Death By Design

The real cost of our love of tech: the environment

CBC Radio | June 27, 2018

Most of us likely know that the manufacture and disposal of our digital devices involves dealing with chemicals and toxic materials. However, we probably aren’t aware of the scale – or the full environmental and workplace health costs of the billions of devices that are produced and discarded every year.

Independent filmmaker Sue Williams explores this issue in her documentary Death By Design. The reality is that our devices are too often produced in under-regulated conditions, most notably in China. This is something Sue has witnessed firsthand making films in China for nearly 30 years.

“I’ve seen the environment change,” she says. But it was through meeting leading Chinese environmental activist, Ma Jun, that she got interested in the toll of how our devices are made.

“He took published government data on pollution violations across the country,” she explains. “He found that a really large percentage of the violations were issued to electronics companies.”

The sheer scale of production can be hard to imagine. “We’re talking plants in the supply chain which are hundreds of thousands of workers,” Sue says. “So just multiply that by all the manufacturers and all the suppliers.”

When it comes to workplace health and safety, Sue looked at Foxconn, which makes electronics under contract to many technology companies, notably Apple.

“To make 10 million iPhones in three weeks, you need a very, kind of, militaristic workforce style,” she argues. “They work long shifts, have short breaks, [and] they never really make friends…Working in such a vast impersonal place can be devastatingly lonely.” The impact of working conditions has included suicides in the last number of years.

Our relentless upgrade culture is part of the problem too. …

Read the rest of this article, listen to the radio broadcast, and watch a trailer for Death By Design: