Corporate Skullduggery and Competition in E-WasteAbout 25 years ago, I was hanging out in the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) student union cafeteria. I'd returned from Peace Corps (training contractor in Cameroon), and was headed for an MBA program in Boston. We had an impassioned conversation with hippy-ish friends about my plans to change the world, fight for the environment "from inside the system". At least one of my pals was incredulous, said it would be impossible.
I'm still optimistic about my choice, even if most of my contributions are deflecting friendly fire from other environmentalists (ignorantly aimed at African, Latin American, and Asian "geeks of color"). But sometimes things get a little scary.
In the past 4 months:
1) Someone reported us anonymously to the state Fire Marshall for not having an inspected fire system. Our QA/QC VP is an emergency medical EMT, and has it inspected religiously. Shrugged it off, but when we asked the Fire Marshall to test our furnace for CO, he wrote the CO report as a "response to complaint" (evidently it counts as complaining on yourself in Vermont when you ask to borrow a CO monoxide meter).
2) Someone reported us to R2 Solutions something on ebay.
3) Someone listed our website as a blacklisted spam sender. - RESOLVED... This is Network Solutions own "report spam" tool, when you get spam in your Netsol mailserver box, do NOT use the Network Solutions own "report spam" button, because if you use the same server to forward your mail, your mailserver gets listed as a spam server. Network Solutions, hello?? (JUMP TO BOTTOM if you are looking into this MXToolbox issue.)
4) Someone reported us to a major credit agency collector for non-payment of a bogus bill which had been paid (that competitor we know).
5) Someone reported us to the R2 inspector, saying that a maquiladora is export (we have letters stating it is NOT export, and the CRTs that fail testing and are shipped back to the USA are considered our property. This is the equivalent of telling Sony or Panasonic that if they have new CRTs assembled in Mexico, and one of them fails or breaks, that Sony or Panasonic are "exporting for recycling" even though they bring the rejected tube back to the USA).
There's more, actually, that I can't disclose here.
There is one competitor we know for sure hired a corporate intelligence person, and when I contacted a New England private investigation service (largest) they were "conflicted out" (i.e. already hired by a competitor who listed us as a target).
So what? So... what? So, what now? What?
Is this the product of "roll ups", the acquisition of e-scrap recyclers by larger and larger companies? Huge companies like Nationwide, ERI, URT have made acquisitions of electronics recyclers in the past years. Or a passionate follower of Basel Action Network, trying to save children from Fair Trade Recycling's poisonous message of inclusion?
Or am I just finding it difficult to sleep while wearing a tin foil hat? Our company is large enough now to simply expense the fines and costs. And the large Connecticut competitor who used back channels to take away our winning bid for our largest client (Oyster Bay Long Island), via a "sole source" award, they saved our lives. The New York Stewardship law chiefs had told the OEMs "no penalties for low tonnage" the first year, and none of those bills were getting paid. The competitor is now "out of the municipal recycling business" and did not submit a bid for our latest state contracts. Sweet unintended consequences... A Simple Twist of Fate.
Best thing is just to treat corporate skullduggery like petty vandalism of the 21st century. When I worked in the paper recycling business in Boston, we had to deal with spray paint graffiti. We'll probably just have to hire a firm to monitor our credit ratings, internet reputation, etc. But maybe this is more and more a part of normal business in America, maybe the same things are happening to other mom-and-pop companies in carpeting, painting, carpentry coffee-sales... Maybe it's worth saying something just so people realize what is going on. Because very large companies have good people working inside them, and if the word gets out among their own employees that something like this is going on, it will hurt them more than it hurts us. How would you like to come to work in the morning for a company engaged in skullduggery? I'd associate the activity list above with a company that has high turnover.
American corporate skullduggery has a long tradition. The battles between Tesla and Edison (backed by JP Morgan) are astonishing in the way they affect us to this very day. And it certainly exists in scrap and waste businesses, and the story of the mafia-controlled breakup in NYC (Takedown, Rick Cowen). I remember when a NJ company tried to buy my partner Dick's warehouse from the landlord... imagine waking up and finding your biggest competitor now had keys to your property?
As Chinese corporations begin to buy companies in the American stock market, and large electronics recyclers build factories in Asia, I think that like GMO pollen, the tactics are out. Or maybe they aren't uniquely American to begin with.
I remember convincing my pal Yadji in Ngaoundal Cameroon that I thought it was crazy that the first thing Cameroonians did when they decided to build a house was to cut down the trees. He agreed, with a sheepish smile... that's right, they give shade, and he wondered why he had been motivated to do that.
So, Yadji went and got mango tree saplings and planted them around the borders of the plot of land he'd just purchased. When his next door neighbor, who worked for the Sous-Prefecture (local town hall) asked what Yadji was doing, Yadji explained that he regretted cutting down trees in the yard, and was planting mango trees to replace them.
A week later, the neighbor came from the sousprefecture with paperwork extending his property line by one meter - taking over the line of mango saplings Yadji had just planted. Yadji came to me saying this was what was discouraging to Africans... and it's true. I have seen people in Africa afraid to dream big, to think big, or invest big, afraid the fruits of their labor will be regarded with jealousy and taken away with government skullduggery.
I told Yadji that his neighbor will probably be dead by the time the mango trees were large enough to bear fruit, and he would probably be wise to bide his time, or plant more saplings closer to his house.
Yadji is now passed, and probably the nasty neighbor is, too. But jealousy and revenge are alive and well and thriving on the internet. The children of Ngaoundal must be eating mangoes today, thanks to the time Yadji took to plant them and water them.
If you are lucky enough to find a career in something you passionately care about, you can shrug off this stuff. If my competitors succeeded in putting my small company out of business, I'd be fine, and would have a lot of time on my hands, and probably would make more money than I make lugging around 10 million pounds of used television equipment.
I will not cease to care about the mangoes we have planted, even if someone else takes them, or I die before I watch the children eat them. I have no photos of kids eating mangoes from the trees Yadji planted.
Below is a photo from a missionary's Zambia blog, Laurie in Africa. She started the blog in May 2008, and ended it after a post or two. I'm crediting her photo, not sure the ethics of that, but I'm guessing the mother and child eating the mango were probably not compensated either. Cue the mango poster child union.
"On my first trip to Africa in 2004, we met this woman in one of the villages currently being supported by the LIFE Project. She was waiting with other mothers and their sick children for a mobile medical clinic to arrive, but it never came. Our team ended up praying for many of them after telling them about Jesus and His power to heal. A few months later, after recognizing such great need in this area, Dumbwa Village in the Mukuni Region of Zambia, the LIFE Project was formed by Overland Missions."
I also enjoyed this quote from her blog, of Dr. David Livingstone. I'm very comfortable in my religion, even if I have a childlike uncertainty which keeps me from evangelizing. I don't even push it on my own kids. I kind of think that the true mark of faith is to treat all matters truthfully, and in our truthfulness with each other, our beliefs might have a passive value on others, or we may, by listening for truth, find a different spiritual truth we would not have heard if we were talking non-stop about our own faith. My faith is big enough a place for me to assume that the mangoes that grow from it may make a difference after I'm gone, and if they don't, someone else's mangos will make a difference to someone else, and that the planting of our good works, together, makes more difference than the egos, ownership, and sous-prefecture property lines by which we try to "possess" them.
"God, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. And sever any tie in my heart except the tie that binds my heart to yours." - Dr. David Livingstone
and here below is how you get your own email flagged as SPAM (if you use GMAIL to recover your mail). By flagging spam at netsol, the fact you download it to GMAIL evidently gets you listed as a spam server (I use the response to my own request, I did not actually click Netsol as "report spam", I clicked actual spam and it got applied to my Netsol address). In the theme of "friendly fire", we try doing vigilante work and reporting spam, and hurt ourselves. A bit like clicking an "Exporter" button in the e-waste trade...