The Global Movement For Extended Producer Responsibility

As noted earlier, many TSMOs are based in urban centres of the global North. This is strategic in large part because so much of the political-economic power and decision-making authority rests in these spaces and the institutions located there. Thus, one would likely have a greater chance of changing a transnational corporation's practices in many global South nations by targeting that firm's headquarters in the North. And this is precisely what TSMOs have done, whether by targeting corporate practices directly, or via government legislation. This is the political economic process approach that activists have adopted to strategically apply pressure where the decision-making power rests. Sometimes the power is located primarily within state apparatuses, while other times it is within corporate board-rooms. Still other times it may be a combination of the two. Hardt and Negri (2000) conclude that the exercise and location of power under globalization has become quite diffuse, yet this system may create opportunities for resistance against it. Perhaps it follows then that in a global system such as this, consumers—a widely diffuse group of individuals—must be mobilized to produce social change. The grassroots pressure that TSMOs mobilize comes not only from their own membership and personnel, but also from the consumers of these technologies. Given that such a high percentage of citizens in the North are consumers of computer and electronic products, this is a considerable pool of potential activists who could be mobilized to pressure or even boycott any number of companies.

Four US-based SMOs have been critical to the success of various campaigns to reform electronics manufacturer practices. They are the Basel Action Network (BAN), the GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN), the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), and the Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE). Together, these SMOs created the Computer TakeBack Campaign, a national effort to make computer producers responsible for their products at the end of life. Two of these organizations are actually transnational social movement organizations—SVTC and BAN—and have worked successfully at getting international legislation passed in the European Union (EU) as well as having great success in shaping international environmental treaties such as the Basel Convention. They also work closely on e-waste recycling campaigns with SMOs in other nations, including: Clean Production Network (Canada), Greenpeace International, Greenpeace China, Toxics Link India (India), Shristi (India), and SCOPE (Pakistan). The mission statements of each of the US-based leading SMOs on e-waste issues reveal their understanding that environmental justice must be approached through the intersection of markets and politics rather than one or the other. They also underscore the integration of discursive practices and efforts to effect material change (Escobar 1992). Consider the following:

Texas Campaign for the Environment is dedicated to informing and mobilizing Texans to protect the quality of their lives, their health and the environment. We believe that people have a right to know and a right to act on issues that fundamentally affect our lives and future. TCE cannot compete with corporate polluters when it comes to writing checks for the election campaigns of politicians who make the laws. However, we win when we organize at the grassroots level and gain strength in numbers from people like you who get involved and support our work.

(http://www.texasenvironment.org/) Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) is a diverse grassroots coalition that engages in research, advocacy, and organizing around the environmental and human health problems caused by the rapid growth of the high-tech elecronics industry.

(http://www.svtc.org/)

The GrassRoots Recycling Network's mission is to eliminate the waste of natural and human resources—Zero Waste. We utilize classic activist strategies to achieve corporate accountability for and public policies to eliminate waste, and to build sustainable communities ...We prioritize corporate accountability because global corporations are the primary engines of environmental and social destruction. The key tool to achieve corporate accountability for waste and ultimately Zero Waste, is extended producer responsibility (EPR)—the principle that manufacturers and brand owners must take responsibility for the life cycle impacts of their products, including take back and end of life management.

(GrassRoots Recycling Network 2003b)

The Basel Action Network (BAN) is an international network of activists seeking to put an end to economically motivated toxic waste export and dumping—particularly hazardous waste exports from rich industrialized countries to poorer, less-industrialized countries. The name Basel Action Network refers to an international treaty known as the Basel Convention. In 1994, a unique coalition of developing countries, environmental groups and European countries succeeded in achieving the Basel Ban—a decision to end the most abusive forms of hazardous waste trade. Unfortunately, very powerful governments and business organizations are still trying to overturn, circumvent or undermine the full implementation of the Basel Ban and in general seek to achieve a "free trade" in toxic wastes.

(http://www.ban.org/)

The four SMOs above, all collaborated to create the Computer TakeBack Campaign:

The goal of the Computer TakeBack Campaign is to protect the health and well being of electronics users, workers, and the communities where electronics are produced and discarded by requiring consumer electronics manufacturers and brand owners to take full responsibility for the life cycle of their products, through effective public policy requirements or enforceable agreements.

(Computer TakeBack Campaign 2003)

Separately and in combination, these social movement organizations and their campaign(s) focus on decision-makers in governments and business organizations, revealing a broader political economic process model of movement targets. The centrality of the links between corporations and the state is critical here. These links are most visible and effective in urban centres like Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, and increasingly points in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Urban centres provide the critical infrastructure needed to produce high tech products and to reach dense consumer markets. These movement groups also link the discourse of environmental justice, a citizen's right to know, and corporate accountability with structural reforms aimed at state, corporate, and supranational institutional practices and policies.

One of the Southern partners in the global campaign to combat e-waste is Toxics Link India. They work with SVTC, BAN, and other Northern groups to highlight the growing e-waste crisis, and their mission underscores the political economic process approach as well:

Toxics Link's goal is to develop an information exchange mechanism that will strengthen campaigns against toxics pollution, help push industries towards cleaner production and link groups working on toxics issues. We are a group of people working together for environmental justice and freedom from toxics. We have taken it upon ourselves to collect and share both information about the sources and dangers of poisons in our environment and bodies, and information about clean and sustainable alternatives for India and the rest of the world.

(Toxics Link 2003:2)

In addition to emphasizing the corporate role in the global e-waste crisis, Toxics Link is explicit about the need to "link groups working on toxics issues" around the globe.

The above US-based movement groups and their international partners joined forces to produce Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia in 2002 (BAN and SVTC 2002). After months of strategizing with SMOs to gain access to sensitive sites and interview workers in China, Pakistan, and India, they released the report and it sent shock waves through the electronics industry and was picked up by nearly every major media outlet in North America, Europe and Asia.

Immediately after Exporting Harm was released, the government of China responded with stepped up inspections at its major ports and a declaration that it will not accept e-waste smuggling. In September of 2003 the Governor of California signed landmark legislation establishing a funding system for the collection and recycling of certain electronic wastes. The largest computer manufacturers and retailers like Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Sony have all launched computer recycling programmes in the US and other nations in response to the TakeBack Campaign. The most visible of these was the struggle to push the Dell Corporation toward extended producer liability.

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