2008 and 2009, and the number of people who owned a mobile phone went from 30 million to 48 million in the same period. The repair industry has no doubt played an important role in making such technologies available to those Egyptians on the lowest wages."
Two paragraphs later, Jim Puckett of BAN warns the writer, that the repair business is fraught with problems:
Jim Puckett from BAN, however, argues that “a lot of nasty imports are justified by the repair pretext” which creates hazardous waste (all be it over the course of a few years) that cannot be dealt with safely or effectively in developing countries. Anyone stating that they want to help developing nations bridge the digital divide by sending them electronic cast-offs also need to be questioned, as “e-waste is a toxic waste that needs to be dealt with and not traded with—we need to stop exporting our problems to others to deal with.” 
Jim Puckett says "a lot".  In the past, he was more specific.   The BAN estimate peaked at "Eighty to ninety percent"...  Basel Action Network was circulating bad estimates to the press for a decade.  BAN knows next to nothing about Medi-Com or other importers in Egypt.

"Eighty percent of interracial marriages end in abuse and divorce".    Imagine that totally fictious, alarmist, made up statisic...  It would be an outrage.

In 2008, as the demand for used PCs and displays was at its peak, BAN got its way.  Hosni Mubarak's government passed a law that defined any PC less than 5 years old (from date of manufacturer - which itself is usually 9-12 months prior to distribution - was "#ewaste".   For display devices like monitors, which last 25 years, and may not be sold off the shelf in the USA for a year after manufacture, that is like banning cars which are two years old... and for Egyptians, who earn

Jim presented the Egyptian law as "progress" in his 2010 presentation to Interpol - around the time of the Interpol's infamous "organized crime" report (if buyers are organized, and export is crime, see #2 below).  When I quizzed him whether "5 years from date of manufacture" made any sense for CRT monitors - which last 25 years - Jim said it wasn't his rule, it was Egypt's.  But he represented the Egypt rule in a positive light at the 2010 Alexandria / Washington EPA-Interpol conference I attended.

What is the Egyptian "e-waste" import business BAN wants HR2284 to take custody of?  What did California's SB20 law require "cancellation" (ruination of CRTs upon redemption, prior to export) succeed in stopping?

Medicom is an Egyptian owned company run by two Palestinian brothers who have medical degrees.  They specialized in display devices - computer monitors - which they purchased about 300,000 of during the past ten years.  Their clients - hospitals, blood banks, universities, internet cafes - were part of an economic blossoming of internet access.  Nations earning 10% of the USA per capita income were getting online at ten times the rate of growth of the USA and Europe.  When you are an Egyptian university student, you don't buy a brand new in box PC or Apple IPhone.  You use the same 17 inch CRT monitor I was using when I first started this blog five or six years ago.

In the discussions with Interpol, or with Majella Magazine, or in interview after interview to CBS 60 Minutes, NPR's Fresh Air, NPR Frontline, BAN is providing expertise that shippers like Hamdy of Medi-com are "in all likelihood" or "far too often" exposing children to toxics.  The burden of proof, in the environmental community, is on the Geeks of Color.

As I've written before, Hamdy and his brother Essam are friends of mine.  They were in their twenties when we met ten years ago, and lived with their parents in a single apartment with two sisters.  The father and mother were displaced Palestinians who moved to Libya and then Cairo to do accounting, and put all four of their kids through medical school in Alexandria.

At medical school, Hamdy was a tinkerer who fixed other students computers.  When he got his degree in biomedical engineering, there were really not many jobs, and he and Essam decided to go into business doing computer repair and distribution.  When I visited, in 2008, they had 5 stores and 22 employees, and imported specific computers and computer monitors of specific grades and quantities to win bids to set up hospitals, internet cafes, and dorms with working computers.

They rebranded the computers under their company's name, and provided one year warranty.  The jobs they created, which I've written about before, trained young Egyptians to repair monitors - first a trainee  learned a specific type of monitor and when he got good at repairing that specific one at scale, he could be cross trained and move up in the company.

These were good jobs for all involved, at least by standards in Cairo.  They weren't military, they weren't mining or extraction, they developed the same reverse-engineering and tinkering economy that built Singapore into the most sophisticated and developed Muslim economy in the world, along with another high tech refurbishing Mecca, in Dubai.

Hamdy and Essam's business was nearly destroyed in 2008 when the government seized 3 containerloads of used computers and labelled them "ewaste".  They were not allowed to even prove the 5 year allowance, they were simply seized at customs before the busy season.  Hamdy estimated their losses at $85,000 USA.

Here are photos from my trip in 2008, after the 3 containerloads were seized.  Has BAN been to Egypt?  Did they know what they were talking about in the interview with Majella magazine?

This is incredibly sad.   Jim told me this sounded to him like "collateral damage", but that the fully functional tested working 5 year from manufacture laws must be enforced for the greater good.   While the Basel Convention itself, in Annex IX B1110, explicitly allows this reuse and repair of CRT monitors, BAN obfuscated the international law, making reporters believe the "Basel Ban Amendment" (to change the law) had already been passed.   This created the cover dictatorships needed, allowing Egypt and China to presume their way out of the WTO Doha Round, which specifically mandates non-interference with refurbishing and repair businesses in the export and import realm.

This load is representative of the 300,000 computer displays imported by the brothers for sale in Egypt.

The monitors are grouped by brand;  certain brands are NOT imported or allowed under the purchase order, because Medicom doesn't want to repair those.  There are a defined quantity - not more or less than their company has orders for.   They eliminated 21" and 15" sizes after 2004 due to market demand - even though those, like the brands they don't accept, have a similar quantity of copper for primitive children to burn.

The jobs Hamdy creates are semi-technical.  Egypt has a high unemployment rate.  The young men he hires, like Muhammed and Omar, learn first to repair a specific brand and model of one monitor, which the company knows the "weak link" or "most likely failure" of.   (This is the same model for USA repair businesses, you train a technician based on one type of repair, and when they master it, you move them to another job).

Cracked plastic?  "Plastic surgery".   Medicom staff use a soldering gun to "stitch" the plastic back together using bare copper wire.  Before objecting to this type of work, visit the lifecycle analysis for a brand new monitor, and appreciate the embodied environmental costs which they preserve by making it good again.

Most of the 300,000 computer monitors these men purchased and repaired were sold in one of five retail stores.   I brought my family here, the foot traffic was incredible.  Three or four stories of shop after shop hawking either used and refurbished, or cheap no-name "good enough" Chinese brands.   Hamdy felt that the quality of our used equipment - if we followed his instructions and removed the sizes and models he didn't like to repair - was better than brand new electronics from China.

The democratic revolutions in the middle east were born online.   The people who are protesting the wording of Egypt's new constitution read about that constitution on CRTs.    

Incredibly sad.  These cases break my heart.

Hamdy deserved a chance to explain himself.  He is there in the photo with BAN's Sarah Westervelt in the previous Malpractice post.

I have about 275 photos from my trip to Egypt.  These are just a few.  In Fair Trade Recycling, when I'm doing business with someone, I have an obligation to fly them to meet my employees, and for me to go and meet theirs, and to do reconciliations so we know who is accountable, and so if Hamdy and Essam get something damaged, they are given the tools and funding to properly recycle it, just as they would one of the hundreds of computers people bring back to their shops for "trade in".

That trade in has huge potential to create a recycling infrastructure in the nations that need it.  Next we will have two more cases, one in Nigeria and one in Indonesia, to establish that this "collateral damage" isn't rare, but fits a pattern of denigrating 6 billion people in the "non-OECD" as somehow less capable than the people I hire in Middlebury at $10 per hour to do the repairs and refurbishing.

Have I proven that this buyer in Egypt is "good enough" to trade with?  Several USA e-waste companies initially sold me monitors to resell here.  I was buying from outside my company so I could replace models and sizes Hamdy didn't want with the correct ones from a larger pool.

The burden of proof, in BAN's world, is on me.   Just as "doubts were raised" about interracial marriage in Virginia USA in the 1960s to support the ban, BAN's job seems to be just to raise doubt about my partnership with Egypt.

California SB20 is the result.  Massive taxpayer subsidy to destroy working equipment, giving Medicom - and the blood banks, internet cafes, and hospitals they supply - less choice to pick from.  BAN says they just allow "tested working" and don't take responsibility for the internet carnage in Egypt.  But look at the quotes BAN gave the reporter.  And look at BAN's silence about Egypt's "no used monitors" laws, China's bans on week-old tested working computers, BAN's decade of silence about California SB20 cancellation clause, and BAN's award of "E-Steward" certification to companies with "no intact unit" and shredding standards.

Collateral damage.   Let BAN come out right now and say Hamdy was innocent.  If BAN resents me tying them to this case, let them say something different to the reporters covering the "e-waste" business in Egypt.

Let BAN start using the 15% statistic from the UNEP and Basel Secretariat studies.

If you don't want to be accused of collateral damage, why the darn silence?  Cat got your tongue?  SPEAK UP, BAN.   Speak out against the dictators, speak out against the Interpol report, take a pledge not to racially profile geeks of color.

Coming up:  Two more cases of Environmental Malpractice:  Indonesia and Nigeria.

It seems nothing ever comes to nothing up on Choctaw ridge.
And now Billy Joe McCallister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

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