Concerned about alarming reports on heavy metal pollution incidents, Chinese environmental organisations have engaged upon an extensive research project, with a specific focus on IT product manufacture-related heavy metal discharge, especially the battery industry relating to the production of IT products and the electroplate industry relating to printed circuit board (PCB) production. The distressing findings point at IT enterprises, including major IT brand suppliers, violating heavy metal discharge standards and causing serious pollution. Disappointingly, few IT brands have so far responded to questions regarding their suppliers' polluting behaviour.Concerned about alarming reports on heavy metal pollution incidents, Chinese environmental organisations, including Friends of Nature, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Green Beagle, have engaged upon an extensive research project, with a specific focus on IT product manufacture-related heavy metal discharge, especially the battery industry relating to the production of IT products and the electroplate industry relating to printed circuit board (PCB) production. In a report, the distressing findings are presented. The findings point at IT enterprises, including major IT brand suppliers, violating heavy metal discharge standards and causing serious pollution. Disappointingly, few IT brands have so far responded to questions regarding their suppliers' polluting behaviour.
The environmental organizations make clear to fully support the supervision and regulation of government agencies over the problems of heavy metal pollution. At the same time we believe that heavy metal pollution is the cumulative result of many years and involves numerous industries and a large number of enterprises. The effort to overcome heavy metal pollution’s direct damage to public health requires broad participation from society.
The investigative study was conducted in order to encourage IT industries to take environmental responsibility, strengthen the environmental management over their supply chains, and further progress green production through green purchasing.
Industries involved in heavy metal discharge include: mining, smelting and metallurgical industry, chemical industry, textile printing and dyeing, leather tanning, pesticides, animal feed manufacturing, electroplates, and batteries, etc. This investigation focused on IT product manufacture-related heavy metal discharge, especially the battery industry relating to the production of IT products and the electroplate industry relating to printed circuit board (PCB) production. China is undeniably the world factory for IT industries with around fifty-percent of the world’s computers, cell phones, and digital cameras manufactured in China. Nevertheless, as the centre of the world’s IT product manufacturing, China faces huge environment pressure. Among all the negative impacts of heavy metal discharge, heavy metal pollution should be taken very seriously.
Major findings of the investigation are as follows
- Some IT enterprises have violated heavy metal discharge standards and have caused serious pollution.
- Some well-known IT brand suppliers violate heavy metal discharge standards
- Some well-known IT brands have not responded to the questions regarding their suppliers’ heavy metal pollution.
Among PCB manufacturers, the monitoring record for the Huizhou Merix Electronics Technology Co., Ltd. Merix Huizhou's U.S. parent company is the NASDAQ-listed Merix Corporation. Merix' 2008 annual report lists Cisco and Motorola as two of its largest corporate customers: “Two of our largest customers, Cisco and Motorola, accounted for 11% and 10%, respectively, of our net sales in fiscal 2008.”
PCB manufacturer: Wannianfu Electronics Co., Ltd. in Dongguan
At the end of the January 2010, the Department of Environmental Protection of Guangdong Province announced a list of the enterprises that need to carry out environmental rectification under intensive supervision in 2010. The 20 enterprises under supervision included three PCB plants that belonged to the Hong Kong listed company Kingboard Chemical Group Co., Ltd. (KINGBOARD CHEM148), including Wannianfu Electronics Co. Ltd. The companies under another Hong Kong-listed company, Kingboard Laminates Holdings Ltd., that belongs to the afore-mentioned Kingboard Group also have a number of records of violations. One of them is Guangzhou Kingboard (Nansha) Petrochemical Company Ltd.. In May 2009, Guangdong Provincial Oceanic and Fishery Administration announced that for two consecutive years the said company exceeded discharge standards and contributed to pollution of the Pearl River. The Guangzhou Environmental Protection Bureau listed the company on the 2009 corporate environmental supervision list. Some openly available data shows that sales of Kingboard Group PCB rank high in Asia and IBM and Intel were cited as two of its many customers.
Battery and power suppliers
Public documents show that the Jiaoyang Huaqiang Battery Factory whose pollution caused excessive blood lead levels in 121 children at Shanghang County, Fujian Province, in September 2009 is part of the supply chain for a number of well-known international brands.
According to the “Prospectus of Initial Public Offering and Listing on the GEM Market” by Zhejiang Narada Power Source Company Limited, which was listed on April 21, 2010, for nearly three years, Shanghang Huaqiang Battery Factory has been the company's most important OEM manufacturer in its lead products.
Narada Power Source Company Limited claims on its website that: “Narada set up companies in Singapore and the UK, so as to show its image to the world. The Company has joined the supplier systems of such well-known international corporations such as Vodafone, Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, Siemens, Motorola, Singapore Telecom, and British Telecom, and has received the „Global Outstanding Supplier Award‟ selected by Alcatel and other corporations.”
After receiving letters from the research organisations, some companies responded in a timely manner for a follow-up, and some companies only partially responded. Within these companies, the Japanese company Panasonic, Sanyo and Chinese companies Haier and Lenovo were the most active in responding to our questions. However, most companies have not given any type of response.
Major Suggestion: The IT Industry should use information disclosure to enhance the environmental management of their supply chains
As an integral part of strengthening environmental protection, since 2003 the Chinese government has promulgated a series of laws and policies to promote the disclosure of environmental information and public participation. The Chinese public’s environmental awareness has continuously increased, the capacity of environmental organizations has been strengthened, and enterprises have started to realize the significance of environmental protection. All these aspects lay a foundation for solving environmental pollution problems through extensive cooperation in the public and private sectors.
We hope that this report will help the IT industry take their suppliers’ heavy metal discharge more seriously, respond to public questions, and carry out thorough inspections and make feedback. More importantly, we hope this report can help encourage IT enterprises to establish a long-term management system and assert strict control over their supply chains’ emissions and discharge of heavy metal pollutants.
At the same time, we believe that IT brands should promote the expansion of their suppliers’ public information disclosure and place them under public pollution supervision. We hope that IT brands can urge their suppliers that discharge heavy metal pollutants to strictly observe the 2010 State Council’s call to punish companies that illegally discharge pollutants so as to protect public health, and take specific environmental protection measures, such as: “establish account books for pollution generation and discharge and daily monitoring system, make regular reports of monitoring results, and publicize situations such as the discharge of heavy metal pollutants.”
We also hope that based on this investigation we can conduct the second phase of green choice consumer action in 2010, so as to raise consumers’ awareness of pollution control in the production of IT products. We also hope to encourage consumers to use their purchasing power to strengthen the IT industry’s environmental management of its supply chain, and promote green production of IT products through green consumption. However, the IT industry that provided critical support to information transparency, has become a laggard in using information disclosure to promote environmental protection. Up to the present, no leading enterprises, including many famous IT brands, are willing to commit to effective environmental management of the manufacturing processes of their supply chain.
Further information in an article by Jonathan Watts: "Global IT brands urged to be more accountable for pollution in China supply chain. Investigation by coalition of Chinese environmental groups accuses global IT brands of supply chain links to heavy metal poisoning cases in China".