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Who Pays the Price?

March 21, 2015

By now Americans are aware that the products we use can come with unseen consequences. That appears to be the case for the latest smartphone you bought.

Producer Heather White introduces her film "Who Pays the Price?"

Producer Heather White introduces her film “Who Pays the Price?”

A soon to be released documentary movie, “Who Pays the Price?” tells the story of Chinese workers whose lives have been ruined by the jobs they took at factories which flaunt international standards.

Produced by Heather White, Lynn Zhang and Dal Lamagna, the film documents the plight of workers who were forced to use benzene and n-hexane to clean and mark components to smartphones and a myriad of electronic devices we use every day.

The chemicals, are well-known carcinogens and countries all over the world have agreed they should not be used without protection. But in China where they have not signed the international treaty on worker safety, the chemicals continue to be used with impunity.

The film details the life-threatening illnesses that are attributed to the chemicals and the system that has left them with no alternative to a lifetime awaiting an early death. It is a fate that many have chosen to hasten rather than be a burden on their elderly parents.

It is an indictment of both the labor practices in China, and the blind eye that consumers turn as long as they can get the toys they want.

Hospitalized workers in China, injured by unprotected chemical usage.

Hospitalized workers in China, injured by unprotected chemical usage.

“Who Pays the Price” is scheduled to be released this fall and will be the topic of a number of magazine articles later this year, so you will hear more about it I’m sure.

Heather White, a former San Francisco resident, was in the Bay Area last week, hosting a screening of a shortened version, trying to raise funds to complete the project and a planned book.

Ms White, has long been a leader in fighting for the improvement of working conditions. She founded Verite, a well-known verification company which exposed and then worked to improve the plight of workers in textile firms making products for high-end brands around the world. She has now turned her attention to the electronics industry where labor laws and unverified supply chains have made enforcement of even rudimentary standards, almost impssible.

Her goal is not to tell people to discard their smartphones or tablets, but to make them aware of the working conditions that will continue unless some public pressure is brought to bear.

Companies such as Apple and Samsung are certainly aware of what’s going on, but a complex series of factors has made them hesitant to face up to the problems. It’s easier just to deny responsibility and hope to discredit any reports that interfere with their profits.

I urge you to take a look at the trailer on the website and make a contribution or contact Ms White for more information on how we can use our technology without killing the workers that manufacture it.

 

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