Dell Stops Using Prison Labor

Recycling KeyThis just in: yesterday Dell Computer announced it will use two new vendors for its electronics recycling, and will stop using a vendor that relies on prison labor. Congratulations to the many individuals and organizations involved in the campaign urging Dell to do just that. Just last week, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released a report on the recycling processes used by Hewlett-Packard and Dell. The report contrasts the primative conditions and toxicity of Dell’s contractor, UNICOR, with the efficiency and safety of Hewlett-Packard’s vendor, Micro Metallics. The UNICOR facility is a maximum-security federal prison. The Micro Metallics facility is staffed by union workers paid a living wage.

A Dell spokesman denied that the decision was the result of public pressure, claiming both the decision to use UNICOR and the decision to drop it were based entirely on cost. UNICOR is a corporation run by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons.

See this previous blog entry on the campaign.

>  4 July 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , ,


ISO logoThe International Organization for Standardization is an international non-governmental organization that coordinates the development of voluntary technical standards.

ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 146 countries with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system. National standards institutes, not governments themselves, are eligible for membership. Each country sends only one member, and each member has one vote.

The ISO does not regulate or legislate. It’s standards are developed by international consensus among “experts drawn from the industrial, technical and business sectors... experts from government, regulatory authorities, testing bodies, academia, consumer groups or other relevant bodies.”

“There are more than 2,850 of working groups in which some 30,000 experts participate annually. This technical work is coordinated from ISO Central Secretariat in Geneva, which also publishes the standards.

Since 1947, ISO has published more than 13,500 International Standards. ISO’s work programme ranges from standards for traditional activities, such as agriculture and construction, through mechanical engineering to the newest information technology developments, such as the digital coding of audio-visual signals for multimedia applications.

Standardization of screw threads helps to keep chairs, children’s bicycles and aircraft together and solves the repair and maintenance problems caused by a lack of standardization that were once a major headache for manufacturers and product users. Standards establishing an international consensus on terminology make technology transfer easier and can represent an important stage in the advancement of new technologies.

Without the standardized dimensions of freight containers, international trade would be slower and more expensive. Without the standardization of telephone and banking cards, life would be more complicated. A lack of standardization may even affect the quality of life itself: for the disabled, for example, when they are barred access to consumer products, public transport and buildings because the dimensions of wheelchairs and entrances are not standardized.

Standardized symbols provide danger warnings and information across linguistic frontiers. Consensus on grades of various materials give a common reference for suppliers and clients in business dealings.

Agreement on a sufficient number of variations of a product to meet most current applications allows economies of scale with cost benefits for both producers and consumers. An example is the standardization of paper sizes.” [source]

The internatinoal technical standards also include international safety standards for products including toys (ISO 8124-1:2000), camping tents (ISO 5912:1993), bicycles (ISO 4210:1996), and contraceptive devices (ISO 8009).

In 1987, the ISO expanded to develop “generic management system standards.” ISO 9000 is set of a quality management guidelines that apply to all kinds of organizations in all kinds of areas. Once the a quality system is in place, an accredited external auditor can certify that your quality system has met all of ISO’s requirements. They can then issue official certification that you can use to publicize that the quality of your products and services is managed, controlled, and assured by a registered ISO 9000 quality system.

ISO 7001

ISO 7001ISO 7001, “Graphical symbols for use on public information signs,” is a set of international symbols based on the “ISOTYPE” system of icons and pictograms introduced by Otto Neurath in the 1936. However, soon after the 7001 was published, it was determined that the standard international symbols did not have a standard meaning or clarity in every country. Published in 1989 and revised in 2001, ISO 9186 is a procedure for user testing of graphic symbols to determine which symbols communicate the intended meaning most readily to most people. There are two main test methods: a comprehensibility judgment test and a comprehension test. [source] Pictograms with exceptionally high comprehensibility in several countries can eventually become part of the ISO 7001 set.

ISO 13407 “Human centred design processes for interactive systems” provide guidelines for the planning and management of usability testing in the development of computer systems.

In 1993, the ISO established a technical committee, ISO/TC 207 to develop standards for “Environmental management.”

“This move was a concrete manifestation of ISO’s commitment to respond to the complex challenge of “sustainable development” articulated at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. It also stemmed from an intensive consultation process, carried out within the framework of the Strategic Advisory Group on Environment (SAGE). SAGE was set up in 1991 and brought together representatives of a variety of countries and international organizations — a total of more than 100 environmental experts — who helped to define how International Standards could support better environmental management.

Today, national delegations of environmental experts from 66 countries participate within ISO/TC 207, including 27 developing countries. In addition, 35 international non-governmental and business organizations participate as liaison organizations. The national delegations are chosen by the national standards institute concerned and they are required to bring to ISO/TC 207 a national consensus on issues being addressed by the technical committee. This national consensus is derived from a process of consultation with interested parties in each country.” [source]

The committee works in hand with ISO/TC 176, which develops the ISO 9000 family of standards for quality management and quality assurance.

“ISO 14000 refers to a series of voluntary standards in the environmental field under development by ISO. Included in the ISO 14000 series are the ISO 14001 EMS Standard and other standards in fields such as environmental auditing, environmental performance evaluation, environmental labeling, and life-cycle assessment. The EMS and auditing standards are now final. The others are in various stages of development.” [source]

ISO 14001 certification remains valid for three years and requires audits performed at least annually.

While U.S. environmental regulations do not apply outside of U.S. territory, ISO 14001 applies to all of your operations:

“Perhaps the most significant factor accelerating ISO 14001 compliance is the ever-increasing globalization that characterizes the auto industry. More and more, auto manufacturing is mirroring airplane manufacturing: parts and components might be manufactured anywhere, and assembly might occur anywhere.

This means that a single automaker can have multiple facilities all over the world, under the same corporate umbrella, which require a consistent EMS and measurable results in order to operate competitively. ISO 14001 is one of the best ways to ensure that these needs are met.” [source]

UPDATE: See my August 5, 2003 blog post ISO 14001 Reconsidered.

>  24 June 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , ,

Green Toyota

Via Metafilter, I caught this article in The Herald-Dispatch.

Both of Toyota’s engine assembly factories in the United States have achieved “zero landfill status,” which means that Toyota sells or gives away every waste product it produces to companies that recycle the waste: metals are melted down, plastic is mixed with sawdust to make plastic lumber, sludge from the wastewater treatment plant is sent to a company in Lima, Ohio, where it is mixed with other materials to make portland cement.

ECO“Toyota has an environmental action plan calling for, among other things, reducing total energy use by 15 percent by 2005. Management at the Buffalo plant decided to do better, aiming for 19 percent. The plant achieved its 2005 environmental goals late last year, [said Don Stewart, maintenance manager for Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia.]

The Buffalo plant is operating on an even tougher environmental plan that is scheduled to be fully implemented by 2006, Stewart said. Among the requirements is the zero landfill plan. The plant had already managed to avoid sending any hazardous waste to landfills. The next logical step was to not send any waste to landfills, Stewart said.

Some Toyota plants in Japan had already met that goal, so it was attainable, he said.”

The process has required investment, as well as revision of the manufacturing process.

“Stewart said zero landfill makes sense financially in several ways. For one thing, it eliminates liability for the company decades from now should problems at a landfill need to be corrected. In many cases, federal regulators require companies that dump materials in a problem landfill to remove them.

The Buffalo plant more or less breaks even on its zero landfill program, Stewart said. For some materials, recycling is more expensive than using a landfill, he said.

Toyota’s plant at Buffalo is ISO 14001-certified, meaning it meets a voluntary international standard for environmental protection. The certification process requires that the plant have a formal environmental policy, a system designed to track the plant’s environmental performance and established mechanisms for continuous improvement.

Toyota PriusNow that the plant has attained zero landfill status, the next step is to work with suppliers to reduce the amount of waste materials coming into the plant....

Toyota is requiring that all its suppliers achieve ISO 14001 certification by the end of this year.”

In Toyota’s text about their environmental commitment is a press release on their ISO 14001 status and Toyota’s guidelines and requirements for its suppliers. Toyota sub-contracts much of its manufacturing processes, so its suppliers handle much of the waste product.

Toyota’s Policies for Global Environmental Protection Initiatives was established in 1992. The “Toyota Earth Charter,” was revised in 2000. Toyota’s Eco-project is designed to promote these policies so to the entire company, and to apply the concept of “Totally Clean” to every stage of a car’s life cycle, from development and production to use and disposal.

In 1998, Center for Resource Solutions awarded Toyota a “green e” for the use of sustainable electricity by its California operations.

In 1999, the United Nations Environmental Programme awarded Toyota their Global 500 Award, the first such award received by an automaker.

In addition to it’s green manufacturing process, Toyota also mass produces hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles. See, a rating of fuel economy and emissions by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

See this article and this definition of Toyotism (or Toyotaism) for more on the human side of Toyota’s manufacturing process.

>  22 June 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

This Wallpaper is Killing Me

Environmentalist, on the board of chemical company, peddles poison products? A 19th century scandal unfolds in the 21st.

William Morris (1834-1896) was a poet, craftsman, designer, writer, typographer, socialist, an early environmentalist and design critic, and a founder of the Arts and Crafts movement. The movement in the UK and later in the United States aimed to raise the status of decorative arts, to celebrate craftsmanship and beauty in objects and furnishings. The movement was a response to industrialization, mass-production, and the alienation of workers from their craft and creativity. The movement campaigned for ethics and aesthetics in design, and celebrated craftsmanship, quality, and service it associated with the medieval guild system. Designers were encouraged to promote spiritual and humanist rather than commercial values, and to sell their wares to the public at a low price while fairly compensating the craftsman.

However, a paper published in the June 12, 2003 issue of the journal Nature finds that Morris used arsenic in the pigments of his wallpapers, despite widespread reports of its toxicity. The findings are a shocking contradiction to Morris’s design humanism.

From Wired News:

“William Morris is famous for creating beautiful tapestry designs, full of lush green leaves and vines, in the late 19th century.

A new study shows that Morris derived the color green from a dangerous source: arsenic. His father owned the processing plant that became the major supplier of arsenic used in green pigments in 1867. Morris made his own fortune from shares in the company, Devon Great Consols, and served on the board.

The researcher who performed the study found evidence that Morris turned a blind eye to the possible danger in which he placed his customers. Ironically, Morris was outspoken about his disgust with industry’s dehumanizing and polluting practices.

‘He was on the board of directors of an arsenic mining company,’ said Andy Meharg of the school of biological sciences at the University of Aberdeen in Great Britain whose study was published in Nature. ‘It is hard to believe that the health concerns of mining and processing of arsenic were not discussed at board meetings.’

Even in the late 1800s, the danger of arsenic exposure was well established. Workers at DGC suffered from painful skin lesions known as arsenic ‘pock,’ and many died from arsenic-related lung diseases, Meharg writes.

William Morris wallpaper patternYet Morris dismissed the assertion that arsenic was poisonous in letters to Thomas Wardle, his dye manufacturer. Wardle wrote Morris telling him that one of his customers was concerned that the wallpaper he had bought from Morris was making him and his wife sick.

‘As to the arsenic scare, a greater folly is hardly possible to imagine: The doctors were being bitten by witch fever,’ he wrote in a letter dated Oct. 3, 1885, according to Meharg.

The William Morris Gallery in London donated a small sample of one of Morris’ original wallpapers with the trellis design to analyze.

‘I analyzed the green pigment by energy-dispersive analysis and showed unequivocally that the coloration was caused by a copper arsenic salt,’ Meharg wrote. ‘The beauty that William Morris wallpapers brought to a room must have had a health cost, at least in damp rooms.’

In damp rooms, Mehard said, fungi living on the wallpaper paste turned the arsenic salts into highly toxic trimethylarsine. Arsenic pigments, which were also used extensively in paints and to dye clothes, paper, cardboard, food, soap, and artificial and dried flowers, were responsible for untold numbers of cases of chronic illness and many deaths.

The William Morris Society did not return phone calls requesting comment.

In addition to art and design, Morris was known for being an outspoken socialist as well as an environmentalist. He was a co-founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, and is described by art historians as someone who sought to ‘shift workers out of numbing factory jobs into uplifting crafts where a healthy mind, body and spirit could be achieved.’

So his dismissal of the misery that arsenic clearly caused workers in the factory his father owned — that gave him the means to start his firm, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (later changed to Morris & Co) — is troubling. But Meharg tries to give Morris the benefit of the doubt.

‘In his defense, he was a product of his age, when environmentalism was in its infancy,’ he writes in the Nature paper. ‘He was actually a positive force in this movement. His political creed developed over several decades, and by the end of his life, when he was most revolutionary, his links with industry were in the past.’”

See coverage in the Independent or Nature’s own article about the paper. You can download the full text of the paper if you are a Nature subscriber or are willing to cough up $18 for the article.

>  16 June 2003 | LINK | Filed in

California Senate Passes E-Waste Bill

On June 4, 2003 the California Senate approved a bill that would require electronics manufacturers to recycle discarded computers and electronics equipment, and to set up and fund a recycling infrastructure. From

“If the bill is signed into law [by the state assembly and Governor Gray Davis], manufacturing companies by the beginning of 2005 would have to arrange for the recovery of 50 percent of all machines sold during the preceding year. That rate would grow to 70 percent in 2007 and 90 percent in 2010. According to the bill, just 20 percent of obsolete computers and TV sets are currently recovered for recycling. Under the bill, companies could either set up and finance state-approved drop-off programs, under which people could bring their older computers, or the companies could pay the state to do it. They would also have to develop recycling plans....

Governor Davis last year vetoed a bill similar to SB 20, but that earlier bill didn’t allow high-tech companies the option to run such programs themselves, as the new one does.

Although the current bill would affect only those companies doing business in California, the state, which is home to the tech-heavy Silicon Valley, often leads the country in environmental and other trends. Similar bills have been proposed in other states and in the U.S. Congress.”

See the text of Senate bill SB 20.

Other city and county-level initiatives mandating electronics recycling and “take-back” programs are also moving forward throughout California.

The Federal National Computer Recycling Act was introduced in the House on March 6, 2003 by Mike Thompson (Democrat, Napa Valley, California). The bill proposes a fee on all computer and peripheral sales. The fee would fund local programs to collect, reuse, resell, or recycle computer equipment. Gear would be exempt from the fee if its components are likely to be reused or disposed of properly. The bill also mandates a Congressional study on the health and environmental impact of materials used in computers. The bill covers other consumer electronics that “contain a significant amount of material that, when disposed of, would be hazardous waste.”

>  10 June 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Dell: Recycling with Prison Labor

The Computer TakeBack Campaign is protecting America’s public health by promoting corporate accountability for electronic waste.

Tens of million of computers become obsolete every year and less than 10% are collected for recycling, with the rest of them stored in homes and offices, disposed in landfills and burned in incinerators, and shipped to poor countries for dismantling under horrific conditions. Newer, faster, smaller, and cheaper products hit the market every day - all of them toxic, most of them designed for disposal rather than reuse and recycling, and, once obsolete, are ignored by the very companies that profit from short life-spans and cheap design.

Currently, the expense of collecting and managing discarded electronics is borne by taxpayer-funded government programs. Public policy and corporate practice have failed to promote producer take back and clean design. The principle of producer take-back shifts the burden for collection and recycling costs off of taxpayers and government to the producers, providing an incentive for companies to market products that are durable, less-toxic, and recyclable....

The Computer TakeBack Campaign was formed to promote clean design and brand owner responsibility for discarded computers and electronics.”

The campaign was launched on November 27, 2001 with the release of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s 3rd Annual Computer Report Card. The annual report measures the environmental qualities of electronic equipment and the environmental performance of companies. The report noted that several major U.S. computer companies ran TakeBack programs in Europe, but not in the United States.

Dell was singled out as the focus for the first major campaign. Dell has the largest share of the U.S. and global personal computer market, and are the leading seller of computers to institutions. The Computer TakeBack Campaign is also targeting Dell “because the company’s sales and distribution model uniquely positions it to establish an effective national take back system for used and discarded products.”

After a long campaign and a much public pressure, on March 19, 2003, Dell announced it’s new curbside recycling program. As of March 25, consumers in the continental U.S. could “order home pickup of unwanted notebooks, desktops, monitors, and other select computer equipment for $15 per unit.”

Dell, however, is using prison labor to do the dirty work of recycling its electronics.

A friend of laughingmeme writes:

  • Dell still contracting with prison labor to do recycling... prison labor is a low-road solution which relies on ‘high tech chain gangs’ and thwarts the development of a legitimate recycling infrastructure... and prison laborers are handling toxic computers and OSHA standards are not enforced as they should be
  • Dell still charging a fee at the back-end (instead of implicit in purchase price) for the pick-up, which is a disincentive for participation
  • Dell not reporting on goals or setting timeframes/goals for recovery
  • Dell not aggressively advertising program (they launched the program the week we went to war!)
  • Dell not commenting/committing to phasing out the toxins in their products
  • Dell partnering with a charity, but what will eventually happens to the computers? — they way they are designed now they all become obsolete at some point
  • [As of mid-March] Dell has recovered only 1,000 machines in the last six months which is really pathetic. (they actually started taking back computers from consumers in sept, but are just now expanding the program to include home pick-up)

According to this fact sheet: prison labor is not protected by federal safety and health standards, nor is it covered by National Labor Relations Board policies. Financial support for this U.S. prison-industrial complex steals tax dollars from public education and environmental protection programs and kills private sector development in electronic recycling.

Prisoners should be able to develop occupational and educational skills, not forced to do dangerous, toxic work because companies can get away with it. Investing in prison labor also reinforces incarceration as a solution social, political, and economic problems.

Find out more, and what you can do.

Update: On July 3, 2003, Dell announced that it will stop using a vendor that relies on prison labor for its electronics recycling.

>  18 May 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Fresh Vegetables for Rotten Cops

Indonesian Police Urged to Grow Veggies

“Cash-strapped police shaking down citizens for some of the green stuff is part of daily life in Indonesia. To deter graft, a police chief wants his officers to develop green thumbs instead.

Bogor Police Col. Anton Bachrul Alam said Friday he was encouraging officers to grow tomatoes, lettuce and flowers at home to supplement their often meager income.

‘Their official wages are barely enough to live on. It’s better than extorting people or taking bribes,’ he said.

Alam said a hydrophonics expert would teach officers and their family to grow plants using nutrient solutions rather than soil, making them easier to harvest. A police cooperative will help them sell their crops, he said.

Bogor has about 3,000 policemen who earn on average one million rupiah ($111) per month.

Indonesia’s security forces are notorious for petty graft, running illegal enterprises and taking bribes from drug smugglers and gambling operators.”

Hard to say if this will cut down corruption — there are plenty of rich, well-fed people in the extortion racket. How about some transparency, accountability, or popular oversight to go with the tomatoes and cash?

Still, I love this idea. In addition to the extra income and food, urban gardens have all kinds of environmental and health benefits. And I love the image of hardened cops showing off a proud bouquet of home grown flowers, swapping gardening tips and recipes in the locker room, or picking on the new guy for his clearly inferior eggplants.

>  21 March 2003 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Paper, Pulp, and Resistance

“Indonesia’s pulp and paper industry has rapidly expanded since the late 1980s to become one of the world’s top ten producers. But the industry has accumulated debts of more than U.S.$20 billion, and expanding demand consumes wide swathes of Sumatra’s lowland tropical forests. This land is claimed by indigenous communities, who depend on them for rice farming and rubber tapping. The loss of access to forests, together with companies, hiring from outside the province, has been devastating to local livelihoods, leading to violent conflicts.

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) is Indonesia’s leading paper producer, and owner of one of the largest stand-alone pulp mills in the world, the Indah Kiat mill in Riau, Sumatra. The mill’s primary fiber supplier, Arara Abadi, established its pulpwood plantation in the 1980s-90s, under then President Soeharto. Arara Abadi, backed by state security forces, routinely seized land for the plantations from indigenous communities without due process and with little or no compensation.

Since the fall of Soeharto in May 1998, local residents have attempted to press their claims, but have met with unresponsive law enforcement. With no remedy for their grievances, communities have increasingly turned to vigilantism. Arara Abadi has responded with violence and arrests.

[In 2001] local villagers in Mandiangin, Betung, and Angkasa/Belam Merah... set up blockades or began logging plantation trees. Hundreds of club-wielding company militia attacked residents, seriously injuring nine and detaining sixty-three. Indonesian police, who trained the civilian militias and also were present during the attacks, were complicit....

The majority of police and military spending (70 percent) comes from off-budget business ventures, many of which are in the forestry sector. These business ties set up an economic conflict of interest in law enforcement. In addition, Arara Abadi’s security personnel have no guidelines for the use of force and are not held accountable for violations of the rights of local people.”

See Without Remedy: Human Rights Abuse and Indonesia’s Pulp and Paper Industry.

Though Human Rights Watch implicates funding by multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and places the paper industry in the context of foreign dept, they do not address the fact that APP’s assets (valued at US$ 17.5 billion) are largely financed by is shareholders (25%), bondholders (38%) and banks (20%). Many of the biggest investment banks and export credit agencies in the U.S., Europe, and Asia have provided loans and guaranteed this finance over the last ten years. Friends of the Earth names the names and lists UK distributors of APP Paper.

>  8 January 2003 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Donate Your Cell Phone

Upgrading to a new cell phone? Don’t throw out your old one! If you live in the U.S., send it to Call to Protect.

“Call to Protect is a national wireless phone collection drive designed to provide domestic violence victims and organizations with one of the most powerful tools in the fight against domestic violence... a wireless phone. The program is a partnership between the Wireless Foundation, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Motorola who have worked together since 1996 to provide free phones to victims of domestic violence through the program.”

Free emergency airtime is donated by wireless service providers. Check the FAQ.

>  26 November 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Eco PC

Lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants... the toxic chemicals in your PC and CRT monitor pose both occupational and environmental threats, particularly in low-income communities and developing countries. (Compare maps of Santa Clara’s toxic sites with a county map of child-poverty levels.)

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition writes:

“Electronic waste from obsolete computers, televisions and other devices is one of the fastest growing and most toxic sources of waste. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in 2000 more than 4.6 million tons of e-waste ended up in US landfills and the amount is projected to grow fourfold in the next few years.”

A series on computer disposal notes, “All parties involved in the recycling debate agree there is only one way to achieve environmental safety in computer disposal: Redesign the hardware from scratch.”

Japanese computer maker NEC has risen to the challenge. The PowerMate Eco is billed as the world’s first “environmentally-friendly” PC. The device features a 900MHz Transmeta Crusoe processor, 256 MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, and a built in LCD display. Environmentally-friendly qualities include:

  • A lead-free motherboard
  • A low-heat design that doesn’t require a noisy fan
  • An energy efficient LCD display that doesn’t contain the hazardous materials found in conventional CRT monitors
  • A case that’s made from 100% recyclable plastic that doesn’t require the toxic brominated fire-retardant coating of traditional plastic cases

Between the energy efficient processor and LCD display, NEC estimates the device uses one-third the power of other PCs.

For more information, see the PowerMate product page or press release.

>  15 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

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