Breakup of Europe's E-Waste Armada? EU WEEE Agenda Shift

Accusations of Denial, Hoax, and Racism Haunt Agbogbloshie Ghana

Our expectations couldn't be very high.  But whether because of our pressure, or despite it, Europe has blinked.  Bullied for years by Basel Action Network to implement the "Ban Amendment", Europe had shown a pattern of stimulus-response which I had failed to note ten years ago.  So WR3A got less diplomatic in our language, to match the "ghoulish witchy skeleton toxic" language of Basel Action Network and Greenpeace.  Where they claimed "Stewardship" we called out "Africa Boycott".  Where the NGO's called out "waste tourists" we gave voice to "geeks of color".

"Most of the illegal e-waste trade is taking place next door rather than far away in Africa," said Jaco Huisman of the United Nations University, scientific coordinator of the project that included police agency INTERPOL and other partners.
Come again?

That's right.  Europe finally got a clue this summer.  It took awhile, but the Dennis Moore analogy holds.  This redistribution of environmental costs was trickier than thought.

Amazing grace.

European Environmental Advocates really must be "word war weary" at this stage.  Poor Pascal LeRoy and David Higgins couldn't help but bristle at being named personally in blogs to account for the environmental malpractice of the WEEE Guidelines, as implemented.  Basel Action Network is known for developing "tests" which appear to allow trade - like allowing laptops with batteries that show 80% of original charge - a charge gone on many laptops after a few weeks.  Or like allowing SKD factories to buy "fully functional" CRTs with parts removed.  The proof in the pudding was that exactly 0% of their E-Stewards would export a CRT monitor, they were all pounded into toxic rubble following the breakdown of the California Compromise.  But the point of sharing these technical anecdotes is to show the level of obfuscation faced by UNU, UNEP, PACE, StEP and other Euro Acronym Agencies in the Puckett Armada.

They believed the lead ship knew where it was going.  But after 10 years, short of supplies and weary of the "collateral damage" of Africa's Tech Sector, Europe today has blinked.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

(Soweto South Africa choir)

Since I had reviewed the agenda of CWIT (Interpol and EU's WEEE forum and United Nations University) meetings in June, my  expectations were low.  I had attended a previous one in 2010 (Jim Puckett presenting with Lord Chris Smith and Mike Anane), and saw Puckett and Anane on the list of presenters.  I reviewed the four power point presentations online.

So it was a huge relief to see this admitted in today's press release.

Read more:

This looks like an agenda shift.  Whether it is because of our Fair Trade Recycling efforts, or despite them, Europe's Armada of anti-export agencies appears to have trimmed its sails.

It's a modest effort.  It doesn't begin to undo the recent damage by UNEP report, which I attacked in a few blogs (most recently yesterday). Telling hundreds of news outlets that 90% of e-waste is mismanaged, and showing full page photos of #povertyporn in Agbogbloshie, was unforgivable.  And so far, the only response from ANY European expert has been "That (UNEP) is not my agency's acronym."  Photography and bias are a two way street (Harvard Project Implicit / PBS).

But clearly, some of the European "ewaste" agents are reading the reports that show 91% reuse by Africa's tech sector. Clearly, the forced evictions of Old Fadama rang a bell.  Articles by Minter, and op eds by Wiens and ReStart Project were read and heard. And clearly, participation in the discussions by academics (like Josh Lepawsky and Josh Goldstein and Reed Miller) has had an effect.

The participation by African born critics - Emmanuel Eric Nyalete, Grace Akese, and Wahab Odoi have done a lot to water down Mike Anane's kool aid.

So kudos.  And my apology and tip of the hat to Pascal LeRoy, who I admittedly was pressuring.

Yesterday, there was a telling comment from the General Secretary of EU WEEE Forum to yesterday's blog , foreshadowing the announcement above.
Dear Robin Ingenthron. You say "For one, the 8 photos of Agbogbloshie in the UNEP Report from the photo essay samples at top, used to depict African Importers (who are 100% Tech Sector, 0% Scrap Business) is inexcusable. UNEP and Pascal LeRoy and David Higgins should issue an apology. I stand by that." Please remove my name from this blog, for I've got nothing to do with those photographs or with anything related to UNEP and its reports. Thank you. Pascal Leroy
Until the Business Insider article quote by Jaco Huisman, a day later, my reaction was to find it both rewarding and frustrating that Interpol, WEEE Forum Sec, StEP and UNU all want the Africa techs to draw distinctions who used the Ghoulish photos and which report (UNU, CWIT, UNEP) said what exactly.  Ruediger Kuehr similarly pointed out that UNU is not UNEP, but had published a report a year earlier which made all the same fallacies of linkage between Africa Tech Sector (who export and import) and the scrap sector.

And it seems I'm not the only one confused.  Le Monde seems to agree with Business Insider, that Africa dumping is exaggerated.  But DerSpiegel this morning cites the same study and points to Ghana e-waste dump photos and says that's likely where it's going... citing the same SAME AGENCY report!  Clearly we are not the only ones lost in translation. (And Pascal LeRoy just reposted the Der Spiegel link)

They should realize that if I, and Minter, and Lepawsky, etc. cannot follow the acronym alphabet soup game, that Africans would spell it with two letters.  "White People" or "Nasarah".  Oh, wait, those aren't letters.  Even USA and EU fail to distinguish themselves on the streets of Agbogbloshie.

Speaking of letters... The VCR with the asset tag photographed by MIke Anane should be a symbol.   Africa's Tech sector purchased and - if necessary - repaired the VCR 20 years ago.  Africa's scrappers, like the lads of Agbogbloshie, gets VCRs - with the asset tags - 20 years later.  Nigeria-born TV Repairman Joe Benson went to prison in England. The UK VCRs at EU recycling depots had more copper and metal in them, but Benson's 100 pages of Bill of Lading and customs itemization showed no VCRs, only DVD players worth a fraction in scrap.  The UNEP Report gave a value "per tonne" for "e-waste", and said it was based on metals, but per ton what Benson avoided buying was worth more than what he shipped.  Explain how the "driver" for the trade again?

StEP or UNU or WEEE Directive or UK EA or SBC or EPA or some ABC should have spotted the "driver" missing in the seized goods a decade ago, and Benson's public defender should certainly have introduced the age of equipment as evidence of Benson's innocence.  But the agencies asked us that each EU Acronym Armada ship be treated individually and separately.

So finally we have a first, and I should spend the time thanking them rather than explaining my past browbeatings.  The results of Harvard's Project Implicit Test (see chart) apply to all of us.

Really, the least Africans would expect is for someone to say what Jaco Huisman has finally said.  

Africans and Americans surely made the same false equations between EU Agencies that the Europeans made between Africa's Tech Sector and scrap sector.  But until today, no one was showing anything but cannons aimed at sea container ships laden with gently used goods demanded by Africa's Good Enough Market.

Did I go too far, rhetorically, in pushing for this change?  Was raising the spectre of "accidental racism" a bridge too far?  I'm sure I won't get a warm embrace by Jaco or Pascal or David H. when we next meet.  Lord Chris Smith must surely have heard/read me by now.

So here again is my defense.  I hope that if we meet 10 or 20 years from now, my tired blog rampage, like the VCR, will be seen in a different and more friendly light.

Since I grew up in the south as it was defending itself from a cacophony of racial laws, I'm familiar with the feeling behind Mr. Leroy's objection.   If my uncle or grandfather says something racist, or supports a ban on interracial marriage (I remember vividly the arguments about the Loving vs. Virginia case at family gatherings), it seems unfair to me that I'm assumed to share his view just because I grew up in the south.

There is of course, a remedy for that.  It's called speaking up. If my uncle were to accuse Tom Robinson (character in To Kill a Mockingbird) or Joe Benson of doing something vulgar or primitive, by associating Robinson or Benson's color with another black man's crime, it's one thing to say "that's my uncle, not me".  It's another thing to say Robinson and Benson are innocent and that my uncle's comment is unsupported at best, or sloven.

J'accuse by Saez ain't a river
The Bottom Line is that many different agencies in Europe have blamed a lack of testing procedures and impugned Africa's Tech sector as "waste tourists", "waste criminals", and even "organized crime" for far too long.  They have spent European taxpayers money on an arms race against reuse.  Which agency used which McElvaney photo in which report is not really leadership? Press could not keep track.  And so I focused on David Higgins and Pascal Leroy because they are leaders.

None has a racist bone in his body, I'm certain. For that matter, Jim Puckett either.  But the pictorial association of Africa's Tech Sector with Africa's junk/scrap sector was a blatantly out of bounds.  But Benson says it was in bounds, over and over again in court, and he's still called upon to meet the EU's "burden of proof", which is that he must prove he didn't dump the material he paid thousands of dollars for in Agbogbloshie.  The age and color and brand of the ball shown out of bounds is 20 years different from the ball Benson kicked.

At our March/April pilgrimage to Agbogbloshie, a scrap VCR like the one Jacopo, Isaaco, Adam and I watched smacked apart at Agbo been "fully functional", tested, its asset tag removed, properly followed all WEEE guidelines, and been exported by E-Stewards, it would have been imported 10-20 years earlier and it would have wound up in the same place, and using photos of the scrapyard to imply that Wahabs and Bensons testing decisions are the root cause of the problem is fallacious (and insulting and ridiculous).

When we saw the VCR at Agbogbloshie with the "wedding" tape inside, I first assumed - just like everyone in the Harvard "Project Implicit" test could forsee - that it was some Westerners VHS wedding tape.  After the trip to Tamale at Chendiba, where I met a guy who does wedding videos with a 1990s VHS recording camera, I realized I'd done the same thing, and most probably it was an African's wedding (or multicultural wedding). In that way I'm saying that I'm no better than anyone else at Harvard's "Project Implicit" psychology test.  We all must take it just to know the limitations of judging economies and geographies by photojournalism.

Explain how "intelligent design" of WEEE works?
There is nothing that "manufacturer design" could have done to anticipate streaming video and MP4s or DVDs, which caused the African to sell the VCR to a scrap peddler.  

I think the LinkedIn/blog dialogue can be constructive. It's probably not a great career move for me to insult UNEP, UNU, Interpol, etc., and I can understand how dear readers may not want to wade in.  But I hope you also recognize that bigotry is usually not confined to assholes.  

My extended hillbilly family in the Ozarks loved me very much. I was reading Plato, not the Bible, but they mote in their neighbor's eye and beam in their own eye was pretty similar to Socrates wondering why he felt joy to lose an argument, that he had had a wrong idea removed from his head like a splinter from his finger.

The public policy lesson is that those hired to paid #whitesaviorcomplex positions, in church or NGO or government, don't have any incentive to change their positions when evidence comes to light that the boycott and guideline is doing more harm than good.  And I note that Huisman and LeRoy haven't actually gone that far in the press release.  I had a cordial conversation with David Higgins about 8 years ago, and WR3A submitted 25 pages of comments on testing and elective upgrade to PACE, and not a word of it was responded to or incorporated.

So like my family gathering at Thanksgiving in the Ozarks, where I saw my young mother try to argue in favor of the Loving vs. Virginia news but back off well before we said grace, let's celebrate our environmental family.  Let us see Europe's regulators as we see Africans.  For what they can do, not for what they cannot do.

And there, but for the grace of God, go I.

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