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The Globalization of High Tech

Environmental Injustices Plague Industry
by Carlos PlazolaCampaign for Responsible Technology
February 10th, 1997

Carlos PlazolaHigh-tech electronics industry representatives in the Silicon Valley are finally admitting that their facilities pose significant risks to surrounding communities (of course, they admitted this for liability and permit renewal purposes). A recent article in the San Jose Mercury News (6/18/96) described the struggle between LSI Logic and a neighboring Muslim school. LSI Logic representatives stated that their semiconductor manufacturing facility on Scott Boulevard posed a great risk to a school which has recently moved next door. The LSI spokesman stated, "Every day, children are within 300 feet of toxic, corrosive and flammable materials. Despite our stringent safety procedures, this makes us very nervous."

In light of these admissions, those familiar with the principles of environmental justice must ask why more and more semiconductor and circuit board manufacturing and assembly facilities are being located in low-income communities and communities of color throughout the world?

In the work that the Campaign for Responsible Technology has done over the years with community-based organizations in the southwestern U.S., we have learned that communities of color are being disproportionately impacted by the costs of producing computers. As examples:

  • 70% of the line workers (who are most exposed to toxic and corrosive chemicals) in these facilities are people of color, mostly women of child-bearing age.

  • East Austin, Texas a principally Latino and African American community, is one of the new "locations of choice" for semiconductor manufacturing companies.

  • The water rights of indigenous groups in New Mexico are threatened by Intel's thirst for 1.6 billion gallons of water per year for semiconductor manufacturing.

As globalization surges forward at breakneck speed, so do environmental injustices across the world. Unlike the industries of yesterday which located manufacturing facilities in their home countries, there is a significant trend for the high tech industry to locate its "dirtier" processes in "third-world" countries. A recent Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition analysis of 22 high tech companies from 5 countries found that even though all these companies are based in "first-world" countries, over 50% of their manufacturing and assembly facilities (the more dangerous processes of computer manufacturing which use acids, solvents, and toxic gases) are located in third world countries. This fuels concerns of environmental contamination, worker exposure to toxics, resource exploitation, and economic subsidy abuse.

As a result of neo-liberal economic policies (including the recent APEC discussions), as well as the passage of NAFTA and GATT, the high tech electronics industry is enjoying unprecedented leverage in world politics. To fight the exploitation of less powerful groups throughout the world, the Campaign for Responsible Technology is building a coalition with activist neighbors around the globe. Cross-national communication, coalition building, and networking is difficult given the differences in language and the high costs of communication. But it is essential if we are to build the grassroots base necessary to protect communities from the high costs of the high tech industry.

The Campaign for Responsible Technology (CRT) is a project of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC). It was established in 1991 to increase grassroots participation in national and international technology policy development. CRT consists of over 80 representatives from organizations throughout the U.S., and about 20 representatives from organizations in 11 other countries . These countries include the Philippines, Japan, Greece, Poland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Germany, Scotland, Australia, and South Korea.

Campaign for Responsible Technology
c/o Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
760 N. First St.
San Jose, CA 95112 USA
Tel: (408) 287-6707
Fax: (408) 287-6771