Fair Trade Recycling Summit Now Online

The streaming by Middlebury is captured on USTREAM online.  We've had 156 235 online participants (so far).

I'm listening over again to key parts of the Summit.  In Jon Isham's class, Katharina Kummer Peiry (outgoing chief at the Basel Convention Secretariat) describes how the "group of 77" developing nations first negotiating as "developing nations" has changed.  When extremely advanced economies like Brazil and Singapore are put side by side with Lesotho, Chad and Sudan, the functionality of the Basel Convention begins to tear.

Frederic Fahiri Somda of Burkina Faso opened the discussion (in French) by speaking about the huge difference between drums of toxic waste solvents dumped on African beaches (a Basel enforcement he strongly supports) in contrast with the cell phones and internet ready computers, which he says are more important and vital to Africa today than paved roads, electricity and running water.   He said it was obvious to Africans that buying brand new computers and cell phones was a false solution.   People earning under $3000 per year are getting online at ten times the rate of people in rich countries.  Arresting the Africans who risk their money and reputations to bring those computers to their home countries is a perverse misuse of the convention.

Kyle Wiens spoke from California on the complex negotiations over repair manuals, and the conflict of interest between certain shredding companies and certain original manufacturers and the secondary market.  Reed Miller and Andrea Boron presented data from their research, which emphasized the importance of the secondary market, not just in tonnage, but in value and jobs created.  Selling a computer monitor for $21 to Egypt is nothing like dumping the monitor on a beach, and even comparing the two is ignorant.

Adam Minter of ShanghaiScrap.com described the evolution of circuit recycling in places like Guiyu and India.  Chips are actually reused, and the leftover chips are now sold to very high tech smelters in Belgium and Japan.   Wire burning is rather obsoleted by new equipment that reuses the wire casings.

Oscar Adrian Orta of Mexico, Muhammed Wahab Odoi of Ghana, and Eric Prempeh of Good Point Recycling (orginally a Ghana Tech), put a human face on the buyers, users, repairers and generators of e-scrap in poorer cities around the globe.   The e-waste filmed outside those cities, they said, had been generated by users inside the cities, used and repaired for years, and that the conflation of imports with dumps is no more correct in Africa than it would be to assume Japan is sending junk cars to the USA, because we see the used cars at Toyota, Nissan, and Honda dealerships.

I'll blog more about the Summit when I have time to listen to more.

The highlight to me was meeting Interpol's Therese Shryane, who participated via Skype from Europe.  She described the Christmas Arrests of traders in used computers sourced in Europe and destined for Africa.   Adelaide Rivereau, our own intern from Europe (France) described here "training" in E-Waste in her masters program as consisting of ten year old Basel Action Network video.   Adelaide made a crystal clear point (in an adorable French accent), that if the enforcement community is trained via propaganda films, that the unintended consequences are to be expected as more of a norm than an outlier.  Lynn Rubinstein of NERC.org showed intense understanding of Adelaide's point... as the educator of American regulators, NERC has distinguished itself by participating in R2 (Responsible Recycling), one of the lead organizations in defending "geeks of color" overseas.

The end of the Summit brought the only terse words - between Martijn van Engelan of Holland, and an attendee from Panasonic.  The OEM had said that they couldn't risk their stock and brands being attacked by environmentalists, even if the attacks were unfounded.   Martijn challenged Panasonic on moral grounds to stand up to the "liars".   This slide show (link), includes film of one former contract manufacturing assembly factory for Panasonic products in Southeast Asia.  When the company no longer got orders from Panasonic to make new CRTs, they began buying used ones from the USA, and refurbishing them with brand new boards for sale in India, Mideast, and Africa.

We greatly appreciated David's participation in the Summit, but listening to the final 13 minutes, I think Martijn has a point.  If Panasonic will not even defend its own ISO14001 vetted subcontractors, then they cannot defend their own warranty returns.   We have seen how the "watchdogs" turned on a dime in the NY Times coverage of CRT glass piles.   The CRT glass piles are in the USA, not overseas (where the Watchdogs falsely said 80% of them went).   If the Watchdog can so quickly turn and bite the hand of the shredders, they will turn on Panasonic, Sony and Dell's upstream assembly partners and contract manufacturers.   Failing to defend your assemblers is a mistake Apple almost made with Foxconn.

Americans may think that six billion people in the world wear grass skirts and suffer starvation because they cannot distinguish between a photo taken at a city dump and a description of engineering and original design manufacturing of display devices and smartphones.  But the failure of American Geography classes does not extend to the rest of the world, which is today the largest market for companies like Panasonic.  If they think their sales are going to be hurt in America by failing to stand up for their partners, perhaps they should consider the benefits of multicultural friendships.

That's has been my takeaway from trading overseas.   At yesterday's Fair Trade Recycling Summit, we tried to make it a "giveaway".

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