"They shouldn't have to make that choice." This was the NGO leader's answer to CBS Reporter (now anchor) Scott Pelley in 2008, when Pelley asked whether the scrap pickers in Guiyu had another job to go to.
Johnny Be Goode Enough.
Perhaps they did have another choice. Picking cabbage. Agriculture is an honorable job. A dangerous job, a job with insecticides, moving blades, and risk of death. But many of the Africans in TV repair could, if they wanted, have stayed in the rural sahel, Savannah or forests.
Just don't kid yourself, it's not "back to Eden."
MRO - Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul - if taken off the table - leaves worse choices.
This is the eighth blog about the decision to scrimmage environmental enforcement agents to arrest "e-waste #wastecrime criminals". I've focused on Joe Benson, because his was the case Jim Puckett put on display at a conference last November, showing off news coverage by UK Independent reporter Cahil Milmo.
Maybellene, why can't you be true?
Last November, at that "E-waste Summit" in Las Vegas, I had a face to face with Jim Puckett and Mike Enberg of BAN and E-Stewards, which I wrote about in the "Environmental Malpractice" series. That series of blogs centered around the Interpol crackdown (which we were documenting before Interpol's press release). Jim and Mike are really nice people with good hearts, and I wanted to try to just ask them why they wouldn't be concerned about a man like Joe Benson, who Jim had just run down in his Powerpoint (without recognize the man's name... You've been reporting his arrest for years, trumpeting it in your 2009 Annual Report, pairing the news with Pieter Hugo photos... and don't know his name...)
He never ever learned to read and write so well, but he could [fix a TV] just like ringing a bell.
"Collateral Damage?" Did Jim actually say those words? I swear he did. He said he felt bad for any individual caught violating international law, as a person. But the law must be enforced. If we can arrest a TV repairman, who can't we arrest for #wastecrime? Metal sorters? Cabbage fertilizers? Fair Trade Cotton farmers? Cabbage dealers? For most of the people in the developing and emerging markets, the bottom line is that Europe is a lot like Africa. Badges and handcuffs and financial fines are the tools of bullyboys. No habeus corpus, no Basel law broken, just a presumption of "primitive", based on what?
Ask Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird while Chuck Berry was in prison, convicted under the Mann Act, a border-crossing crime, like Joe Jackson (the boxer). It has been a few years, Benson seems ripe for a cross-border crime.
By "Law" Jim actually means a proposed law his organization is proponent for, the Basel Ban Amendment. Which has not been passed or ratified. It is not the law.
What IS the law is the Basel Convention, Annex IX, which explicitly states that export of CRTs for repair is NOT WASTE, and is LEGAL (and export of circuit boards for recycling, if no pollution is released, is also legal). Jim Puckett of BAN objected to this part of the Basel Convention, in writing, so he must know it. "The Basel Convention without a Basel Ban Amendment is worse than no law at all," he once told me. Looks like Basel Action Network is without a treaty, and No Particular Place to Go.
Nations are allowed to accept CRTs for repair and to consider them commodities - Which is What Nigeria Does. It's true under both the Basel Convention and the Bamako Convention.
Jim has written to the Nigerian representatives to the Basel and Bamako Convention meetings, urging them to change that view. But even if THEY agree with him, they are not Nigerian Law. Bamako is a treaty, the treaty did not grow a mouth and "urge" anyone to do something different.
What is Bamako about? NGO Basel Action Network sees we are talking to the Basel Convention staffers, and they didn't agree with him. Puckett sees we are hiring lawyers in the EU. BAN is trying to find another obscure convention to throw at us to cite "international law". But laws don't "speak" or "urge" or "say" things that Jim Puckett says. He is running to Bamako because Joe Benson is innocent under Basel, and Bamako is another place to hide.
Nigeria is a democracy with courts and legislators, and getting a government employee to agree with your vision of the world at a "conference of parties" (COP) meeting does not mean Joe Benson committed a crime. Nigeria is the scene of the "crime" and there's no habeus corpus (proof his TVs were junk) and no crime (export for reuse and repair is not a crime in Nigeria).
So it is clear what Jim Puckett wants the world to look like, and he is trying to make the world adapt to his radical, ill-informed, paternalistic, Eden-Africa views. And Joseph Benson is "collateral damage", acceptable under Puckett's Radical Rules... because Jim is lobbying for Nigeria to follow in the steps of Uganda and Egypt and to make import of used product illegal.
With the new bills, like Green Thompson's 2791, "You Never Can Tell."
Along the way, Puckett tells journalists that the export for repair is "controversial", or that it already is illegal. What he misses is this - African governments have heard his proposal, but know that it would be immensely unpopular to deny their citizens the right to internet, television and cell phones. They are aware of the urban rush, aware that new product sold in Africa has a high failure rate, and aware that the man on the street in Accra and Lagos has two choices - a used television and no television at all.
There are dozens and dozens of African exporters like Joe Benson, he's just one name I picked because Jim Puckett at BAN shows articles with Joe Benson's name on them. Interpol made 40 seizures in the past 12 months, starting in August 2012. And if not for Jim Puckett's campaign, those people would not have had their livelihoods menaced.
MIT Urban Upgrading:
"Rates of urbanization in Africa are the highest in the world. By 2025, more than half of the African population will be urban, and during the next quarter century the urban population will be growing almost twice as fast as the general population, increasing by more than half a billion from 1990 levels."
Bright Lights, Big City came out the year I returned from Cameroon, with my buddy Yadji and his new Peace Corps bride Renee, following soon after.
I guess many of you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.
The African kids are heading for the Bright Lights, Big City. As are the Mexican kids, Chinese kids and Indian kids. They don't want to grow cabbage, because you cannot tweet from rural cabbage farms.
They want to watch TV, and they want to Facebook, and they want to share videos.
Joseph Benson was in business because he provided the only affordable means of watching television for most of the Ghanains and Nigerians who had access to it. His competitor? The SKD factories which sold used CRT computer monitors, converted into affordable televisions.
Benson was competing against Fung, Gordon, and Hamdy.
And the big EU, herded like bulls by the NGOs, trampled into a market where no one could afford a brand new Samsung LCD, and started randomly arresting... Gordon, Benson, or Hamdy.
Take a bullet. This is environmentalism at its absolute worst. This is the chaos and disorder caused when you don't know what you are talking about, and make it up as you go along. I am a serious lifelong environmentalist, but this distraction of Interpol resources from ivory and tiger poaching, to chase TV repairmen, is an own goal of hideos magnitude, and NGO Basel Action Network is the coach to be fired.