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Complicit: the workers paying the price for our mobile phone obsession

The Challenge

Mobile phones, smartphones and tablets have revolutionised the way we communicate but the technology we are addicted to has had toxic consequences.

China produces approximately 90% of the world’s consumer electronics.   The factories making the components for these electronic goods are filled with young workers.   Some have been exposed to poisonous chemicals, with devastating results.

This investigation, filmed secretly over four years, exposed the use of harmful chemicals in the factories producing the products many of us use.  Hidden cameras captured the working conditions inside the factories churning out these products.

While the thought that our iPhones have poisoned young workers in China is the opposite of soothing, we're not in much of a position to regulate working conditions in China or for that matter to change the customary ways of doing business in China, that is, the culture.

If we look closer to home though, it is not difficult to discover instances of a similarly cavalier attitude to working conditions (e.g., The lousy wages paid to staff by cafe owners (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/19/as-cafe-owners-we-know-that-wage-theft-is-rife-but-there-is-no-excuse-for-it?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=275479&subid=7937015&CMP=ema_632) or non-payment in 7-11 stores (https://www.smh.com.au/interactive/2015/7-eleven-revealed/). The advent of the gig economy, that is, the casualisation of the work force, has further undermined an already dwindling union movement, and reduced the bargaining power of workers in relation to employers. The question is, should the working conditions of many young Australians (as in the USA: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/29/the-u-s-has-one-of-the-stingiest-minimum-wage-policies-of-any-wealthy-nation/?utm_term=.335af874cb43) increasingly approximate working conditions in Chinese factories, or should we aim a bit higher.

The big question is whether or not we can regulate Australian businesses properly ?

What do you consider we need ‘more of’, and what do we need ‘less of’ to strengthen current policy, legislation and regulation?

How effective can legislation and policy be if one takes into account the current business culture?

 

 

Each Monday MindHive Number One ranked consulting problem-solver, statistician, Peter Grimbeek, leads a challenge based on Australia's Four Corners’s investigation. We take seriously the often quoted, “if you’d like to continue the conversation head to our Twitter or Facebook site”. What’s missing with that invite is that the Mindhive platform in particular offers an ability to collectively co-create potential solutions and generate ideas based on the challenges that the investigation provides. The outcome of the Mindhive challenge facilitated by Peter forms the basis of a 500-800 idea published on Mindhive, and where appropriate submitted to the ABC and other mainstream media. Mindhive allows for impact recognition by ORCID, uniquely identifying academic and other contributors, and thus ensuring that you get credit for your work.

 

Challenge Opened: 06:09 AM, Friday 18 May 2018
Challenge Closes: 01:30 PM, Friday 29 June 2018
Time to go: Closed

 

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The context

Complicit: the workers paying the price for our mobile phone obsession.

"There were iPhone screens and Nokia screens...I held the phone screen in my left hand, and a piece of cloth in my right hand... Wiping was the only thing I did besides eating and sleeping." Teenage worker

Mobile phones, smartphones and tablets have revolutionised the way we communicate but the technology we are addicted to has had toxic consequences.

"I knew we worked with chemicals, but I had no idea that it's poison." Young worker

China produces approximately 90% of the world's consumer electronics. The factories making the components for these electronic goods are filled with young workers. Some have been exposed to poisonous chemicals, with devastating results.

"Many co-workers developed the exact same symptoms. When I walked, it looked like I had uneven legs. It would take 10 minutes to take a two-minute walk. My legs felt too heavy to move." Worker

This investigation, filmed secretly over four years, exposed the use of harmful chemicals in the factories producing the products many of us use. Hidden cameras captured the working conditions inside the factories churning out these products.

"It was the cleaning solution he used, which contained benzene, when he was working at the electronics factory that caused his disease." Father of sick worker

The film charts the growing realisation amongst the workers that their illnesses stem from their work and follows their fight for compensation."After we discovered so many workers with leukemia...more media reports followed up and showed that these workers were chemically poisoned." Worker activistThe landmark investigation led Apple to ban the use of benzene, a known carcinogen, and n-hexane, a chemical that damages the nervous system.

But the ban does not apply to subcontractors who make up two-thirds of Apple's supply chain. And around 500 other chemicals are still used to produce electronics, mostly in the developing world, where there are few or no regulations to protect the workers who make them.

"Many of the workers that I've helped got occupational diseases due to exposure to toxic chemicals. Many are from the electronics industry. They made cell phones, computers, semiconductors etc." Worker activist

Challenge Opened: 06:09 AM, Friday 18 May 2018
Challenge Closes: 01:30 PM, Friday 29 June 2018
Time to go: Closed

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Thought Leader

Peter Grimbeek Statistics & Methods Counsellor
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Jeanette Weeden
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Rebecca Christopherson Manager of Regulation Assessment and Service Quality
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Mike Metcalfe Consultant
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Graeme Savage
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Bob Dick
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Timothy Flor Policy Analyst
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Adrian CV Risk Officer
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Marlene Milani Retired
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Judy Szekeres Consultant
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Jonathan Hill Professor
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Documents associated with this Challenge

File name File type Date uploaded Size (KB)
The-not-so-common wealth of Australia.pdf
.pdf
5/20/2018 209
 

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