"How can there be peace without people understanding each other; and how can this be if they don't know each other?" - Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lester B. Pearson
How can there be fair trade without people trading with each other, and how can this happen if they don't know each other?
I make many arguments about the wisdom of prohibitions, and the unintended consequences of isolationism in the name of anti-exploitation. Drawing the blinds on Africa won't make the poor children go away.
But I also know that the e-waste being generated by the "other billions of people" in the non-OECD is piling up, just as it is here. Exporting used equipment may not be the direct cause of those piles, but it will not by itself solve those piles. Fair Trade Recycling is intended to attach conditions to the sale of used equipment which seed the collection and proper recycling of that equipment in the nations generating it.
When IT buyers from Africa come over to inspect equipment they may buy, they are exposed to a facility which is properly dismantling the equipment they don't want. They don't see a big heavy shredder that they could never hope to afford. Instead, they see hand disassembly, people doing jobs they can imagine their family or tribe members doing.
(Yes, I used the word tribe. It's cool, trust me.)
Fair trade recycling is about getting to know each other. Even if no price is agreed to and no sale takes place, simply agreeing to meet an African, Chinese, or South American buyer, to shake their hands, and to listen carefully to learn what it is they want to buy, that is getting to know the e-waste trade.
Creating laws and corporate policies which ban the trade preserves ignorance.
I hung out with a couple of very nice people at the ISRI recycling trade show this week. Excellent people. They were talking about people who stack and pack old televisions, like the ones that make up 60% of our collections. I said I'd never met such a person. I think that maybe if they relax their policies against exporting used equipment, they will hear out more of the buyers, and get to know them.
Whether or not they make money, they'll learn how make a little more rare the stereotype that never actually exists. Most of the information that has been provided online and through the press about used electronics trade and recycling has been concocted by people who don't know what they are talking about, and are making it up as the go along. That's the same problem with people who criticize alternative marriages, or want to choose neighborhoods or co-workers based on race or color.
The more we isolate ourselves, the more we don't learn good.