Red Dust - documentary on cadmium poisoning in Chinese women battery workers

20-minute documentary Red Dust chronicles the struggle for justice by women workers in China who have been poisoned by cadmium while manufacturing nickel-cadmium batteries. Red cadmium dust drifted freely in China’s nickel-cadmium battery factories owned and operated by GP BATTERIES (GP), one of the world’s top battery manufacturers. GP batteries are used in electronics equipments, as well as toys and other products.

Red Dust - documentary on cadmium poisoning in Chinese women battery workers

Red Dust, a documentary directed by Karin Mak, chronicles the struggle for justice by women workers in China who have been poisoned by cadmium while manufacturing nickel-cadmium batteries. 

Click here to view the trailer.

Cadmium has been in the international and USA news lately as found in jewellery and McDonald's Shrek glasses. However, the majority of cadmium is used for production of nickel-cadmium batteries, a type of rechargeable battery.

Cadmium is a very toxic heavy metal and the brave women in the film live with its debilitating effects in addition to risking their safety in their fight for justice. It covers themes of workers' rights, globalization, occupational safety and health, China's economic development and women's rights.


Red cadmium dust drifted freely in China’s nickel-cadmium battery factories owned and operated by GP BATTERIES (GP), one of the world’s top battery manufacturers. Ren, a migrant worker originally from Sichuan, suffers from frequent headaches and breathing difficulties. If untreated, the cadmium poisoning can lead to kidney failure, cancer, and even death.

Red Dust tells an unexamined side of China’s economic development: the resistance, courage, and hope of workers battling occupational disease, demanding justice from the local government and global capital. Chinese migrant workers are deemed disposable by factory owners and are stereotypically viewed as quiet and passive victims. However, Ren and other GP workers (Min, Fu, and Wu) fight back. Labor issues are very sensitive in China, and workers who publicly discuss their struggles do so at great risk. The audience discovers along with the filmmaker, a Chinese American, the horrors of the global assembly line.

This documentary is about women who are the engine of the global economy. Although the film takes place in China, the characters’ experiences are universal to workers on the margins around the world, where poverty, migration, and workplace hazards are common realities.


The film is 20 minutes, in Mandarin and Sichuanhua, with English subtitles. 

 

What is Cadmium Poisoning?
Cadmium (cd) is a heavy metal used primarily in the production of nickel-cadmium batteries. Workers exposed to cadmium can suffer symptoms such as memory loss, dizziness, headaches, lack of strength, and pain in the back and limbs. In 2006, the European Union banned cadmium in electronics due to its extremely toxic properties.

Workers who suffer from cadmium poisoning may not look sick, and serious health issues may take several years to arise. Once cadmium enters the body, it takes between seven to thirty years for the body to flush it out, which is particularly harmful for the kidneys. Cadmium poisoning has also been linked to kidney failure and cancer. The effects of cadmium poisoning can be fatal. In 2006, Fu Hong Qin, a co-worker of the women featured in RED DUST, died from kidney failure. She had worked at a GP BATTERIES factory for 2 years.

Unsafe workplaces are not uncommon in China. According to the country’s State Administration for Work Safety (SAWS) 2004 report, China has the world’s highest number of occupational disease victims and deaths resulting from occupational diseases.

Click here to read more.


The director

Karin T Mak was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, USA to immigrants originally from Hong Kong. She spent several years on immigrant and workers’ rights campaigns in California. In 2003, she received the prestigious New Voices Fellowship to work with Sweatshop Watch, a Los Angeles-based non-profit educating the public about globalization. Mak is winner of the 2008 Roy W. Dean LA Film Grant.