CEO Van Houten: “Philips banned benzene throughout the entire production process”

On May 20, Philips had its annual shareholder meeting. Following a question raised by the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO) on the use of benzene and other dangerous chemicals, CEO Frans van Houten said that Philips successfully banned benzene throughout its production facilities in 2012. However, he could not guarantee that the company’s suppliers are doing the same.

CEO Van Houten: “Philips banned benzene throughout the entire production process”

On May 20, Philips had its annual shareholder meeting. Following a question raised by the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO) on the use of benzene and other dangerous chemicals, CEO Frans van Houten said that Philips successfully banned benzene throughout its production facilities in 2012. However, he could not guarantee that the company’s suppliers are doing the same.

Benzene is a highly carcinogenic chemical that is used as a solvent in different industrial processes in electronics, toys and furniture manufacturing. It can cause leukemia, aplastic anemia and leukopenia. Benzene as well as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are listed on the Philips regulated substances list of February 2014 because of the carcinogenic effects. Philips is taking part in the electronics programme of the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) to improve social and environmental performance in the production of electronics.

Gaining momentum

The issue of benzene has begun to gain more attention, partly thanks to a new documentary "Who Pays the Price? The Human Cost of Electronics," from filmmakers Heather White and Lynn Zhang. With input from the GoodElectronics Network, the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO) asked CEO Frans van Houten on the annual shareholder meeting about Philips banning benzene and introducing alternatives in the electronics industry via the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the IDH electronics programme, and the term in which action could be expected. In response, he stated:

“Your question about benzene and PAHs is very important. In 2012, we successfully banned benzene throughout our entire production process. The question is thus mainly about how our suppliers respond to this and how they guarantee the safety of our employees. We are willing to join the initiatives of the EICC and IDH to ban benzene and PAHs, but we also feel this needs to be discussed more detailed before we can talk about goals and terms. Therefore, I can’t answer these questions now. We will take action on the subject and that’s all I can say for now”.