The Movement against Science Park Expansion and Electronics Hazards in Taiwan: A Review from an Environmental Justice Perspective

By Chiu, Hua-Mei | China Perspectives, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Movement against Science Park Expansion and Electronics Hazards in Taiwan: A Review from an Environmental Justice Perspective


Chiu, Hua-Mei, China Perspectives


Introduction

Over recent decades, as the electronics industry has expanded to many parts of the world, it has been found to have caused water overuse and contamination, air pollution, and ocean contamination. The industry's negative impact on the environment and natural resources became apparent in the Silicon Valley of California's Bay Area in the early 1980s, as exposed by groups such as the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.(1)The chemical-intensive nature of electronics production also jeopardises the health of humans involved in the industry. Since the industry utilises massive amounts of chemicals, solvents, heavy metals, acids, toxic gases, etc., some of which are known or suspected to contain carcinogens and reproductive toxins, the impact of electronics hazards has generated the greatest concern among frontline workers and community residents. (2) For example, former electronics workers at IBM (USA), National Semiconductor (Scotland), RCA (Taiwan), and Samsung (South Korea) have brought the industry's health issues to public attention and have even filed lawsuits seeking compensation and justice from the 1990s to the present. (3)

In addition, the fact that the industry requires abundant land, water, and energy resources to fuel its rapid growth often raises concerns of social justice. Finite natural resources such as water and land have been re-allocated from farmers to electronics companies. In addition, planned obsolescence in electronic products creates enormous amounts of e-waste requiring disposal, and it is often the most impoverished labourers, even child labourers, in poor countries who are dismantling e-waste in toxic work environments.(4)

This has led activists from Silicon Valley to describe electronics production as a "toxic treadmill."(5)The authors of the seminal book Challenging the Chips: Labour Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industryassembled scholars and activists from around the world to show that the global electronics industry is growing in lockstep with environmental injustice and labour rights violations.

As anti-electronics movements have developed and adopted the concept of environmental justice, the issue of equity in the distribution of environmental benefit and harm has become central to their concern. The environmental impact of the global electronics industry has been found to be unevenly distributed along the lines of social inequality, with frontline workers and neighbouring communities suffering the most from electronics hazards.

The toxic treadmill of the global electronics industry has provoked conflicts over the issues of environment, health, and labour rights in many parts of the world. In order to make the electronics industry accountable and sustainable, the International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT), formed in 2002, has persistently advocated for the principles of environmental justice, precautionary principles, and extended producer responsibility. (6) Movements have called not only for just distribution but also for the right to know and information transparency regarding the toxic chemicals used in the industry, the right to be recognised as stakeholders in corporations and in the political process, and the right to be compensated, etc. This echoes the threefold aspects of justice that David Schlosberg identified in the demands of the global environmental movement: "Equity in the distribution of environmental risk, recognition of the diversity of the participants and experiences in affected communities, and participation in the political processes which create and manage environmental policy." (7)

This article focuses on the growth and transformation of the movement against the expansion of science parks and electronics hazards in Taiwan over the past decade. It explores the political-economic context and the environmental changes from which the movement emerged. By exploring arguments within the movement since the mid-2000s, the article demonstrates that the movement has grown more robust with a central focus on environmental and social justice in three aspects related to distributive justice, political decision-making procedures, and the right of recognition. …

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