The "Good Point" blog is about "Ethical Electronics Exports, Fair Trade Recycling". Composed by Robin Ingenthron, founder of Good Point Recycling and the WR3A non-profit, the site discloses the company's position, policies, as well as the personal opinions of its founder. It has become an important source of inside information on the "e-waste recycling" business for academic research into recycling policy. The website invites dialogue, promotes discourse, and twitters recycling policy forward, using humor, music, and mind-bending analogies to convey important issues.
The recycling industry has been accused of misleading consumers. Ingenthron hopes that a "warts and all" blog which fully discloses the company's opinions and practices will temper cyncicism about green businesses. Frequently cited by the recycling trade press, the Vermont blog has been labeled "bracingly honest", a "creative approach", and a "refreshing" break from recycling dogmas.
As a passionate defender of "fair trade", Ingenthron writes, "Our company's first motto was that we are who we say we are, and we do what we say we do, which is kind of a sad commentary on the e-waste recycling industry." He hopes that in the future, people can once again take that for granted.
Meanwhile, a growing number of academics, entrepreneurs, and government recycling coordinators use the SEARCH function on the blog to mine answers to specific questions. They find external links to film of operations overseas, data on the company's Mexico operations, export policies, its domestic recycling capacity, hard drive data management, and more. The Good Point blog offers insights into positions staked out by EPA, ISRI, NRC, NGOs, and International institutions on mining, disposal, and recycling alternatives. Perhaps our most important followers are overseas.
Before creating American Retroworks Inc. and WR3A.org, Robin Ingenthron was Recycling Director at Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. His division implemented the first CRT "waste ban" regulations, the first market research on CRT reuse and recycling, and the first state RFP contract for municipal "ewaste" recycling (a state contract is enforceable by the Attorney General, giving it more teeth than a "Pledge" or "Certification").
Ingenthron has a BA in International Relations from Carleton College, and spent a semester at the UN in Geneva. With the US Peace Corps, he trained in Congo and taught school in Cameroon. He was hired by Peace Corps to stay in country as a "cross cultural trainer" before returning for an MBA Peace Corps scholarship at Boston University. He worked as a consultant for operating systems software industry, and as a co-director of two recycling non-profit organizations.
Good Point Recycling is a member of Vermont Businesses For Social Responsibility, Association of Vermont Recyclers, and the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association [WR3A] an organization which establishes "Fair Trade" standards for surplus electronics exports, ensuring no "toxics along for the ride".
war·horse ˈwôrˌhôrs (noun) (in historical contexts) a large, powerful horse ridden in battle.
informala soldier, politician, or sports player who has fought many campaigns or contests.
informala musical, theatrical, or literary work that has been heard or performed repeatedly.
"that old warhorse Liszt's “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.”"
I've got a messy blog here (apology for posting before editing, this is take 2). I should write it up as a real article, though. It parallels conversations I've had over beers with many colleagues in the ICT world over the decades. And maybe it explains why I left multi-million dollar UN and WTO and IMF funded "AID Projects" and enjoy private investment outside the #charitableindustrialcomplex. And the reason I should write it up more professionally is that it appears "WASTE AID" and "RECYCLING DEVELOPMENT AID" is about to go down the same learning curve, without a helmet as they rush to be first to submit projects for funding.
Inexperience, Bad People Management, Lack of Accounting Skills, Spotty Customer Service, Sub Par (food) Quality. Let's compare the "5 frequent reasons" that restaurants in the USA and EU fail with the explanations offered by the Aid for Africa complex. Does a 60% failure rate prove Africa's incapable? Or does Africa's enormous and steady growth demonstrate an unhealthy attraction of Western Aid workers to projects lacking business fundamentals?
"Reckless" Korean War warhorse honored by medal and statue @ National Museum of the Marine Corps, Quantico, Virginia
The myth is that "nothing is getting better". I call this the "restaurant crisis".
The logic of AID and Enforcement in Africa seems built on "failure needs more help". If 60% of new USA restaurants fail in the first year, and 80% fail in 5 years, then Governments should fund professional Restaurant Aid Workers to save Restaurateurs. Charity needs to save the failing restaurants. Compare that to the free market, which invests based on past success.
And beeeliiiiiieeevvee me, I could get you some restaurant worker photos that would send you skeedaddling from emerging market restaurants to burn wires in Agbogbloshie in a heartbeat (and genuine "child labor" to boot). Maybe even some with FIRE pictures for the photojournalists.
If you have seen Awal M. Basit (2nd left) burn wire, you know this amount of gasoline flame is "shiny object for reporter"
Lessons from ICT Battlefield (Information Communications Technology)
I ran across an ICT blog yesterday which brought me back to that battlefield. The tone is a bit "warhorsey", and I can relate to that. I started out, after Mass DEP, in the ICT realm. The idea (like World Computer Exchange) was to take surplus computers and use them to develop school tech rooms and internet cafes in Africa. Millions of WTO and UNGAID dollars were going to these countries to "connect them to the web", and thousands of western Aid Workers, volunteers, etc., were carpetbagging to Africa to play a positive role, and earn a living, saving Africa from darkness. (Fair Trade Recycling's 2016 EWaste Trading program is derivative).
The author, @TimSchoffield2, an Accountant from the UK ran the WebERP project in Uganda with Victor Kagimu. Like many of my pals in the development field, he paints a picture of an Africa which desperately needs repair and maintenance officials from the West. I met him via Twitter, and found his blog. His style is that of an old warhorse; here are two I've read.
Sustainability and Corruption in donor funded projects
"International aid is not working, but it can. It needs a change of attitude from both the donors and the receivers of the aid."
Any donor funded project should be sustainable. That is it should continue to function when the donor leaves. Sounds obvious I know, but most people would be amazed at just how few do carry on working. Anybody who has like me, worked and traveled extensively in Africa will be able to recount stories of when this has failed. Here are just a few of mine: - Water pumps that cannot be maintained when they break down because there are no spare parts, no money or means to get them, nobody trained to fit them if they were available. - Fields full of farm machinery (Tractors, Canadian sized combine harvesters etc) rotting away. Why? No spare parts, and nobody trained to maintain them. - I once visited a large hospital in East Africa which had a modern but non-functioning CT scanner. Again the reason given for its lack of functionality was that it had broken down and nobody could repair it... The hospital director told me that eventually somebody would donate a new one and the old one would be thrown away....This is one of the reasons why billions of dollars in aid money floods into Africa but things never get better for its citizens.
The other reason is the corruption that follows these projects. I have over the years had conversations with people who have been found to have taken money from projects. The common theme is always that they do not see it as stealing, or as something wrong. The best analogy I have is that aid money is seen like a river flowing down the mountain, and if you divert a little to irrigate your own field, then the water doesn't stop flowing, and you get a better harvest. The flaw with this argument is that the supply of money is finite and the river does stop flowing.
The best solution I have for this is closer and more rigorous scrutiny of the project by onsite managers who are appointed by the project donors to supervise the use of the money. Just the same as would be done with any commercial company when a budget is allocated to a project.
No spare parts, and no one trained the Africans to maintain the donated equipment. Aparently, after 5 decades of Aid spending, white consultants can offer a solution.
Tim Schofield's previous post on 1/11/2014 offers that "Not all projects fail, there have been some outstanding successes but the failure rate is way too high."
ICT Aid projects in Africa - Why so many failures?
Failure of ICT projects is not an uncommon thing. Most statistics seem to show a failure rate of between 50% and 70%. So Africa is not on its own in having these failures. However from my observations I have noticed specific areas in donor funded projects that seem to make these projects more liable to failure:
"We are a donor funded organisation so we shouldn't use for-profit companies"...
"The project should be staffed and managed by local people, and not by outsiders"...
Project employees are more interested in perpetuating the project than completing it...
Projects encourage "cronyism"...
Project aims are often too vague...
My experience shows that projects should:
Be managed by an external person employed by the donor organisation charged with meeting targets...
Use the best resources available to them regardless of whether they are non-profit or for-profit...
Set definite targets at the start, both in timescale and project goals. The project manager should be the person held accountable...
Donor organisations should be firmer in their dealings on the ground. Too often I see donor organisations that take a far too "charitable" view of bad work....
So the ICT warhorses explain to us that the ICT projects repeatedly fail. Yet Africa has, by all accounts, leapfrogged the rest of the world in hand-held cell phones, even developing currency exchanges with cell phone credit accounts, and has achieved a rate of growth in telecommunications many times the rate of USA in the 1990s.
People are well nourished, but the restaurants to aid them are failing?
Marcus Lemonis has heard ICT complaints before
I've done quite a bit of quoting here from the article, which is ironic since Mr. Schofield's next to final blog post accuses others involved in the WebERP Africa ICT project of (coding) plaigarism ("Unfortunately this seems to be typical of the recent dishonest behaviour of the leadership of the webERP project."). I have had some experience with plagiarism in Africa, as have some Ph.D pals. Anyway, the skirmish is notable because it looks like any restaurant episode of CNBC's "The Profit".
Here's where I agree with, and I split from, Schofield's type of diagnosis of how to better administer the #whitesaviorcomplex #charitableindustrialcomplex funding. Keep donating, but involve experts who can spend it better? Schofield is not alone, but he takes the market intervention (Aid, Interpol Enforcement, etc.) as an opportunity being wasted, rather than a waste looking for more opportunity to suck from. And you arrive here by not finding the success and drawing conclusions from it (as I have done with the "e-waste" export field, but by starting with the funding and trying to find the success at the end of it.
Percentage of failure does not define success. Success defines itself, and you try to recreate that which has succeeded, not to keep repairing that which regularly fails.
The slide show embedded above is something I consider a success. It certainly shows that Africa is capable of repairing stuff without funding from western saviors. But if you interview these entrepreneurs, they know something important - who in Africa is a waste of their time? If they don't get paid for the work, they don't go back. That's an important lesson everywhere, from the restaurant business in New York to the coltan business in Tanzania. If your ICT project is funding a hospital or a university that can't get repair guys to work for them, maybe them-repair-guys know something you don't (or won't) admit.
This restaurant owner, the one you are backing, can't find anyone to do the dishes? In AFRICA?
In fairness, a lot of ICT projects are aimed at very remote locations. A big part of restaurants successes and failures comes from location. If you open a 5 star restaurant in Ngaoundal, Cameroon, it may face the same issues of the internet cafe. The free market says that restaurants succeed when they are a) well managed, and b) located where lots of people wanna eat.
The failure of recycling yards, or stormwater systems, or restaurants, or cars, or other "things that fall apart", attracts the western eye in Africa, the same as a broken down car slows the rubbernecking queue. But there's nothing slowing you down in the fast lane except your own gaze. In African cities, you are connected there to the internet. Even while standing in the "remote" field of Agblogbloshie, you can watch Manchester United (Awal's Qatar backed team) play (Samsung's) Chelsea on a smart phone as the Photojournalists photograph children perched like magpies on fridge housings. You are surrounded by junk cars, which you reached via traffic jam of working cars. Pictures of broken cars or non successful people do NOT demonstrate that "so much more funding is necessary" or that "nothing is getting better for African citizens".
In fact, emerging markets "adolescence" (pollution, corruption, crime, badly managed cafes) looks the same everywhere, if historically speaking.
What's needed are more people willing to do the dishes, reformat the hard drives, and take out the garbage. The biggest pile of African garbage are managers (with family or political connections) who don't do any work, have no experience, manage people poorly (especially relatives) , lack accounting skills, provide poor client service, and fail to execute on deliverables. But this isn't an "African" problem. This is a list of problems which explain why 60% of USA restaurants fail in the first year. The difference is a guilt-driven AID complex to provide "restaurant aid".
Two statements from Schofield's blog illustrate the fallacy that more #whitesavior managers are necessary where investments failed. Africa has lots of wannabe Marcus Lemonis's with OPM (other peoples money), and lots of Anton Egos writing reviews via blog.
AGREE: As Mr. Schofield correctly says above in the (1/11/2011) "Why So Many Failures" blog, "Failure of ICT projects is not an uncommon thing. Most statistics seem to show a failure rate of between 50% and 70%.
He's absolutely correct. Most ICT projects in the USA failed at a rate similar to the failure of most restaurants and other small businesses. In the USA, 60% of hospitality industries (e.g. restaurants) go under in one year, and 80% go under in 5 years (similar rate to African development worker blogs, I suspect). Yet his reasons for failure in Africa seem to be a list of pet peeves with almost none of the reasons cited in the Business Insider interview with Restaurant Warhorse/Celebrity Chef Robert Irvine: Food Network Chef Robert Irvine Shares The Top 5 Reasons Restaurants Fail
1. Inexperience 2. Bad People Management 3. Lack of Accounting Skills 4. Spotty Customer Service 5. Sub Par (food) Quality and Execution.
These aren't a perfect list of failures for failure of Africa ICT projects, but it's a lot closer than Schofield's list of causes, IMHO. And I like the title of the next Business Insider article linked below it - "The CEO Of 'Wichcraft Only Hires People Who Are Willing To Take Out The Trash". Africa has a serious problem whenever it hires someone "not willing to take out the trash"... or more aptly, "willing to wash the dishes". I believe China had the same problem in industries that were funded by the CCP (with similar or higher failure rates). You don't train African restaurant owners to do the dishes. You invest in African restaurants where they serve food on clean plates because they do the dishes. That's VC 101.
And I suspect Tim Schofield would agree with me on both this, and my next point.
"billions of dollars in aid money floods into Africa but things never get better for its citizens."
The "things never get better" is common in the press - which wants to keep reporting the same story about Africa. And it's common among AID organizations who are in this uncomfortable place of needing funding because "the problems still exist" but are uncomfortable with the free market thought that may follow (stop funding AID projects).
Things never get better for Africa's citizens???
That is patently false.
The fact is that Africa's citizens are better off because Africa's Tech Sector imports used working and repairable electronics, cars, and other equipment with its own money and maintains it. The solution is simple. You invest in Africa the way you invest in a restaurant.
The African repairpeople KNOW already which Hospital Manager doesn't pay them for fixing the electronics. They have been stood up. And the people in Africa who are most successful at winning AID funding over and over again are the very people these Tech Sector workers stay away from. The "black knights" know how the game is played.
Africa has NEARLY UNIVERSAL ICT in its cities. There are rural distribution issues, as there are for water and electricity and paved roads. But that's a normal pattern of development, even in the USA (see Hillbilly Highway blogs).
People who invest in restaurants know to follow people who are successful, not people who aren't, and to trust those peoples experience at what made them successful. I have seen Tech Sector importers in Ghana forced to cut off their own home cities because the "cousins don't expect to be forced to pay debts" factor. It's a difficult and painful decision for the African entrepreneur, but he has figured out the guy in the city who doesn't speak his mother tongue but who has paid him on a timely basis for every order is better skilled, meets all the same criteria that the Business Insider Restaurant article lists.
There is a link to small business, ICT, and recycling projects.
What I learned in Peace Corps was how to make a difference without OPM (Other Peoples Money) playing a huge role.
I've found friends in Africa and Asia and Latin America who did great things with me, and helped me build my company, creating sustainable projects.
And we used ordinary loans and mortgages, we never went down the VC or AID route.
Warhorses should be asking "Did we need more horses? Or did we pick the right battles?"
Some of my favorite people are young Ph.D students/faculty who follow this blog because it breaks ranks with professional writings and provides new insights. (I do appreciate it when I get cited, however, though only moderately disappointed when I don't. I kind of assume once people get tenure they will pay tribute to the warhorse.)
Just saw this Humans of New York post, which quotes a young New Yorker from Gabon repeating the old saw that powerful and corrupt Africans selling natural resources to Colonizing powers is the reason for poverty in Africa. The "curse of natural resources". My issue with it is that the victimization stereotype also fails to note the success is built by "Tinkerers Blessing", the repair and refurbishers.
The liberals in the Colonizing powers feel guilt over the tying of resource extraction to poverty, and try to fix it by issuing MILLIONS of dollars in AID to the same governmenents in Africa who mismanaged the natural resources.
Things are definitely getting better in Africa, either from "trickle down" of Aid (ICT or otherwise), but it's the TINKERERS, the self made men of the repair sector, the very people AID blogs say are "missing". They are smart people, valedictorians, who stay the hell away from African Government projects. Duh.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
If you are going to spend money and time to fly someplace, you want a "souvenier". You want something of value that represents the fruit of your hunting and foraging. It's probably evolved, like necklaces made of feathers or teeth of wild beasts we've conquered.
Pokemon Go gives people exotic looking cartoons when they walk about outside (or let's not kid ourselves, I'm sure people are driving as much as they are walking). It's like a gold star or sticker on your 1st Grade homework assignment.
And if you are going to fly to an "exotic" place like Africa, or have recently, I'd challenge you to go back through your "chips of film" and see what you took photos of. How many were people you know? Of those people you don't know, what were you taking pictures of them doing?
If you have a time machine, and can go back to the 1960s and 70s in the Ozarks, people wanted pictures of "Hillbillies". They had read about them, seen comics about them, and having made the trek and spent the vacation hours and bucks, they wanted pictures of hillbillies, dammit.
And before you could spell "cultural appropriation", underemployed actors from Chicago, St. Louis and "Hollywood" came and erected Vaudeville shows in Branson to meet demand...
Ozark hillbilly cultural appropriation? Agbogbloshie's predecessors
Pikachus, Agbogbloshies, Child Labor, Elephants, Buddhist Monks. If there is something like a flame or a sunset or something to add color to the photo, it's more post-worthy. Among Pikachus, the cartoon colors are part of the attraction.
We don't need to be snobby about it. It's too easy to juxtapose the tourist and the brown child and infer racism, tsk-tsk. To be honest, if I deep sea dive, I sure want a photo of a lionfish or octopus, but if there's nothing but bare dusty sand I'll take a picture of a lost shoe. We want to validate our steps, and it's natural, and there's genuinely good things to say about caring about wherever we go.
Our Agbogbloshie gangleader Awal Muhammed Basit has arrived back to homeland capital Tamale this week, where he called Techician Kamaldeen Abdusalaam of Chendiba Enterprises. They are both in their early 20s. What they know about Western photographers is that if Awal shows how to remove screws, it attracts far fewer shots and film than if he sets a fire. If Agence Presse (Montreal) is there, Awal quadruples the amount of lighter fluid for the fires.
Photography just can't become the basis of public policy if we don't understand what attracts our gaze. We are all fish, pursuing fireworks and other shiny objects, or emotional ones. Making up fake statistics about shiny fires can result in African TV repairpeople going to jail, and that should burn our eyebrows off.
Making a documentary about Mike Anane's propaganda to evict slum dwellers in Accra for an urban development, enlisting Western journalists with BAN.org's false claims of "80% recently dumped from your recycling program" is the worst form of journalism. Trying to validate it because you feel like a sucker for flying down there isn't worthy of a trophy. #EwasteRepublic got credit just for leavening the fake story with some truth, taking pictures of normal African lives to go along with the 10 or 25 guys who burn wires in Ghana's version of the Baldknobber Show.
LaPresse hopefully paid Awal (left in Manchester United jersey) enough to compensate for the extremely extra amount of gasoline or lighter fluid he's using. The wires themselves don't emit enough "high flame" for photographers. A tire with gasoline adds a little extra zest, more photojournalist "points".
The Baldknobbers - before the cartoon stereotype cultural appropriation - were an actual "thing". It was a hooded vigilante group in Taney County Missouri, which would have quickly gone into the dustbin of history (along with the "anti-BaldKnobbers" which is actually a historical "thing" too) except for a 1919 Film about the "Shepherd of the Hills", which helped bring Ozarks Exoticness to USA City Theaters. And the book by great uncle Elmo Ingenthron.
The truckdriver terrorism in #Nice06 is playing non-stop. What I see is that crowds came to Nice to see the Bastille Day fireworks. And an asshole in a truck killed about 85 people (out of several hundred thousands), effectively inserting himself into the shiny objects, potentially driving public policy, Scott Adams (blog) says, by causing a reaction to elect a "strongman" father figure.
The similarity between the redneck Ozark baldknobber masks and the traditional African Bamileke or Mankon masks I saw in Cameroon is probably appreciated by an incredibly small audience. I'm enjoying the comparison.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
When we went out for beer at the beach with a couple of my wife's cousins (people who were at our wedding here in southern France 26 years ago), I found myself trying to simplify my thoughts so that my French vocabulary would be less of a struggle. My French isn't too bad "for an American truck driver". But I admit I don't try as hard as I used to. My wife and kids speak exclusively in French, but most of my vocabulary is now about reminding teenagers to clean up a mess in the kitchen. It's not very philosophical stuff.
Anyway, when you're my age and you come to visit inlaws in France once a year, you wind up retelling and re-asking and re-recounting a lot of the same stuff anyway. And one of the "small talk" topics is always whether I fit a stereotype of "American" based on the French news.
I've frequently posted about the Ozark Mountains, where my family is from. That three out of 4 of my great grandparents made their own shoes, Foxfire style, from goat skins. The 4th set worked with the Burueau of Indian Affairs (my great grandfather William Freeland - hence my middle name - was personal friends with John Niehardt, author/translator of Black Elk Speaks - who also retired to Branson area).
In America, in college, I was always asked whether I was really from the Ozarks. My dad was a college professor at the University of Arkansas (Journalism/Mass Communications), I say. But ahah! I was born in Massachusetts (my dad had a 2 year beat reporter job there between his BA and Ph.D at Columbia Missouri). I answer I was brought back to the Ozarks in a laundry basket in the back of a Volkswagen at one year old, but no doubt a bunch of redneck blew off me when the windows were down.
So taking a stereotype that a French person has about Americans, and seeing them figure out how I'm an exception, is familiar territory. I'm fat enough for some of the stereotypes, and I keep a Hawaii shirt inventory (a bit tongue in cheek, but helps my kids find me on the beach).
But the people I feel a lot in common with are Africans.
#theafricathemedianevershowsyou looks an awful lot like #thesouththemedianevershowsyou or #theozarksthemedianevershowsyou
The Africans I tend to meet are pretty savvy folks. Emmanuel Eric Nyaletey just got his second or third degree - in Coding - at Georgia Tech, where he took a year off at Good Point Recycling for a full scholarship offer. He originally got a degree in computer engineering at the University of Accra, Ghana, then somehow got accepted at St. Michael's College in Vermont, married a woman from Vergennes and settled down.
I feel like I understand the stereotypes they deal with. Because it's not that the stereotypes about Africa are completely wrong, any more than that everyone from the Arkansas Missouri line is married to a Francophone studies Ph.D. There is a deep chasm in commentary on Facebook between most of my Vermont liberal friends and many of my family and friends in the South. In the same way as I used to want to gloss over the "redneck" (which I always told my kids means a farmer whose neck is red from working in a field, and that they shouldn't use the term without remembering that), my younger African friends show fatigue in their eyes when some regular problem gets in the news that shows the continent is an ebola zone or Boka Haram headquarters.
My fantasy is to start a "Beverly Hillbillies" program about rural Africa, one that embraces and monetizes the stereotype, a la Branson Missouri, Silver Dollar City. But that would have drawn HUGE glares in the 1960s abd 70s, when my family - including people like Author (great Uncle) Elmo Ingenthron - were rather miffed that the entire USA knew about us through "Snuffy Smith" and "L'il Abner" and "Barney Google" and "Jed Clampett" and "Green Acres" and "Hee Haw", etc.
My wife has to sit through "French surrender monkeys" and sort through stereotypes honestly, just as I do. I see a lot of my conservative red state friends as being "proud of ignorance", a kind of stubbornness that rankles. But I see it in my fellow Vermonter Bernie supporters too. None of us is immune to self-certainty and false conclusions. We must all study stereotypes and compare them with statistics over time.
Africa today is developing at a rate far faster than the Ozarks did from 1840 to 1940. In the Ozarks, the bottom line was how hard you worked. That applied equally to physical labor and "book learning". We were ashamed of our lazy kin, and proud of our hard working kin. And that's why the term "redneck" bothered me, I guess, is that the relatives with the reddest necks were the ones on the tractors - or even yes behind mules, until 1990s.
In Africa, I adored my students who did their homework and really applied themselves to what I was trying to teach in class. And I respected the polite people I saw working in the sun, working their asses off, to feed the African continent.
Less educated people will find it harder to let go of stereotypes. But laziness definitely, definitely, corresponds well with welfare and government assistance and crime. People ask my wife if I'm liberal or conservative. I don't know how she answers. But her best friends, among her cousins, are those she worked with in the mountainside vineyards.
What I listen to at the beach at the Mediterranean. The original "Tennessee Stud" by Jimmie Driftwood. This was probably on the radio in the Volkswagen driving back from Massachusetts.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Happy 4th of July (from France). Everyone here is talking about "underdogs" - though without a solid French translation. Different translations convey different assumptions. Opprime is "oppressed", perdants is "losers". Sous-estime is "underestimated" (which works after the unexpected victory, in hindsight).
When Iceland beat England in the Euro Cup, and Wales beat Belgium, it was a surprise. When Leicester City - facing elimination from the Premier League a year earlier - won the entire British Isles championship, the French sportscaster seemed to be missing a handle for the story.
Could 2016 be the Year of the Underdog? One long-running theme of this Good Point: Ethical E-Waste Blog is our critical look at how #photojournalism can create, leverage, or ignore underdogs. The audience of mankind is highly evolved to nurture the young and oppressed (what I call the Steve Pinker "nurture" instinct), which causes us to support scrappy underdogs vs. big corporations. Mass media is not an umpire - it's a player in the game. Media controls who's perceived as worthy of nurture, and who's perceived as "imperialist" or "bully". We nurture the oppressed, we root for the underdogs. And when it's an obscure, technical, or foreign story, we depend on the media to tell us who the bullys and who the underdogs are.
Here's a kind of derivative take. Mass media can create a "loser" who "wins" the underdog blessing. Being an underdog is a blessing of "moral currency". We see this in everyday society, people exaggerating their "rags to riches" history, the tourists' propensity to validate their "close encounter" with poverty. And I need of course little excuse to repost the greatest comedic clip of all time, BBC's "The Four Yorkshiremen" sketch (pre-Monty Python's "Finally 1948" show).
So on July 4, Superpower USA reflects back on the scrappy 1776 Minutemen who overcame the King of England, the United Kingdom's rule. Like Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo and Princess Leiah, a handful of colonies "against all odds" threw off the yoke of the 1700's greatest superpower, Great Britain. Iceland, Bernie Sanders, Wales, Leicester City, and George Washington, the lovable underdogs.
The underdog card... In the 19th century, Iceland was a colony of Denmark (which enforced a trade monopoly, keeping Iceland merchants from trading outside of DK). Iceland had interesting parallels to the USA of the 18th century. The Althing (native Iceland parliament, perhaps equivalent to the US Continental Congress) was forcefully disbanded, and Iceland didn't get real independence until after World War II. Iceland makes for a great Asterix and Obelix underdog...
(That's supposed to be clever - tying France's historical "Asterix" to Iceland, France's underdog foe in last night's Euro 2016 quarterfinal).
Alas or Hurray... In France we watched Les Bleus crush Iceland, 5-2, last night. When I rooted for "Asterix", I had to explain myself with a google translator.
That "Down 4 - 0 at halftime" face (credit The Guardian)
Despite my family ties here in France, I found myself secretly rooting for the 300,000 or so residents of Iceland, each of whom appears to be first cousins with a starting player or client of the part time dentist who manages the team. Preparing to explain my secret empathy for the vikings, I looked for - but couldn't find - a really good French translation for "underdog".
When an underdog wins, it's usually depicted as through their own merit - perseverance, sweat, some luck, a hidden talent. It's despite the fact that no one nurtures them or delivers them aid. The term connotes a surprise ending which Americans see as always a possibility, against the odds.
But the important point is that someone like me, who (unlike my kids) does not know the individual players and doesn't follow Euro "Soccer" much all year, winds up looking for someone to root for, and if the press says someone's an "underdog", that someone goes all soft and nurturing, without knowing what we are doing.
That's the "e-waste" story.
So back to the ethics of electronic device mining, refining, manufacture, assembly, sale, repair, reuse, recycling, and discard or "waste". Waste is "losing" a resource, I'll accept that. But does everyone and everything preceding "waste" (as a verb) bear obligation of "stewardship"? And when two "previous stewards" interests collide, who was the underdog, and when?
Just as the United States wants to see itself as an underdog who, 240 years later, reminisces on our humble origins, so does the tech sector cling to it's underdog storylines.
Poor little Steve Jobs, making Apple computers in Cupertino, CA garage, as IBM backed Microsoft OS in the late 80s and early 90s. Fanboys still treat Apple as an underdog, despite it's recent standing as largest corporation in the world (stock value). And Bill Gates, a college drop out... Every tech sector's Wikipedia page seems to have the word "upstart" or "despites".
You know what? The underdogs of today don't really feel the brotherly love. Just as Montgomery Burns (Simpsons) compares himself to Oskar Schindler "We both made shells for the Nazis, but mine worked, dammit", the richest corporation in the world still celebrates its humble beginnings through Apple fanbois. (Note, after reading about passing of Elie Wiesel on Saturday, we visited the newly opened Rivesaltes Memorial Museum).
So who is the underdog? Apple or Rossman? The Avalanches, or the retired actors in their LP samples? And do you answer this by who gets the journalist's vote, the sentimental headline - the proclaimed underdog? Or is redistributing creditworthiness for nurture trickier than we thought?
But MIT dropped the bomb and rather than assess collateral damage, defers us to Basel Action Network. If BAN says that only child-labor employing sham recyclers were injured, who is MIT to question it? Ratti is ignoring the ethics of his chapter in #ewastegate because he has nothing to gain from the revelation that Big Shred, Fake Stat NGO, and Planned Obsolescence distributed the "e-waste" among their competitors and used racial profiling to dismiss the potential news that the LCD in Hong Kong was repaired and found in reuse, an environmental fate better -not worse- than at the USA shredder.
I'm hoping that by writing this, that other academics will review the report, look closely at the data and what the NGO partner claims it reveals, and to take serious aim at MIT's own proud claim to have discovered "previously unknown" information about trade in used goods. If I have delivered a 12 page critique showing that nothing was "unknown" about several of the markets, and it's MIT's burden of proof to defend that any of them were illegal, previously unknown, or newsworthy, then MIT shouldn't be allowed to get away with this. I like MIT, I like the Senseable City Lab's work. They are actually a victim, like Ira Glass was victim to Mike Daisy, or Peter Essick, UBC Vancouver, CBS 60 Minutes, BBC, NPR, The Atlantic, Washington Post, etc. were victims of Basel Action Network's false claims about e-waste percentages and the ratification of an obscure Basel "Ban Amendment". But MIT of all people should know the damages of "passing the buck". Each of the reputable journalists, photojournalists, e-Stewards and donors has a moral obligation to admit the Emperor Wears No Clothes. (Hans Christian Anderson of Denmark reference there, 1837, in case you missed it).
There is an amazing journalism opportunity here, and no one has caught it. #EWASTEGATE
"Market cannibalization" was a term I heard first from an HP presenter advocating OEM support for one of e-waste's first high-tech shredding operations, funded by Noranda. She argued that even if the scrap value was less than resale value, that OEMs should subsidize it to protect future sales. That was in the mid 1990s. She later went to work for the shredding company, and now works for Apple. This is not the "underdog". The African Tech Sector, the Paul Rossmans, the Net Peripherals, the Chicas Bravas - the hand disassembly and repair sectors, the 3 billion people who got online in the past decade, despite incomes of $3k per year, THOSE are the underdogs. And if MIT is dropping GPS trackers in the midst of those 3 billion people, and I'm tracking devices to their homes. MIT has a moral and ethical obligation to seek out the MIT OMBUDSMAN before I have to be impolite and contact him/her first.
Because where is all of this headed?
For USA Congressional Testimony, again.
I hope for, if not expect, a hand written thank you note and an invitation for a cup of coffee, not a door slammed on my foot. But it is well under 90 minutes that have played. And as I dribble and circle the goal, MIT may not be aware that I have many other players on the field to pass to. Carlo Ratti's first response was to kick the ball out of bounds, or deflect it to the NGO "partner".
Corner Kick, in Part II.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
What is right and what is wrong about the BAN press releases, describing their story on PBS, their partnership with MIT's Senseable City Lab, their investigations with Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department? Home runs require you to touch bases. We are asking the referees - did BAN touch all the bases? Were sabotaged devices not repairable? Is Li Tong Group really not allowed to process OEM material at the state of the art EcoPark in Hong Kong? Are there child laborers in Shui Wai New Town? Are the 86% of Hong Kong called "New Territories" a "cowboy land"? Did MIT find any evidence that a single device they helped track was dumped illegally or repaired responsibly? Does PBS see a link between NGO sponsorship, accusations that workers surprised by cameras are "illegals"? Suddenly the reputations of MIT, Hong Kong EPD, and PBS are being held very, very tightly by Basel Action Network. Public display of affection. Their organization names have been meta-tagged with #trackingewaste.
What's up, ump? Did BAN touch all the bases? Did this expose do the primo non nocere?
Do tell us...
1. MIT QUALIFIES ITS ROLE
Carlo Ratti has just acknowledged our inquiry this morning. He's the director of Senseable City, and a TED Talk expert, and one of the most respected authorities on international city development. His opinion on Hong Kong recycling? On PBS, Ratti stated "One of the surprising things we discovered is how far waste travels. You see these kind of global e-waste flows that actually almost cover the whole planet."
Wait Carlo. You said "waste". Was it "waste"?
If you meant secondary materials...Well... not everyone is surprised. There have been quite a few studies on the transport of materials, including second hand goods and secondary materials, across international lines. The question is, "is it bad?" BAN says that the goods are handled poorly once they leave a port. If you meant "waste", then MIT is saying that the LCD with the controller board (4 sold in the last hour, below) is not replaceable and therefore the entire LCD is "waste"?
We complained back to Ratti that MIT has been involved in a declaration that the goods tracked are not repaired, and are irresponsibly recycled. BAN declares MIT shares their suspicion that the items to be "waste" and not for legal parts, recycling, or repair.
"Obsure remote area, a real cowboy-land" - Jim Puckett
This AM we have a qualifying statement from Carlo Ratti on behalf of MIT Senseable City.
"As BAN described in its report, MIT’s only involvement in the project was the development of the tracking technology and visuals for the website. All other aspects of the project were the sole responsibility of BAN, including the data collection, analysis, and interpretation. As BAN’s report makes clear, the conclusions and opinions presented are BAN’s alone and not MIT’s." - Carlo Ratti
Ratti and Senseable City are in the GPS and website business. MIT is not representing BAN's "findings", and is clearly not identified as the source of information provided by #KCTS9. We suggested that a stronger disclaimer is warranted on the website which describes BAN as SCL's partner. Who else is backing away slowly? 2. PBS ASTERISKS In the PBS segment, mmediately after the Ratti interview, PBS' narrorator states, inaccurately, that "a third of the tracked computers* were tracked to "a little known area known as the New Territories" (which Mr. Puckett describes as "cowboyland"). One of the ten most densely populated areas in the world is "little known"? As we noted in previous Right Wrong blogs, the "remote" area known as "New Territories" is actually 86% of Hong Kong and includes devices in Tin Shui Wei (hardly "cowboyland"). It's everything except the island of Hong Kong proper - and sometimes Kowloon is considered NT. (*Oh yeah, there were no computers, only displays and printers). PBS editors have now placed an edit on the online version of the story - that Wendy Neu is "a funder of PBS newshour". Wendy Neu was also the owner of New England e-Steward WeRecycle (which had no e-waste delivered or tracked) and has been, for a long time, on the Board of Directors at BAN. Readers of the blog will remember her testimony to United States Congress stating that "probably close to 80 percent" of e-waste is exported to developing countries.
We also note that PBS has chosen to blur the faces of human subjects in the film, who, BAN states or implies, are "illegal" and "untrained" and representative of "child labor". All three might be true, but PBS editors correctly realized that this is a statement of opinion about a person (per MIT COUHES "a human subject") who, BAN claims, is doing something illegal. False claims, schmaltz claims, BAN pulls PBS and MIT into the group hug. Which brings us to the third umpire - HK EPD 3. HONG KONG ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION DEPARTMENT DENIES BAN CLAIM Under "legal" sections in its first report and follow up attachments to its press release last Monday, BAN has some curious wording about the printer scrap tracked to Hong Kong. In previous Right Wrong blogs, I showed links to Hong Kong EPD's website. As we know, most of the "e-waste" tracked to Hong Kong by MoniTour was printer scrap, and by far, most of the material BAN and PBS show at the surprised "illegal" site was printers. Again, BAN's own website points out that it's all printers (they say from the United States, I'm not sure it's a given that most of the printers are from the USA). In its Report, BAN states:
“Ironically, it appears that Hong Kong, usually thought of as one of the most technologically and economically advanced areas of China, has not enforced the Chinese import ban as diligently as mainland China has done, and appears to have, in fact, become a new pollution haven,” the report reads...
Hong Kong EPD objects, clarifying that it does NOT consider printer scrap to be Hazardous Waste (or "Chemical Waste"). Like the USA and countries that don't follow the unpassed "Ban Amendment", Hong Kong EPD considers printers and circuit boards to be scrap. The Hong Kong EPD's press release on the visit to the sites BAN impugns makes this distinction - a printer scrap recycler was found with LCDs and CRTs, which is illegal. That doesn't say the printer scrap is illegal, it says the printer scrap recycler was - illegally - also processing other non-printer HW stuff. Now I thought it was going to be a lot of work for me to point out that slight of hand (I see what you did there meme). But BAN has now BLASTED the Hong Kong EPD for not agreeing with them!
Responding to the report, the Environmental Protection Department expressed "grave concern" and on Friday said it had immediately initiated an investigation against the alleged recycling sites in the New Territories. "The EPD will not tolerate any hazardous e-waste being illegally imported to Hong Kong," a spokesman said.
The spokesman said the EPD has already contacted BAN for information and had urged them to provide US authorities "with relevant information at the same time to facilitate interception at source".
The department stressed that provisions set out in the city's Waste Disposal Ordinance were formulated "in accordance with the requirements of the Basel Convention" and were consistent with those adopted by other jurisdictions including member countries of the European Union.
Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department is proud of the state of the art ALBA and Li Tong Group facilities at its ECOPARK. They are trying to open the door for OEM returns and Manufacturer Takeback systems. But they do NOT consider printers "chemical waste" and now BAN is blasting them for granting recycling of printers "in accordance with the requirements of the Basel Convention." ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE THAT INCLUDES FALSE ACCUSATIONS AS WELL AS FAILURE TO PROSECUTE. ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE INCLUDES ENVIRONMENTAL MALPRACTICE MIT HAS SOOOOO MANY STUDENTS WHO KNOW ASIA AND HONG KONG ARE NOT PRIMITIVES, AND THEY DESERVE AN OPEN DEBATE ABOUT THE ALLEGATIONS IN #EWASTEGATE. YOU BROUGHT BAN TO THE PROM, IT'S TIME TO DANCE.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
MIT's Senseable City Lab gave apparently new credibility to a wilting ENGO in Seattle, whose reputation for accuracy about "E-Waste Exports" has taken a couple of nasty hits in recent years. For example, BAN.org tried to claim they "never, ever stated" that 80% of e-waste was exported when multiple studies showed zero percent evidence of the figure. Then the bete noir of the past decade - Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana - turned out to be an unimpressive urban junkyard near the center of Accra, not a remote fishing village contaminated by imported e-waste.
BAN desperately needed a new "tragedy" and turned to a methodology it had tried once before - placing GPS trackers into "e-waste" (?) and showing transboundary movement. With the help of MIT Media Lab's Carlo Ratti and his "Senseable City Lab" team, they found an e-Steward (a paying member) to put tarps in their parking lot and let BAN and its "volunteers" allegedly render samples of CRT monitors, LCD monitors, and printers "unrepairable" and place tracking devices inside them.
Thanks for the invitation to "Explore". MIT Tracking Has evidently led us to the discovery of a "Previously Unknown" hundred million dollar development - ECOPARK in Hong Kong.
Let's drill down and look for printer scrap, to see if we find "rice paddies" - or more confirmation that Hong Kong is richer per capita than the USA and generates more urban waste, requiring state of the art industrial sludge treatment, landfills, and e-scrap recycling facilties.
Lung Mun Road "EcoPark"
We've already critiqued (Right-Wrong 1-3) the flaws in the GPS tracking method. The cringeworthy treatment of TV repair professional and Africa Tech Sector trader Joe "Hurricane" Bensonby "cutting a power cord" - resulting in Benson's imprisonment and Jim Puckett's excuse of "collateral damage" meant that #BullyBoys at BAN knew better than to send undocumented "sabotage" as "unrepairable" and "illegal".
MIT has now obscured the coordinates of the tracking devices. Now I can't track the printer devices directly to the EcoPark, but the buyers there are pretty darn close to the coordinates MIT has now obscured. But my point is that if the downstream recycler outsourced the printer scrap or stored it during construction, it does not support the defamatory commentary about "child labor" or "rice paddies" or even "previously unknowns" - we know where stuff goes, and MIT has tracked printer scrap to extremely close to where it should be. I have plotted where it was supposed to go on my own, and found SHOCKER it's in the same neighborhood... but I can't track it further, thanks to Obscured Data. Still - "Previously unknown" my a**. Who is engaged in "cover up" and "obscuring" the truth, now?
BAN's allegation that the printer scrap (not commenting on the LCDs yet) was discovered to be scrapped at "previously unknown", "illegal", "child labor" facilities was reported by +KCTS 9 with fanfare.
BUT AS I BEGAN RESEARCHING THE PLACES ONLINE, MIT and BAN suddenly made the coordinates "disappear". They had been provided briefly, and to certain paying E-Stewards the data had been given in advance of the press to allow them to prepare excuses and responses (those paying members, and BAN, may have the data currently).
But here is a geographic FACT. I have access to the exact sites which have been alleged to be "dumps" in "New Territories".
Here is a MAP OF HONG KONG (wikipedia). We are focused on Region 8 (Tuen Mun District), near the border of Region 9 (Yuen Long) where our printer scrap was supposed to go to the EcoPark. MIT has tracked it to -- Region 8/9 border .
What BAN ominously refers to as "The New Territories" sounds like some secret remote place. But the term actually applies generally to anyplace outside the urban center of Hong Kong of 1860 - over 80% of Hong Kong, much of which is very urban. Search for images of Tuen Mun District specifically, and here is what Google dishes out. Below that is a photo of one example of the "New Territories" (New Kowloon).
Here's a simplified map that shows, in grey, the heavily urbanized areas of Hong Kong territories.
Tin Shui Wai New Town
Number 8 is Tuen Mon District. Above it is Yuen Long District (home of the Tin Shui Wai New Town, one of the 5 most densely populated housing districts on earth), the tracked devices were near the District lines. Hong Kong EPD issued a press release in March which cites LCD and battery recyclers in Yuen Long of improper management, we suspect these are the yards that have been obscured by MIT. But we don't see any reference to printers, which Hong Kong EPD states clearly are NOT considered hazardous waste.
Zoom in close enough to see buildings, yards, etc...
So in the "Right Wrong" blogs, I've referred to the development of Hong Kong's EcoPark and R2 Certified Li Tong Group and New Faith recycling companies, and (Right Wrong 3) the massive EcoPark and hundreds of millions $US investment by ALBA, etc. Guess where those are on the map?
Opening Ceremony of the EcoPark WEEE Recycling Centre
The grand opening ceremony of the EcoPark WEEE Recycling Centre was launchedon 27 January 2011. The event was officiated by Mr. Edward Yau, JP, Secretary for the Environment. Mr. Yau remarked at the opening ceremony, “The WEEE Recycling Centre combines the elements of environmental protection, social service and education. Not only will it ensure the proper disposal of used electrical appliances and reduce the pressure on our landfills, but also create employment opportunities for workers of low technical skill, so that they can learn a trade.”
The 5,000-square metre EcoPark WEEE Recycling Centre is Hong Kong’s best equipped centre for recycling used electrical and electronic appliances. Through donation, refurbishment and dismantling, used appliances can be recycled or put to second-hand use to help the needy.
So look again at where the scrapyard where the printers were found is located.
So as we documented in Right Wrong 3, MIT MoniTour has now hidden the coordinates, which may still be accessible to BAN and it's paid E-Stewards. But I think have it, based on proximity to the sea containers at what appears to be the printer scrap yard.
According to my sources, Hong Kong EPD is NOT enforcing on the printers that BAN announced (they are investigating LCDs and CRTs, whether locally generated or imported). But if there were CRTs, LCDs or batteries in the yard, they are in trouble. But take a close look here at how small this yard is. Is this supposed to mean that millions of tons or USA e-waste are processed by 4 Chinese printer scrappers in Tuen Mo?
I think the yard BAN found is in Ha Tsuen.
And as documented last week, MIT Senseable City has ignored our requests to meet and discuss our data, the ethics of their use of the data, the allegations of "child labor" at the location in Hong Kong above, and the possible influence of fundraising partners. BAN is desperately are trying to show their breathe new life into the racist depictions of the Tech Sector and Recycling Sector overseas. BAN refers to this area as "rice paddies" - hyperbole to compensate for a position declining influence.
Now, the printer scrap area is ugly. But for sake of comparison, here's scrap metal in Addison County, Vermont. Using the containers to approximate the size, I think the printer scrap area identified in Hong Kong is about 1/5 the size of a local Middlebury scrapyard, which itself is about the size of Agbogbloshie.
Anthony Schick seems like a nice enough guy. Probably would fit in well with the Boston Globe reporters of Spotlight, graduate of University of Missouri (best J-School in America). But if he sits down and reviews last year's explosion of #ewastegate and the false claims made about Agbogbloshie, and starts to look at the EcoPark in Hong Kong, the recycled plastic content demand by original electronics equipment manufacturers in nearby Shenzhen, he may yet realize that what BAN and MIT have described as "previously unknown" destinations is actually perfectly well known to everyone involved in "MANUFACTURER TAKEBACK PROGRAMS", the very solution BAN has for decades announced as their goal.
Acer and Wistron announce need for recycled plastic content in new devices manufactured in Shenzhen (Chinese city sharing port of Hong Kong).
Hong Kong announces massive generation of e-Waste by its own residents (higher per capita than USA)
Hong Kong Environmental PD designs plan for huge scale state of the art E-Scrap plants to supply Shenzhen's recycled content needs.
USA R2 and E-Steward recyclers enter into private commercial agreements to supply those needs, after determing Hong Kong EPD does not consider the printers hazardous waste.
Maybe the Hong Kong recycler was buying before construction caught up at the EcoPark. Maybe they identified certain laser printers were not classified as HW and sold them. Maybe they running a sham recycler at the EcoPark. Maybe someone at a scrapyard misrepresented the downstream. Maybe the USA recycler we sold to did. I'm not judging this. I'm just putting this into perspective... it's a small yard in a city-state of 8 million people. Recyclers there separate metal and plastic with hammers, by hand, the way my employees do. We can try to find answers to these questions without resorting to describing Africans as monkeys or Chinese as child labor lords.
Again, if MIT is obscuring these sites out of concern for privacy, legality, and ethics, as implied in their obscured map of Hong Kong, that's fine but then ALL sites must be obscured. Like this poor homewner who purchased an LCD, according to MIT, perhaps from a thrift shop in Eugene, Oregon, to bring home to XX address at YY street in the City of XXX in USA. I have the exact address, and the person's name. But unlike MIT, I don't think it's ethical to state publicly that the private purchase was "previously unknown" and therefore "newsworthy and public".
MIT, you meant well. Anthony Schick, your team meant well. But a little bit of Socratic method and Q-Method research goes a long way. Link to your alma mater's William Stephenson, who built Missouri's Journalism School by teaching the importance of avoiding easy stories perpetuate groupthink. Try a little "play theory".
This blog is about ethics of e-waste recycling. We explore lifecycle costs, mining, geography, research, public policy, etc., but ethics is at the core of this. Primum non Nocere dudes, primum non nocere.
Press release from BAN today -
"As an immediate solution, BAN recommends that business, government, and the public only use e-Stewards Certified Recyclers. e-Stewards is the only certification that prohibits exports of hazardous e-waste to developing countries and all e-Stewards recyclers are monitored by unannounced inspections as well as potential downstream verification through electronic tracking devices, in addition to annual on-site audits by certification bodies."
BAN's financials show the source of income (financial interest, in MIT Ethics speak) from E-Stewards they recommend... even though there is no indication in the MIT report that E-Stewards recyclers were less likely to export.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
In March 2015, a group of Ghana customs agents, Ghana Tech Sector importers, and three USA journalists accompanied WR3A from the scorched waterside where copper and aluminum wires - wires from cars, appliances, and computers - were being torched in tires. We'd walked about the fires, dodging the black smoke, as WR3A's Dagbani translator (and Tech Sector Geek, first introduced on this blog (May 2011) translated for a group of young men led by Muhammed Awal.
(Note: I've kind of deliberately avoided really nice photos here, just to kind of capture the ordinariness of it all)
The photographers (myself included) had all snapped some great and alarming shots of young men, dirt, poverty, pollution, and smoke. The ENGO's halloween language would be hard to resist. But we now moved the the larger Agbogbloshie yard, where by hammer and screwdriver and axe, metals were being separated from each other and from the plastic skins and wire nerves that bound their bodies.
The first electronic or "e-Waste" device we photographed was a VHS or VCR player. It was, no doubt, originally imported used. The Italian photographers got their lenses up close, accepting the premise that this represented and "obsolete" import.
Joe Benson's container exports were itemized, not just by count of appliance, but by brand and model. In 100 pages of documents I reviewed, there was no VCR. Wahab, the Ghana Tech who made our tour possible, would never have imported one.
But back in the day, when I lived in West Africa in the 1980s, VCRs were a hot commodity. An entire industry of "duplicate" movies existed in Nigeria. Knock off copies of "Rocky" and "Rambo" and "Bob Marley Concerts" were in every marketplace, from Yaounde to Ngaoundal. Cameroon was still in the business of erecting TV towers, but the "critical mass of users" who made those investments promising had obtained used CRT televisions - every one of which demanded a VHS player as much as it did electricity.
When I looked down and saw the young men pounding, I saw a flashback of scrap appliance from Africa's past decades. I wondered, did the young Italian documentary makers (in their 20s) have any idea what a VHS player was, and could they imagine a Joe Benson or Wahab buying one from an "e-waste" collector and paying thousands of dollars to ship it here?
The Ghana customs agents walked away from the VCR having seen evidence that the scrapyard was full of Accra city junk. The Ghana scrap "boys" walked away, having seen a piece of metal one of them had purchased for a few dimes and put on a push cart... they saw a piece of electronics so old that they were able to buy it for its metal value, so obsolete that even Agbogbloshie's tech shops had taken a pass on it. The Ghana importers saw something they had seen in USA or EU scrap bins, but been no more interested in importing than a coconut husk. I saw confirmation that imports were not the origin of the waste we saw transformed into urban mine recycled metals.
But as the photographers circled and clicked their cameras, what did they think they saw confirmation of?
Demand in Africa evolves. In the 1980s, VCRs were valued almost as much as the television itself, and their import drove a massive Hollywood and MTV counterfeit tape industry across Africa's coast. But the end of the 1990s, the price of VCRs has fallen. Blockbuster video stores supplied movies even cheaper than Nigerian knockoffs, as they moved inventory into DVDs. Streaming would make even DVD rentals a dinosaur. CRT televisions have had a stubborn demand because the fluctuating "fuzzy current" in African cities tends to blow out modern lightweight Chinese product, but now even the CRT import business has declined.
The waste is driven by consumer elective upgrade.
The demand is driven by consumer elective upgrade.
Someday, the device we buy will be upgraded. One day the metals were born - either in a mine or a recycling yard - and formed into a device which will one day meet its fate in either a landfill or a another recycling yard. That's true whether the consumer is African, Asian, European, American or Islander. It is a universal human condition, a common stake. Recycling unites us.
There's no one to "arrest" here, no "E-Waste Kingpin". The war on mass communications is as hopeless as the war on drugs. Project Eden is a laughingstock. The problem is that no one is laughing, and the smudged reputations of Africa's Tech Sector is just another artifact of Racism. Banning all muslim tourists and immigrants, deporting all Mexicans, stopping all trade with China, move over. Banning trade with Africa's Tech Sector needs a place at Racism's table.
What's important here is that liberal Blue State ENGOs, not Trump Tea Party David Duke Red State rebels, are responsible for this high tech lynching. We have met the enemy, and he is us. Liberals feed off the burning images of victimized minorities, just as conservatives feed off the images of fear. Using race to trigger animal instincts, fear and nurture, is the ju-ju here.
We have met the enemy, and he is us.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
I'm looking for time to edit down the long post I've written for "what the NGO's and MIT got right, what the NGO's and MIT got wrong" piece. That's a problem for me, finding time to edit stuff.
The 14 months that have now passed since March-April trip to Ghana in 2015 have been in large part the editing or digesting of the experience there. I'm still re-editing things I wrote at the time, I'm still reviewing interviews we filmed. And new information keeps coming, even as the situation is evolving.
Wahab - our business partner in Ghana - has been back and forth four times to see his cousin Kamal, CEO of Chendiba Enterprises. And I continue to take calls every week from young men I met there. Kamaldeen has now finally graduated the engineering school program (he had been working at Chendiba Enterprises to help pay for his studies). And Awal, the "lead guy" of the wire burning men at Agbogbloshie, still calls several times a week. When Wahab's here, it's easier, because my pidgin English is really rusty. Wahab and I help ground each other's wires; my compassion for Awal keeps Wahab from spanking his ass for calling and shilling, and Wahab's grown up expectations of the men (and Awal is definitely a man, not a "child labor orphan") who will twist a guilty knife is welcome intervention in the role-play. I've had good and bad experiences intervening in Africa, and having time and partners from the area give needed perspective.
What I need to say about Jim Puckett, Kevin McElvaney, and the MIT team, PBS and @Earthfixmedia is important, but I do owe it to them to take the time to edit. They deserve the same compassion and patience we show Awal and the company at Agbogbloshie. And this extends of course to Dr. Jack Caravanos and PureEarth, and the StEP team, and everyone in the business of "saving Africa". I need to edit, and to demonstrate the dignity these researchers and journalists deserve. It takes time. Primum non nocere. Don't rush to judgement. Listen to your human subjects. Basics.
(Why is TSHALA MUANA unnamed on a "various artists" album? She's a star!)
Like, "don't accuse a specific person or business at a specific place on a map of employing child labor". That's pretty basic. I mean, since you haven't shown any evidence of it. I've found generally that accusing people of employing child labor is pretty heinous complaint, one I might want to edit out of a press release if there's a chance someone just made it up. Last thing you'd want to do is make a very specific charge, like using child labor, based on a geography of a device, if in fact you don't have a scintilla of evidence that children work there. If you made the complaint against the wrong person, like say in a police state you track a device to, you could wind up getting that person arrested or much worse. Just saying.
It takes time to really digest and edit our blogs and research papers, to make sure that the ethics aren't lost in one's desire to demonstrate one's coolness. I've been in the "saving Africa" business a long time (long enough to say it with tongue deeply in cheek). And it's ordinary that someone like me who has been in the business of intervention a long time develops a cynical or resentful view of people whose hearts are in all the right places, but present themselves as knowing something they don't know (like workers are "orphans"). That resentment often crops up in my writing, which is why it takes so much time to edit.
When people who have a lot of influence in the press come in with baggage and agendas, it's disappointing. They perhaps don't realize they are corrupting something good (the worst recycling is better than the best mining), and misusing the influence of their institution. In this "world-saving" business, we learn that first hand, by making mistakes the first few years we are involved overseas. I've made a lot of mistakes and only hope I'll make fewer of them, and this particular mistake I keep making falls under "rush to publish". MIT Senseable City Lab probably has heard that phrase.
Patience is a virtue. Hurry hurry broke trowser. Pause before hitting the send key... Ethics live close to courtesy, and being courteous to human subjects whose homes and businesses you've pinpointed on a map seems like a good idea.
The patience that Chendiba Enterprises has with Good Point Recycling, and the patience Good Point extends to our partners in Ghana, doesn't come naturally to PCVs, academia, or photojournalists. My conversations by text with Peter Essick (National Geographic photographer) or by phone with CBS Michelle Rey came for me as a moment during a 30 year work in progress. But for them, it's a publishing deadline. If they spend even two months to understand Guiyu or Agbogbloshie, that's considered "long form journalism". When their business is photography, or documentary film, they are there for a moment that evokes compassion in a paying audience.
The NGO, academic, volunteer, or photojournalist isn't a bad person. There are a lot of things they get right. They represent a kind of antibody, a white blood cell, which we need to govern the business relationships which, absolutely, are subject to the ills of asymmetric power. If a USA surplus property office is in the business of making money on asset recovery, and an African trader has a bottleneck of a sea container to fill, it's absolutely a recipe for "toxics along for the ride". Not everything that gets exported gets fixed.
But boiling down the relationship to "Recyclers don't care about people they do business with" or "reuse markets in Foshan use child labor to refurbish display devices" is nothing short of pompous. It would be as easy to write that the academics, NGOs, and photojournalists "don't care about their research subjects" (and in too many words here I've done so). But "whites impugning other whites"* doesn't do anything to "save the blacks", and a really 3 decade long involvement in environmental and human development can't always begin to even translate the issues at stake -- drive-by-savior culture of reflected cave shadow compassion megaplex.
During the three decades I've been trying to stay involved with the Africa I fell in love with in Cameroon, my own compassion has matured. I'm very proud of my family, and my relationship with my beautiful bi-national wife. If you have been married for about 30 years, you know that relationship far more deeply, and reverberatingly, than you could know on your first date, love-at-first-sight-notwithstanding. The woman or man you fall deeply in love with changes over the years, and you find things out about them and about yourself that you couldn't have known in your 20s.
So by analogy, I feel like I've been in a long relationship with the Emerging Market's Tech Sector. And it almost feels like BAN and MIT and McElvaney want a one-night stand. They don't realize that's what they are after, they are like the Peace Corps volunteer's American visitor pal who wants to "hook up" with a gal in the village. They may both be attracted to each other, and intervening maybe isn't your job or responsibility, but the likelihood that Peter Essick develops a longstanding relationship with a child who has been posed with scrap wires on his head is next to nil. Boom MIT: http://couhes.mit.edu/definitions#Exempt%20status
MIT has an Ethics Department whose job it is to monitor experiments on human subjects. And that's basically what is going on with the #TrackingEwaste MoniTour Senseable City Lab and Basel Action Network Project. They've attached tracking devices to used electronics which may or may not be repairable (we really don't know at this point) and sent them into an ecosystem of reuse, repair and recycling. And then they came straight out on PBS and made moral judgements, claiming to have found extremely specific "previously unknown" problems, like alleged "child labor" in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
During the 3 decades since I first went to Africa, my number one concern there - hard rock metal mining (which is the most polluting activity on the planet) - has gone bonkers. USA and EU regulation of smelting and mining activity, combined with Asia's enormous appetite and need for non-ferrous and ferrous metal extraction, has directed vast investments to exploit metals in Africa.
That was my environmental bent going to Africa in the 1980s, and the comparison of the toxics released by recycling appliances and mining lead, silver, gold, coltan, tin, copper and iron from Africa's mountains and jungles is stupifying. As in "making people stupid".
The challenge to write a critique short enough for MIT brass to read it, but long enough to not over-simplify the NGO, academic, and photojournalists genuine interests in doing a good one for the black man, is heinous. If you combine that with the demands to fruitfully examine my own self -interests, and the long, long term interests of the "subjects" in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, you wind up with a telanovella that lasts 8 seasons.
During the time that we've been talking about recycling in Asia and Africa, the very music that people listen to has changed. I'm still wondering where the women of Soukous went? There's not a single woman singer-icon from the 70-90s that I can think of (looked up Tshala Muana from a favorite playlist). Franco, Papa Wemba, Tabu Ley Rocherou, Prince Nico Mbarga, and dozens of other African MEN became famous. But half the music I loved then was sung by women. That's as interesting to me as what happened to the CRTs MIT tracked... one to a scrapyard in Pakistan, two to a multistory inner city refurbished goods store blocks away from a Pakistan university.
Human subjects should be listened to. And that is what MIT did not do, nor BAN, nor PBS.
The entire "e-waste" debate has been nothing more than a vast experiment on human subjects, where speculation passes as data and anecdotes substitute for experience. MIT did not even check where all the devices went, they allowed BAN to impugn the entire "third world" as "primitive" and "child labor" and let an anecdotal broken LCD lamp stand for what happened to every LCD, CRT, and printer they tracked or didn't track. It is absolutely inexcusable for MIT to have associated itself with this propaganda campaign, and I expect someone to call me and ask me to come and make an alternative thesis presentation. Not because they are bad people. I'm sure the folks at MIT Senseable City Lab are as honest and caring as the friends at MIT who put me up for 2 weeks on a couch when I moved from Arkansas to Boston (the year I returned from 30 months is Africa).
It is taking me more than a year to write the report on Agbogbloshie because I have learned I have to really, really talk to people I am writing about. I have to put down the work, let myself digest what I've written, and come back and edit it. And what I'm doing today is trying to unwind the anger I've found in my writing at people in America and Europe who really do care. They really seem to want more than a one-night-stand with the global south. They are like the Catholic and other missionaries we talked about in Africa in the 80s... really nice people who really mean well and who maybe really think that there is a "Heaven" and "Hell" Africans are headed to if not but for their white savior panty-waste moral lessons. They are there for a moment that evokes compassion in a paying audience
Missionaries in Africa, we all figured, are primarily there to project what the Church is doing to the people in the pews in America and Europe. They spend very little in Africa, and don't harm anyone there. But for every 100 dollars raised passing the plate in America's churches, less than a dollar goes to help anyone in Africa. And that's the story here with environmentalism. Instead of talking about women's rights and mining roads that expose endangered species to bushmeat hunters, Basel Action Network wants us to track devices #FreeJoeBenson sells to electronics shops in Accra. Benson goes to jail, Cahal Milmo and Raphael Rowe get their names out in front to show their compassion to UK audiences, Lord Chris Smith gets to make speeches, NGOs raise funds. And they all like each other immensely. And I turn into this bitter little man who writes blogs about them, when I should be listening to this music. But every church needs a philosopher.
Primum Non Nocere dudes. Primum non nocere!
*when I say "whites impugning other whites" it's intended as tongue in cheek, I don't actually know much about the race of academics, and it's certainly not the case of Raphael Rowe. But the can of worms of race-baiting was opened by the people who associate trade between "OECD" and "Non-OECD" with "primitive practices" and "child labor". I should probably have taken time to edit that out, but now someone's read it so I'll just footnote in post.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
MIT Subjects Human Subject to Tracking Experiments without Prior Consent, Releases Tracking Data to Support False Claims by ENGO with Financial Incentive, Racially Profiles Non-White Material Handlers as "Child Laborers"
See, for a blogger, I'm a reasonable guy. If I released this blog under the alternative title above, it could really offend some people - just as several test subjects in MIT's MoniTour and BAN's #trackingewaste have been offended. And rather than listen to the counter arguments we have been offering, it might lead Carlo Rotti to dismiss our comments as a case of personal interest rather than legitimate concerns about methods (hidden tracking devices) and interpretations of experimental results (transboundary movement).
Our audience consists of fair trade recyclers, and people open to trading with geeks of color. Yes, we have a self interest. And perhaps that's why MIT Senseable City Lab hasn't answered any of our critiques for a month.
My first instinct isn't always to calm down and assume the best about someone who impugns people based on nationality or race, but I've learned over the years to make a go of it. So let's consider why MIT SCL might avoid communicating with us - test subjects in their recycling experiment. Maybe it wouldn't have been proper research for MIT to engage with us from the beginning, and they can explain that's why they didn't need consent from the private company (not a public drop off) where they placed a printer with a tracking device in nearby Somerville.
But if that's the reason - that I have a financial interest in trade - that would cut both ways.Isn't MIT's Partner, BAN, selling for financial consideration an E-steward certification, a self-defining anti-export regime, one that appeals to electronics recyclers who don't wish to trade or compete with exporters? It turns out most universities have an independent office for questions about research ethics, and MIT is no exception.
The MIT ETHICS DEPARTMENT is there to help researchers vet these questions. Ideally, before research begins. Most certainly, before people are accused in the press of engaging in "child labor" or being "primitive" or "acting illegally", and certainly before you show those individuals homes, offices, and resale shops (in the case of Pakistan's Hafeez Center) as illegal child-labor incompetent scrap recyclers. At least, that's the case I'm trying to make.
Did MIT give a tool to an organization with a vested interest in defining "foreign" as "bad"? If Senseable City Lab has disclosed this to their Ethics Department, they have nothing to worry about.
Supplement for Disclosure of Financial Interest.
Maybe there's a record of it... MIT Senseable City Lab may have filled out a form, protecting the Institute from such speculation.
Application for Approval to Use Humans as Experimental Test Subjects...
Yep, there's a form for that, too, at MIT. Would disclosing the tests to the recyclers - who manage tens of thousands of tons of the equipment each year - altered recyclers behavior? If so, then no recyclers should have been informed... but we know some were. Among those who knew - Total Reclaim of Seattle - we can see what I would have predicted. It's impossible to change your entire management of devices based on the knowledge that 200 items are being spread around recyclers across the country.
So it's unlikely that sharing information with us test subjects would have altered our behavior. But we could then have asked the questions I've posed to MIT. How are devices being "rendered unrepairable"? If they simply "cut a power cord", as BBC Panorama did to the TV sent to Hurricane Joe Benson, they'd have wasted their whole study (It takes about 2 minutes to repair that). We'd have advised them how to fairly distribute the items, and explained that if they truly want to predict a percentage of USA e-waste, they need to track a good number of large CRT televisions (which don't appear at all in the MoniTour study, though I'm told there was one tracked... which raises questions in itself). Focus groups with tests subjects could have rendered a better experiment, and might have led MIT to be careful in certain assumptions (like associating "Hong Kong" with "child labor")
In fact there is a whole slew of ways an MIT Research Lab protects itself from violating things like privacy rights, making public claims about illegal activity, and tracking techniques. From MIT's Online Ethics page:
Application for Approval to Use Humans as Experimental Subjects (exempt status form) Download this formMay be appropriate for research in a category that is defined in Federal Guidelines as exempt from review, such as research:
on instructional strategies or techniques
involving tests, surveys, or observation of public behavior
involving the collection or study of existing data on consumer acceptance of food quality, taste, etc.
View the definition of exempt status to determine if the proposed research activities qualify for exempt review.
If you have questions about whether a study meets criteria for exempt status, contact the COUHES office
Application for Approval to Use Humans as Experimental Subjects (standard form) Download this form Required for all studies involving human subjects that do not qualify for exempt status as explained above.Completion of this form also requires completion of the Checklist for Standard Form Application Continuing Review Questionnaire (CRQ)Download this form All studies approved by COUHES require continuing reviewApproximately 60 days before approval expires, COUHES will send the Principal Investigator a Continuing Review Questionnaire (CRQ) that must be completed and returned to COUHES before the expiration date of the study
The specific printer in their study, the one I'm concerned about, was dropped off at a private office, sent to a private company, which processed it and sent it to another private company, which graded and exported it to another private company. The "public" exception does not apply. Still, maybe it was a good faith mistake by MIT (though it raised question, unanswered, about who distributed the tracked devices, and where, and how they selected those addresses or chose which devices to leave with whom).
I do feel MIT owes me acknowledgement it has received 3 or 4 emails and 2 hard copy letters, and a phone message. I explained in the letters that MIT's press release has the potential to seriously threaten livelihoods. For example, the R2 certification group, SERI, has released a statement implying it shares the concerns of Basel Action Network).
For over a month, MIT Senseable City has had 12 pages of alternative hypotheses, questions, and corrections, and an offer to meet and discuss them. But we have not received a single email back or acknowledgment of receipt. If they need more time, it's not cool to not send an email requesting more time. I've given them time, and will continue, but today must start to air some of the questions. Who were the testers (who planted the devices) and what did the testers have to gain from the experiment? Did they disclose potential financial interests in the outcomes? Would BAN have announced the results if 0/200 tracked devices had been exported? What conclusions were drawn about the 65 devices which were exported, as opposed to those that were not?
An allegation of "child labor" was specifically made in regards to Hong Kong recycling. Is there evidence of "children" working at any recycling yard in Hong Kong during the past 20 years? Why exactly did MIT obscure the destinations of printer scrap in Hong Kong, giving a message implying "government investigation", when the Hong Kong EPD said the printers were not listed wastes, and the frozen frames I took (above) showed the yards in proximity to licensed metal and plastic scrap yards listed on HK EPD website?
And if it is under investigation, why isn't the USA source "obscured" as well? Are you actually protecting a prosecutable case, or are you covering up that the goods were tracked to a legal facility, and protecting MIT from being sued by recyclers in the USA who legally shipped material to legal licensed facilities in Hong Kong?
In fact, if there are any destinations MoniTour should be "obscuring", the extreme care Hong Kong EDP takes in licensing ever type of waste and every type of recycler makes those the last I would obscure. USA companies, private homes (!), and reuse factories in Foshan and Faisalabad are trackable, but we are left to take BAN and MIT's word that the devices were "unrepairable". Devices tracked to Hafeez Electronics, or homeowners in the USA, have been pinpointed with extreme accuracy. Did MIT or BAN disclose the results with the test subjects? If as MIT implies there's a illegal child labor and environmental pollution "discovered", there are forms for that, too.
Assent to Participate in Research (for minors)
Averse Event Reporting Form
These are just some of the questions we sent to MIT Senseabilty Lab, care of Carlo Rotti, over a month ago. We have had no response despite 3 follow ups (and a few blogs and tweets) At this point, we have done our part to presume honest intent. I will continue to keep these posts fact-based as much as I can. But tracking a shipment to a person in Africa and then announcing or implying that the person is engaged in "illegal activity" (something not defined here), with NO evidence that MIT contacted a single outside expert in Basel Convention, Basel "Ban Amendment", Hong Kong environmental law, WTO Cores Doha Round on refurbishing, etc., is a bit outrageous. There's absolutely NO sign in the report that MIT spoke to SERI, to EPA, to Secretariat of the Basel Convention, anyone other than Basel Action Network. Oh, exception - paying E-Stewards (Total Reclaim) were given advance access to the data prior to the release, and given a chance to prepare their responses. Chinese, Pakistani, or USA firms that don't contribute financially to BAN did not get that courtesy.
There are a number of fundamental Ethics Principles at MIT requiring researchers to vet projects like this. And since it could have repercussions on careers of the individuals involved at SCLab, I've held back in the blog until a month went by.
Oh sorry, did you think you hid this? Your partner continues to make information available to people who pay them money, and from those people, others can get the information. Check it out. How did I find this yard? What exactly is MIT's ethical decision behind obscuring the information from some peers and test subjects, but not from others?
Is this yard legally taking spent CRTs? No. Is it legally taking bad LCDs? No. Can it manage Printers as scrap plastic and metal scrap? That's a rather specific question. If MIT tracks 3 types of device, and finds that the least legal and most expensive to manage - CRTs - is the least exported, and the most legal and least expensive is the most exported, why does MIT believe this supports the allegations of a partner who openly solicits funding from test subjects? Academics, here's a piece of advice... When you go out into the press and make an announcement, with fanfare, you can't really get away with stonewalling afterwards. If the research is still under review, you don't really have to answer too many questions. But once you go on TV and radio and make CLAIMS about INDIVIDUALS who were NOT contacted in ANY WAY about the DATA you COLLECT from them, you are ETHICALLY and LEGALLY bound to ANSWER allegations of FALSE CLAIMS.
Below I'll present just 2 of the items that MIT has not responded to:
1) Specific claims about child labor 2) Generalization of data on printers (legal) and LCDs and CRTs (not legal), effectively taking data which was separate in the test and combining it with data to create a false alarm.
"Child Labor"is a rather specific claim, and quite a hot button. As soon as I read the words associated with Hong Kong, I knew there was a serious problem. I suspected that Carlo Ratti "drank the koolaid" BAN has been serving for 2 decades. And environmental professionals and researchers are not buying what he's helping BAN sell.
Children brought to work in Hong Kong from rural China was a documented problem - IN 1921. The regulations in Hong Kong werebeefed up again in 1968, when a regime of inspections, fines, and prosecution was implemented. There are truancy officers. If MIT did find any evidence of child labor, it would be an illegal activity, and MIT Ethics Department would need to be immediately contacted to ensure that MIT did not engage in false claims or cover up evidence of crime. Perhaps MIT was relying on claims made by Meagan Grau in 2005, who issued a report that enrollment in high school was declining in correlation with the expansion of factories in Shenzhen. But Grau's conclusions are controversial, in part because the statistics (deliberately or otherwise) specifically include "children" of 16 years when right to employ begins at 15 years. The statistics are gathered from declines in High School enrollment, which can reasonably be linked to increases in jobs in Shenzhen - just as opening a new Toyota Factory in Alabama results in declines in Birmingham high schools.
When you are talking about a million people, you must disclose the percentage (15 year olds and 16 year olds) who you are counting as "child laborers" who would not be "child laborers" even in the USA. More importantly, Leslie Chang (author of "Factory Girls" 2009) and others followed up on the dire "child labor" claims of 2005 and found them to be vastly overstated... that's vastly overstated in 2005, in mainland China OUTSIDE of Hong Kong. How MIT and BAN make a specific claim of Child Labor in Hong Kong, and don't respond to our written questions and follow up questions, is also potentially subject to MIT ethical review.
The fallacy of combining data on legal employment (15-16 year olds) with illegal (0-14 year olds) is a matter of defining "child labor". No doubt Grau wishes more kids will go to school rather than postpone the diploma. The same fallacy is found in the second critique of MIT MoniTour SCL report.
Printer Scrap Isn't Classified as Haz Waste in Hong Kong. Following up on enforcement of the case at Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department, we found a statement explaining that printer scrap was not considered hazardous waste (it's considered scrap metal and plastic) and that only LCD monitors (not LED), CRTs in MIT's Senseable City Lab test are being investigated for violation of Hong Kong Law. Most of the MIT Senseable City GPS devices tracked to Hong Kong from the East Coast were printers, and on BAN's web page, you see an enormous lot of segregated printer scrap in the scrapyard.
Perhaps MIT asked if the printer scrap could be managed as scrap metal. (There's a "Translation Attestation Form" they can show for the people they asked about it). But the report generalizes data about printer, LCD, and CRT scrap exports, and that actually requires MIT to take separate data and combine it, perhaps altering the press' impression of the findings.
In our correspondence with MIT, we focused on the printer - by far the largest group of tracked items sent from USA to Hong Kong - which MIT and BAN represented to be illegal or associated with "child labor" or "illegal activity". We asked MIT why printers be segregated by the USA recyclers and the Hong Kong recyclers?
If you are researching a mix of e-Waste and a general allegation of "all too often" mismanagement, why would you find a cluster of one particular type of material? Clearly the photos show this isn't random. But MIT Senseable City Lab apparently didn't ask any expert to explain why this material would be outside, why this material would be imported in higher percentage than any other material, why this printer material would escape customs scrutiny when CRTs are routinely caught. BAN alleges that Hong Kong customs did not do its job and that the material was smuggled in... but what we see is the opposite - rejections and enforcement by Hong Kong Customs on containerloads of CRTs, but not on printer scrap.
Why? Perhaps because Hong Kong follows the BASEL CONVENTION.
Annex IX has an "A List" of known wastes (presumed hazardous and under trans-boundary control - just the movement of it over the border is presumed to be export crime) and a "B List" of allowed exports (presumed non-hazardous so long as the material isn't released into the environment). Among letters to the Secretariat, praising or scolding this legal distinction, are letters signed by Jim Puckett of BAN.org, who admonished the Secretariat and voters for creating what he thinks are "loopholes" under Annex IX, B1100. Puckett claims that the Basel Ban Amendment - the amendment to CHANGE these rules - is necessary, but knows it is not enacted. It's not surprising that BAN omits this, or that PBS doesn't catch the distinction. But MIT? Did they simply not ask anybody but the group which sent the letter of protest against repair and circuit board legal export?
Hong Kong EDP is somehow portrayed as needing White Savior to help them with the e-waste problem, but our review of the Hong Kong EPD website shows one of the most sophisticated systems for tracking waste (Hong Kong itself, with 7M residents, is one of the highest generators of E-Waste per capita in the world).
The lists of Hong Kong's regulated hazardous ("Chemical Waste") recyclers include permitted collectors and processors of
poisons and pharmaceuticals,
Earth material containing heavy metals and mineral oils,
general chemical waste,
sludge or resin containing heavy metal/solvents,
spent copper etchant,
spent dangerous goods (e.g. drums),
spent fluid pholychorinated biphenyls,
spent halogenated organic solvents and compounds,
spent lubricating oil bottle/filter,
spent mercury lamp waste,
spent non-halogenated organic solvents/compounds,
spent plating solutions,
tannery offcut waste (chromium),
waste batteries from electric vehicles,
waste batteries (separate list),
waste lubircating oil/mineral oil,
waste mineral oil from vessels (MARPOL oily waste),
waste mineral oils mixture from petrol interceptor in bulk using tankers,
waste transformer oil not containing PCB
EACH of those categories has an entire LIST of permitted recyclers. The Hong Kong EPD is nobody's fool, they have oils and batteries split out by recovery processes and capture methods.
PRINTERS, Hong Kong EPD explicitly announced are NOT covered waste. They are, per Basel Convention Annex IX B, scrap metal - legal plastic and legal circuit board scrap metal.
Imagine if there were two gigantic world class e-Scrap factories being built in Hong Kong, to meet multimillion dollar recycled content demand for OEMs who have responded to "takeback" and "circular economy" demands, and they wanted to keep some material outside, approved by their Hong Kong government and certification body, as construction took place. They couldn't put the CRTs outside, and they couldn't keep the LCDs, or any of the listed wastes outside. But they could treat printers separately, and do so legally. Sound far fetched? Keep reading.
R2 and E-Stewards Certifications both have a right to treat toner and circuit boards as "focus materials", which they've done to address things like BAN's objections to Basel Convention Annex IX or their presumed objections to Hong Kong EPD rules. I'm certain my company is removing toner and ink cartridges, because the volume of those we remove and ship corresponds to the amount of printer scrap we managed. A staff could miss one, and could get fired for not removing them, but we are pretty confident.
We provided to MIT Senseability Lab, a month ago, an explicit and legal basis for how a printer could be shipped to Hong Kong as undetermined (potentially repairable) material or as determined scrap (sold for plastic and metal disassembly). We provided 2 certified companies, Top Faith and Li Tong Group, which were R2 Certified for that material.
In fact, Hong Kong IS in the process of investing in a circular economy, to make the top eschelon E-Scrap recycling operation in the world. This white paper makes clear that Hong Kong EPA considers printers "non-chemical waste" and does not regulate them as they do CRTs, LCDs and batteries. And here is the legislation that finances the projects.
That opens a number of legitimate possible explanations for the pile of sorted printer scrap (which does not contain LCDs or CRTs) in the photo, and also suggest why MIT would not find random material shipped to Hong Kong (no CRTs in proportion to printer scrap), something MIT should have stated as a "finding" in my opinion. If you have groups showing that CRTs you tracked are extremely unlikely to be shipped to Hong Kong, and that printers are X% more likely, is it ethical to combine separated data and then state that "E-Waste" is likely to be exported? If so, maybe you better read what I sent you about Hong Kong printer scrap. BAN actually implies in one of its speculations that the printer is emptied from containers, put on the ground in Hong Kong, to be reloaded into sea containers again and shipped to mainland China. What? Wha..? Huh? That's a "finding"?
Given the headline: HONG KONG RECYCLERS IDENTIFIED PRINTER SCRAP AS THEIR BEST LEGAL ENTRY INTO WORLD E-SCRAP PROCESSING. Banning them from doing that based on their race, language, or other stereotype (like "employers of child labor") is not part of the Basel Convention. It is disgusting that MIT stoops to the circular reasoning that because a device is exported, that it was mismanaged, because exported devices are mismanaged. The Ayatolla of E-Waste has claimed another victim. Like CBS, PBS, The Atlantic, NPR, Guardian, Economist, etc., MIT accepted that longitude and lattitude pass as proof of racist doctrine.
Isn't it possible MIT should have asked someone in the business, rather than state they had discovered "previously unknown" destinations? The only thing "previously unknown" are specific private contracts between private parties. MIT's own press release implies that a company which shipped did something wrong - at the same time as the biggest headlines of the year are about Hong Kong E-Scrap factory openings!
Original Electronics Manufacturers in Shenzhen, such as Acer and Wistron, have announced goals for recycled plastic content in their electronics, and my company has seen electronics plastic in continued high demand, despite low petroleum prices and despite "green fence" restrictions on contamination. The recycled plastic content goals are difficult to achieve. Here is our downstream (according to our pre-audit paperwork), before their expansion (2012 ShanghaiScrap.com). A very large, clean facility, but not
Given the relatively gigantic fanfare around these two major Hong Kong e-Waste investments, shared with MIT, and the photos of the inside of Li Tong Group in 2012 (before the expansion), and given the obvious sorting of printers, and the lack of any evidence of any mixed stream recycling exports to Hong Kong from the Northeast, it seems disturbingly possible that MIT Senseable City Lab has engaged in violations of the False Claims Act. It seems imperative that MIT Senseable City Lab seek review rules for "Consent to Participate in an Interview"http://couhes.mit.edu/forms-templates which delves into RFID and other tracking technology. We provided MIT Senseable City Lab with links to the ACLU's position on tracking devices without consent, and implications of privacy rights.
I called MIT Senseable City Lab yesterday, and was told to send a 4th follow up email. I did, and did not get any response.
I'm still hopeful these people are going to show the academic rigor to meet with me and representatives of Fair Trade Recycling and learn about the potential for legal scrap recycling and processing in emerging markets, the merits of using high tech recyclers close to demand for rigid plastics, the false assumptions that printers shredded in the USA do not afterwards get sent to China for hand sorting, and the number of experts (Josh Lepawsky, Josh Goldstein, Ramzy Kahhat, Reed Miller) who have researched trans boundary movement of scrap and who could have assisted MIT in selecting a partner who doesn't make FALSE CLAIMS about child labor and illegality of printer scrap export.
MIT MoniTour Page claims "previously unknown" and "most often illegal". But most of the exports were legal printer scrap, and almost all of the illegal samples (CRTs) were not exported, and none of it was "previously unknown" except - by virtue of privacy - to MIT. Did MIT actually interview any experts, or just take BAN's word for all this?
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
It is challenging to take 10 years of blogs about ethical recycling, many written in passion, often written in haste, and channel a message which is nuanced, and not just to be brushed away as "denial". I come from the same generation, post hippy, late 70s early 80s protester. I shared the same deep sense of alarm from Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall, Rachael Carlson, etc., about the population bomb, and the finite nature of world resources. We read Amory Lovins, Barry Commoner. Jim Puckett, Barbara Kyle, Ted Smith, Shena Davis, and so many others in our 50s and early 60s grew up with the same Siddhartha Gita Vedanta Black Elk Speaks mantras, and spreading like 1860s prospectors to save parts of the world, we sharpened our arrows and powdered our muskets.
The General Mining Act of 1872 was my target. I hand wrote letters to my Arkansas Senators, Bumpers and Pryor, in 1980, telling them it was unfair to unborn generations to subsidize the pollution of hard rock mining. The EPA's Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act were focused like a laser on nonferrous smelters, hitting recycled and secondary smelters hardest (not precisely the same thing btw) but also affecting primary mining and smelting. The most polluting industry was the first to move offshore, and I shared the alarm of my fellow environmentalists in our 20s and 30s over "externalizing" pollution.
Copper, Lead, Silver, Tin and Gold mining in places like Borneo, Papua New Guinea, Zambia and Peru seemed like an end-run around our generation's attempt to clean up America's virgin mining to throwaway culture. And the places where those industries moved to were in many ways a social nightmare. Idi Amin, Mobutu Seko Sede, and dozens of other dictators pocketed "registration fees" for these mines and set up foreign bank accounts, giving rise to the alarms of "Resource Curse".
We were alarmed by the same things. We protested the same things. And Africa's "mining map" is growing.
Harry Wu recently passed away. It was thanks to Wu that Americans and Europeans knew about Maos "cultural revolution", which arrested academics for as little as rolling their eyes at Communist Party rallies. Harry Wu taught us, in the late 1980s, that cheap Chinese toys and tools were often products of slave labor. We learned about death squads in El Salvador, USA puppet governments like Allende's in Chile. Globalism was happening, it seemed, for all the wrong reasons.
So what happened. How did I become what Jim Puckett calls "the biggest thorn" in his side? We shared so many of the same experiences and same premises.
This is an opening blog to explain what happened, and what BAN and other protest-and-alarm-fueled NGOs have correctly and what they are blind to. I went to live in Africa for 30 months in the 1980s, and it changed me forever. But what changed me isn't well represented by poor African children, or poor Chinese children, or halloween language of "e-waste hell" and "child labor" and "shantytown" and "rice paddy" images. What changed me are individual people, individual friends, individual rivals, individual students.
Do the actual people in emerging markets serve as nothing more than the NGO's wallpaper? What divides Fair Trade Recycling from the traditional anti-globalist NGOs of the early 80s is Q-method. We talk to people overseas. We get translators, we visit, and we listen. So we were the first to find out that one NGO in particular was blatantly falsifying data, to the point where it merits a defamation lawsuit. I loved, adored my family in the Ozarks, but racism is a bridge too far.
Fear of others. Exoticism. Poverty porn.
The tactic of scare-mongering is everywhere, and journalists are in on it. It is easier to make a story exciting and alarming than it is to actually inform. It's not the datajournalism, it's the photography. It's not the steak, it's the sizzle. If it bleeds, it leads. Journalists and NGOs share the same great and noble mantras of the 1960s and 70s that I do. They want to save the planet, and basically do what an older generation referred to as "earn their place in heaven". We didn't call it "to sit beside and hold the hand of Jesus", our reward was more nirvana, more transcendant.
But like the pitfalls of the snake handlers in the Ozarks, we took ourselves too seriously and stopped measuring. Time to watch again the Hans Rosling TED Talks. Faith is gravity, but truth is light. We share the purpose, the gravity, the traction of making the world better for current and future generations. But Basel Action Network has been selling a product that doesn't work in the low low light of ignorance, and when they are confronted with data and information, they have begun shooting in the dark.
Part II: What they got right
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill