Advocacy EWaste Technology

Filipino viewers moved by film about workers who are dying to make e-gadgets we cannot live without

 October 2018, Quezon City.  “Stories  from  the  Clean  Room,”  a  moving  documentary  exposing  health  and  human  rights  violations  in  the  electronics  industry,  drew close to 300 viewers at its screening yesterday at Cine Adarna, University of the Philippines (UP) Film Institute.  The attendees came from various youth and student groups, labor federations, informal waste workers’ associations, and environmental and health organizations.

The  film,  directed  by  Supporters  for  the  Health  and  Rights  of  People  in  the  Semiconductor  Industry (SHARPS),  a South  Korean  public  interest  organization, shed  light  on  the toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing of electronics, especially at the so-called “Clean Rooms,” and their impacts to workers’ health and safety.

The EcoWaste Coalition, KAISA-Nagkakaisang Iskolar para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan (KAISA UP) and the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) co-organized the film screening in partnership with SHARPS, IPEN (a global NGO network for a toxics-free future), Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, and a host of concerned local organizations.

IPEN and partner groups screening the film in 25 countries are hoping  that  public  awareness  of  the  dangerous  chemicals  in  electronics  will  spur  the  public  and  governments  to  demand  that  the  industry  reveal  listings  of  toxic  chemicals  and  end  to  the  practice  of  hiding  toxic  liabilities  behind  “trade  secrets.”

“Clean Rooms” refers to the highly  controlled  areas  within  electronics  factories  where  large  numbers  of  dangerous  chemicals  are  used  in  the  course  of  electronics  production.  The  irony  in  the  name  is  that  the face  masks  and  body  suits  for  workers  entering  the “Clean Rooms” are  not  designed  for  worker  safety,  but  rather  to  keep  dust  and  dirt  off  of  the  products.

The film featured testimonies  of  23  people  whose  lives  have  been  devastated  by  sickness  and  death  from  toxic  chemical  exposures  while  making  LCD  screens  and  the  chips  that  power  our  electronic devices such as laptops and mobile phones.

“There  were  no  dry  eyes  when  we  previewed  this  film.   The  people  telling  their  stories  in  this  movie  are  ringing  an  alarm  bell  that  we  in the Philippines need  to  heed to protect our workers, especially women who are the prime labor force in the electronics industry,” said Primo Morillo, E-Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition. “Chemicals  in  electronics  production  is  not  only  an  issue  for  workers’  health,  it  is  a  women’s  issue  as  well  because  many  of  the  dangerous  chemicals  in  electronics  production  are  especially  threatening  to  a  developing  fetus.”

After the film screening, Dr. Jeong-ok Kong of SHARPS delivered a video message where she updated the audience that they were able to claim victory for more than 30 workers who are now set to receive compensation. “These victories open the door of Korean workers compensation system widely for other victims,” she said. Kong also underscored that this is a product of a long struggle, including sit-in street protests that lasted for 1,023 days.

Hwang  Sang-gi  lost  his  22-year-old  daughter  Hwang  Yumi  to  leukemia  after  her stint as a semiconductor worker.  Like  most  others  in  the  predominately  female  electronics  labor  force,  Yumi  had  been  recruited  from  high  school.  She  worked  on  a  fabrication  line  bathing  semiconductor  chips  in  chemicals.  Learning  that  another  young  woman  from  the  same  production  line  also  died  of  the  same  disease,  Hwang  Sang-gi  began  an  inquiry  that  has  grown  into  a  movement  to  break  the  silence  around hazardous  chemicals  used  in  the  electronics  industry.

In “Stories  from  the  Clean  Room,”  Mr.  Hwang  and  22  others  describe  grave  illnesses,  such  as  leukemia,  lymphomas,  brain  tumors,  multiple  sclerosis,  and  infertility,  and  share  their  visceral  stories  about  common  chemical  exposures  in  electronics  production.  Another  father  in  the  film  whose  daughter,  Yoon  Eun-jin,  worked  at  Samsung  Semiconductor  and  died  at  age  23  said, “We  know  now  that  they  used  really  deadly  chemicals,  but  we  didn’t  know  back  then.  Did  the  company  ask  the  parents  for  permission  and  tell  them  the  company  is  using  deadly  chemicals?  If  we’d  known,  we  wouldn’t  have  sent  our  kids  there.”

“Workers  and  their  families  are  paying  a  painful  cost  for  use  of  toxic  chemicals  in  electronics  production.  These  costs  should  be  paid  by  the  industry,”  said  Jongran  Lee  of  SHARPS. “Products  should  be  designed  and  produced  in  ways  that  eliminate  their  potential  for  harm  to  human  health  and  the  environment.”

Toxic  chemicals  used  in  electronics  include  solvents,  metals,  persistent  organic  pollutants,  such  as  certain  flame  retardants,  endocrine  disruptors,  and  known  carcinogens,  mutagens,  and  substances  toxic  to  reproduction  and  development.  In South Korea, a peer-reviewed scientific study revealed  high  rates  of  spontaneous  abortion  and  menstrual  aberration  among  female  microelectronics  workers  aged  20  to  39  years  old.  Similar  concerns  emerged  when  researchers  in  Vietnam  recently  published  a  revealing  report  exposing  health  and  labor  violations  at  mobile  phone  factories,  including  reports  that  miscarriages  are common.

“Mobile  phones  and  computers  are  used  daily  by  billions  of  people,  but  few  are  aware  of  the  toxic  chemicals  used  or  the  occupational  health  and  safety  issues  involved  in  electronics  production,” said  Dr. Joe DiGangi, Senior  Science  and  Technical  Advisor of IPEN.  “Stories  from  the  Clean  Room”  pulls  back  the  curtain  to  show  the  human  face  of  harm  and  the  need  for  action.”

To  date,  SHARPS  has  documented  over  400  cases  of  severe  and  often  fatal  occupational  illnesses  related  to  exposures  in  the  electronics  industry  in  South  Korea.  While  144  workers  have  died,  a  growing  number  have  won  court  and  government  rulings  linking  their  illnesses  to  work  in  electronics  factories.  Samsung,  the  largest  and  most  secretive  electronics  corporation,  continues  to  refuse  to  reveal  the  chemicals  that  it  uses  in  manufacturing.  Corporate  refusal  to  disclose  chemical  identity  and  denial  of  compensation  to  sick  workers  and  their  families  are  running  themes  in  the  film.



You may watch the trailer here: