Serbia: Wave of protests achieves victories against lithium mining

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Summary of the article written by Francisco Norega in guilhotina.info

To foster economic growth, the Serbian government has recently made mineral resources available to foreign investors such as Rio Tinto and the Chinese mining group Zijin. Rio Tinto intends to open a 400-hectare lithium mine in an agricultural area along the Jadar River, 14 km from Loznica, a city of 20,000 inhabitants in western Serbia.

The company assures that it would be a “green mine”, that it would comply with all Serbian and European environmental regulations, and that the project would create 2,000 jobs during construction and 1,000 permanent ones. However, these promises did not convince the population, who are concerned about the destruction caused by mining activity and the contamination of land and water.

At the center of the protests there were also two legislative projects that, according to the protesters, were intended to facilitate the exploitation of lithium by multinational mining companies. The new Expropriation Law would allow the forced expropriation of land by the State when the projects are considered to be of public interest, within a period of only eight days.

Critics of this law indicated that it is unacceptable that the government has the right to make the declaration of public interest in a way that is not transparent, arbitrary and without defined criteria. On the other hand, the reform of the Referendum Law would effectively prevent groups and movements from launching referendum initiatives by creating a high administrative fee for this type of popular initiatives. It would also allow inquiries to be considered valid even when participation is less than 50%.

Environmental groups and civil society asserted that these laws would allow the government and businesses to sidestep popular discontent and environmental concerns and move more quickly with projects like the Rio Tinto one.

For all these reasons, for the second Saturday in a row, on December 4, new protests took to the streets of Serbia. In total, the protesters gathered at more than 60 points in cities, towns and highways across the country. It was the largest wave of coordinated protests in Serbia in more than 20 years. Tens of thousands of people sent a clear message to the government to stop the Rio Tinto project in Jadar and all other lithium extraction projects.

The Kreni-promeni movement, one of the groups organizing the protests, called on the population to block roads, bridges and streets for one more hour every Saturday until the demands are accepted.

Given the magnitude of the protests, the government ended up announcing a few days later, on December 8, that it was withdrawing the expropriation law from parliament, as it was reexamined and modified by the President, and the subsequent opening of a broad public debate with the participation of women workers, professional associations, representatives of companies and civil society.

Strong popular pressure and the threat of a new round of protests and blockades provoked another concession from the authorities: two days later, on Friday, Parliament approved the amendments to the referendum law at the proposal of the government. Not only was the administrative fee for popular referendum initiatives eliminated and the participation of the proposing groups in the body conducting the consultation was allowed, but it was also established that a referendum on the same issue cannot be repeated for a period of 4 years, nor can the parliament make a decision other than the referendum for the same period.

However, despite the fact that the Kreni-Promeni group said that the main demands had been met and that, therefore, it would not make sense to continue on the street, other groups and movements maintained the calls for protests for the following day, Saturday. Despite the concessions, the rain and the cold, and although in fewer numbers than on previous Saturdays, thousands of people took to the streets again on December 11 and again blocked traffic in the capital and other cities.

On December 16, the movement made another breakthrough: the Loznica municipal council approved the suspension of the development plan that allowed Rio Tinto to extract lithium in the Jadar region.

More information

Non-replaceable batteries are bad news for the environment and consumers

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Campaigner, Right to Repair Europe

Most batteries cannot be easily removed, replaced or repaired, resulting in shorter device lifetimes.

Planning to buy a smartphone, an e-bike or any other product that includes a rechargeable battery for Christmas? This new research, carried out by the Right to Repair campaign in collaboration with the EEB and the University of Lund shows that most batteries in today’s products cannot be easily removed, replaced or repaired, resulting in shorter device lifetimes, a loss of rare and valuable materials and billions in unnecessary consumer expenditure.

Batteries can be found in most of today’s products from smartphones, laptops and tablets to electric bikes and scooters, and estimates show that the demand will continue to grow in the next decade (up to 60% for batteries in consumer electronics and 15% for electric bikes and scooters by 2030).

Yet, at a time when Europe claims to be a leader on climate and sustainability issues, too many batteries are either non-replaceable or non-repairable resulting in shorter product lifetime, increased electronic waste, loss of critical raw materials and unnecessary expenditure for consumers.

These are some findings of a report released today by the European Environmental Bureau, the Right to Repair campaign and researchers at the University of Lund.

Different products, same challenges

Whenever a battery’s performance slows down, it doesn’t mean the whole device should be discarded. Repairing or replacing it enables consumers to keep using their product, preventing unnecessary e-waste and the purchase of a replacement. Yet, the research has found that many challenges exist to access batteries to replace or repair them.

Welded or glued battery casings for instance make it impossible to access the faulty part while software locks, in particular for e-bikes, prevent refurbishment by independent repairers and shortages of spares and tools make it impossible to repair or replace batteries.

Replaceable batteries: good for the planet, good for people

The study found that battery failure is one of the most common problems for many consumer electronics and often the first component to fail in e-bikes and scooters. 42% of smartphones and 27% of laptops repairs are related to battery replacement.

“This is extremely worrying as the average battery life for these products is around 3 years and the majority of repairers we talked to said that the risk of damaging a device while removing the battery has increased. This suggests that a significant number of devices are being prematurely discarded due to battery failure”

Chloé Mikolajczak, campaigner, Right to Repair Europe

In contrast, the benefits of replaceable removable batteries are numerous. For instance, if all new phones and tablets sold in the EU in 2030 had easily removable and replaceable batteries, 674,834 tons of CO2 could be saved, €19.8 billion wouldn’t be spent as a result of the unnecessary replacement of 39 million devices, and critical raw materials urgently needed for the energy transition such as cobalt and indium would not be lost.

Similarly, making batteries easy to remove would increase their collection rates and reduce the safety risks associated with recycling. Currently, it is estimated that 80% of batteries at waste facilities are removed manually and recyclers report that battery removal has become increasingly complicated, resulting in lower removal and recycling rates.

Another consequence of the increased difficulty of removing batteries is the number of fires at recycling facilities. A recent report  on the scale of fire incidents in the EU that surveyed over 100 companies from 20 countries found that 1/3 of recyclers surveyed reported very serious fire incidents in connection with defective batteries. This is why a coalition of electronic and battery repairers, the recycling industry and environmental NGOs representing at least 500 organisations published a joint statement today calling on the European Commission to take action for more removable, replaceable and repairable batteries in the forthcoming battery regulation.

Time for ambitious regulation

Indeed, timing is critical. The European Commission has proposed a “Battery regulation” that aims to tackle the whole lifecycle of batteries from the supply chain to its disposal, in a bid to make them more sustainable. The proposal, currently in the hands of the European Parliament and Council, addresses the removability of batteries but does not address key issues such as: including light electric vehicles in the scope, addressing spare parts availability, preventing software locks and avoiding unnecessary exemptions and loopholes.

“While there are many companies working to replace, repair and recycle batteries from electronics like smartphones and e-bikes, poor product design and software are making this increasingly challenging or impossible. Manufacturers are wasting precious resources and forcing consumers to replace devices before they need to. The European Council and Parliament now negotiating the European Batteries Regulation have the power to address all of these issues.”

 

Pierre Schweitzer, Policy Officer for product policy at the EEB,

Photo by Frankie on Unsplash

Union win for Turkish workers producing smart phones

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When Salcomp Turkey, who produces smart phones for Chinese Xiaomi, the second largest smartphone maker in the world, fired 170 workers for joining a union, the union members took action. After six days, Salcomp agreed to reinstate all dismissed workers.

Last month, workers at Salcomp decided to join IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Turk Metal. In return, company management launched a union busting campaign; workers were intimidated, threatened and 170 union members were dismissed. Around 80 per cent of the dismissed workers are women.

When workers protested against the union busting on company grounds, management responded by locking all doors. According to reports, workers inside the factory were not allowed to use the toilets and were banned from using use their mobile phones, cutting off communication with other workers.

But after six days the protests yielded result. Salcomp management agreed to reinstate all dismissed union members, withdraw from the lawsuit challenging the CBA certificate issued by Ministry of Labour and start collective bargaining negotiations on 1 October.

“When we come together, we win. Thanks to the action taken and the attention from international solidarity, the workers’ right to organize has been recognized,”

says Pevrul Kavlak, president of Türk Metal and member of IndustriALL Executive Committee.

“We congratulate Türk Metal and their members on this union win, and welcome the company’s commitment to engaging in genuine social dialogue,”

says Atle Høie, IndustruALL general secretary.

Xiaomi is a multinational electronics company founded in April 2010 and headquartered in Beijing. Xiaomi makes a wide range of electronics products, such as smartphones, laptops, home appliances, and consumer electronics.

 

Reposted from IndustriALL’s website, fellow member of GoodElectronics

“Delivering Due Diligence” – A Timely Educational Series

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Electronics WatchIndustriAll Global Union, the Fair Trade Advocacy Office and Rethinking Value Chains come together to deliver an educational series on human rights and environmental due diligence.

The new webinar series, with simultaneous translation to/from French, will develop an understanding of due diligence that can benefit workers and communities in a meaningful, measurable and transparent way. We will show how public buyers can apply and demand such a due diligence in their procurement process.

Public buyers consider social and environmental impacts of their procurement already now. The idea of human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD) is increasingly central to their activities, putting forward the challenge for public buyers of how to verify and enforce it. But what is due diligence? And how can it be measured and enforced?

With this series we want to deliver input for the discussion around the European Commission proposal for mandatory HREDD.

Six sessions will expand on central aspects of HREDD and its role in public procurement, ranging from verification, enforcement and, remedy, to policies and practices, as well as supporting services for public buyers.

Monday, November 22, 2021, 13:00—14:30 CET

1. Scope of Due Diligence: Tiers, Risks, and Transparency

NB. There will be simultaneous translation to/from French

Speakers at the first session include:

  • Heidi Hautala, Member of the European Parliament, Member of the Committee on International Trade and of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, Founder of the European Parliament working group for Responsible Business Conduct
  • Kan Matsuzaki, Assistant General Secretary, Director, ICT, Electrical and Electronics, Shipbuilding and Shipbreaking, IndustriALL
  • Kristin Tallbo, Sustainability Strategist, Adda Central Purchasing Body, Sweden
  • Alejandro García Esteban, Policy Officer, European Coalition for Corporate Justice
  • Matthew Galvin, Responsible Purchasing Manager, Greater London Authority, England

Click here for more details and to register.

Moving Beyond Technological Solutions to the Climate Crisis

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Today, just six days before the start of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 26, Electronics Watch releases two films focusing on the mining of nickel, a key mineral for batteries in electric vehicles and renewable energy infrastructure. 

Produced in collaboration with Pacific Asia Resource Center and Friends of the Earth, Japan, with support from Bread for All, A Cry from Palawan – The Environmental and Social Cost of Energy Transition and What is at Stake Behind the Energy Transition? – The Real Cost of Nickel Mining in the Philippines vividly demonstrate the need for a Just Transition to achieve the climate goals.

We face a climate paradox: the same industries that are necessary to save the climate also threaten the climate. Batteries are essential to the climate transition. According to the Global Battery Alliance and World Economic Forum, batteries can enable us to make 30% of the carbon reductions required in the transport and power sectors under the Paris Agreement. The batteries in electric vehicles require minerals such as nickel, cobalt and lithium and depend on semiconductors. Thus, both mining and semiconductor industries are key to meeting our climate goals.

But mining of key minerals for batteries has destroyed local habitats and caused deforestation. The semiconductor industry requires huge amounts of energy and water. Both industries generate hazardous waste.

Electronics Watch also finds severe worker rights violations in both industries. Semiconductors are manufactured in Malaysia, Taiwan and China where forced labour related to migrant worker recruitment is a concern. The backend (testing and assembly) semiconductor factories use hundreds of toxic chemicals placing workers and communities at risk. The mining for essential minerals also often exposes workers to unsafe working conditions. They may face reprisals if they seek to protect their communities and local environments and stand up for their rights.

When these essential industries for the energy transition both help and cause harm, technological solutions to the climate crisis are elusive. But our question is: Can we help resolve the climate paradox by strengthening community and worker rights in the mining and semiconductor industry? Put another way: Are lower emissions and respect for the rights of stakeholders two sides of the same coin? We believe the answer is yes.  Thus, the climate crisis requires a social and environmental transformation, not just a technological shift.

The films, “A Cry from Palawan, The Philippines” and “What is at Stake Behind the Energy Transition,” make the case for the social and environmental transition urgently needed today. They point out that the world needs nickel for the energy transition, but it cannot come at the cost of deforestation and destruction of local habitats, such as that seen on this beautiful island, Palawan. Here, a Just Transition would mean that the local indigenous people and the workers have a voice and collective influence over the expansion of the nickel mining areas. They suffer the consequences of destructions of local habitats. They are the people most immediately impacted by the mining operations and, therefore, the ones who most fervently articulate the necessary social and environmental perspective that will benefit not only them but us all.

The idea that those impacted by the development of mines or the conditions in factories must have a meaningful voice in those industries has been firmly embedded in the international trade union movement for centuries. More recently, international instruments governing human rights and environmental due diligence require companies to have effective engagement with stakeholders such as workers and impacted communities to identify adverse impact in supply chains and develop remedy.

“Stakeholder engagement” is just the current term in the field of Business and Human Rights for the tradition of social dialogue: effective two-way communication and negotiation between or among representatives of employers and workers (and sometimes governments) on issues of common interest.

To realize the potential of batteries, effective social dialogue based on the values of global interdependence and solidarity must be a key part of the fundamental social and environmental transformation we now need.  The time for workers and affected communities in Palawan and elsewhere to be able to influence and shape their local environments is now. Our common climate depends on it. 

              Més informació aquí.

A Cry from Palawan, The Philippines

What is at Stake Behind the Energy Transition

October16 International Repair Day!

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For Repair Day 2021, We Repair the Planet!

This August 2021, the IPCC published a devastating new report on the climate crisis that has made clear the urgency of working for the Right to Repair. In this context, today the International Repair Day, we want to send an important and clear message: repair reduces carbon emissions.

But what does repairing have to do with carbon emissions?

One of the main contributors to carbon emissions is the manufacture of products, and that includes electronic devices. From mining mineral resources, processing materials, to transporting products, most of the carbon footprint of our devices occurs before we turn them on.

According to United Nations data, “the extraction and processing of natural resources represent approximately 50% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced globally. Additionally, if current trends in the consumption of products, including electronic devices, are maintained, greenhouse gas emissions from resource extraction and processing will increase 43% from 2015 to 2060. “


To get a little closer to our reality, we look at our own devices. It is estimated that 79% of the CO2 footprint of your smartphone has occurred before you have used it. This percentage rises to 84% in the case of a mixer. This highlights the impact that buying new products has on our carbon footprint instead of repairing them or buying them second-hand.

When we, as consumers, repair a broken device, we save ourselves having to buy a new one, avoiding the generation of new emissions, waste and waste of resources. The data provided by the European Environmental Bureau is revealing: extending the useful life of all smartphones, laptops, washing machines and vacuum cleaners in the European Union by 5 years would save almost 10 million tons of CO₂ emissions annually by 2030.

Given these data, it is clear that reducing emissions from the consumption of electronic products on a global scale would have a significant impact on the total reduction of emissions necessary to slow down global warming and mitigate the climate crisis. For this, it is essential that the Right to Repair becomes a recognized right protected by law. This is the goal of the #RightToRepair movement and the initiatives and members that integrate it.

To be able to repair our appliances, we need to have better legislation that guarantees everyone access to spare parts and repair manuals; long-term software and security updates, and requirements that ensure products are designed to last long and be repairable.

This October 16, we bet more than ever for the Right to Repair of all and for a more sustainable world!

Europe needs a 10 Year Smartphone – a new campaign launches 

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  • Over 200 million smartphones are sold annually in the EU – that’s almost 7 every second 
  • 77% of EU citizens would prefer to repair their goods rather than buy new ones, only around 11% will repair their phones when they break. This is because they’re often impossible or too expensive to fix 
  • New 10 year smartphone campaign to reverse these trends and make longer lasting smartphones the norm
  • Extending the lifetime of smartphones by just one year could save 2.1 million tonnes in annual CO2 emissions. Going further and extending the lifetime from 3 to 10 years would save 6.2 million tonnes annually by 2030 – a 42% reduction on their overall footprint

 

The Right to Repair Europe coalition is launching the 10-year smartphone campaign to highlight the environmental, social and economic urgency for smartphones to last much longer than they currently do.

The 23rd of September marks the anniversary of the launch of the Android operating system and comes a day before Apple’s new iPhone 13 goes on sale. Both companies are notorious for their products’ short lives; Google’s phones only get software updates for 3 years and Apple’s suffer from unrepairable design, spare parts only being available to authorised repairers and the use of software as a barrier to repair.

“We believe the measures needed for all Europeans to have the right to use their phones for at least 10 years are key not only to achieve Europe’s sustainability ambitions but also to create new jobs and build resilient communities,” says Right to Repair Europe campaigner Chloé Mikolajczak.

The coalition campaign is revealing the barriers to truly longer lasting phones by setting up a parody crowdfunder for a product that would last for at least 10 years. Some characteristics of a “10 Year Smartphone” include: 

  1. Design for repair: The 10 Year Smartphone is easy to open, disassemble and repair with a single screwdriver so that EVERYONE can choose to do it if they want to. No glue involved or other tricks. This includes batteries.
  2. 10 years of software support: Software support is often dropped after only a few years, affecting performance and security. The 10 Year Smartphone has a decade of software support and doesn’t use software as a barrier to repair.
  3. 10 years of spare parts availability: Genuine spare parts are often impossible to get or way too expensive. The 10 Year Smartphone’s parts would be delivered in 24 hours. To do this, broken phones will be collected and functioning parts recouped.

Visitors to https://10yearphone.com/ can learn more, watch our “launch” video and sign the letter. 

Indeed, to complement this parody product, the campaign is circulating a letter, aimed at the European Commission and co-signed by more than 25 leading thinkers and activists in the repair, digital rights, design and sustainability sectors including Leyla Acaroglu (Disruptive Design), Kyle Wiens (Ifixit), Thibaud Hug de Larauze (Back Market) and David Cormand (The Greens).

The letter and the signatures from the public will be handed over to the European Commission at the end of October, a few weeks before the European Commission presents its new “Circular Electronics Initiative”. 

In March 2020, the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan promised a “new Right to Repair” and measures to ensure that sustainable products, services and business models become the norm.

But the initial Right to Repair measures implemented this year for household appliances are far from enough. Not only do they restrict improvements mainly to professional repairers, they do not address the central issues of the cost of repair and software updates.

About the Right to Repair campaign:  

The Right to Repair European campaign is a coalition of more than 80 organisations from 18 European countries fighting for longer-lasting and more repairable products.

The campaign members represent community repair groups, environmental activists, social economy actors, self repair advocates and any citizen who would like to obtain their right to repair.

About the Circular Electronics Initiative:

An EU initiative to promote longer product lifetimes, implement right to repair (including right to update obsolete software). It is expected in Q4 2021.

 

For more information, please contact:

Chloé Mikolajczak

Right to Repair campaigner

+32/486.31.18.14

chloe@therestartproject.org

Crisis in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, caused by forced dismantlement of the landfil

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July 2021

  • Last week, the regional government of Accra (Ghana) began to dismantle the market and electronic landfill sites in the Agbogbloshie neighbourhood, where thousands of people work in pitiful conditions.
  • The intention is to move the activity in the area 30 kilometres to the north, endangering the livelihood of many families without guaranteeing them an acceptable working environment.
  • Addressing the problem from a local perspective complicates the lives of workers in the area. The workers are, in fact, victims of the savage production model associated with electronics, that sustains societies’ techno-dependent life in the global north. 

Agbogblishe, one of the largest electronic dumping sites in the world, is situated in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Its name refers to the neighbourhood where it is located, being in the centre of the city. People from various locations, often from the north of the country (where the population have the least resources), come in search of a job, as their only way to survive.

On June 28, 2021, Henry Quartey, “Greater Accra Regional Minister”, ordered the dismantling of Agbogbloshie within his “Let’s Make Greater Accra Work” agenda. Starting with the onion traders at the neighbourhood market and the scrap dealers at the landfill, this campaign aims to phase out the current activity in Agbogbloshie, and move it to Adjen Kotoku at 30 km in the north.

The police have entered Agbogbloshie using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the merchants who riot in the neighbourhood. They have ordered the immediate evacuation of the merchants, demolishing everything with bulldozers, and broadcasting with pride what they call “taking possession of Agbogbloshie” on social media and the press.

Agbogbloshie is considered to be a circular economy centre. However, the conditions in which people work recycling are deplorable. Without protection or appropriate means to guarantee proper recycling, these people are exposed to toxic manipulation that, frequently, ends up causing very serious damages to their health. Very young people, including children, recover heavy metals from the landfill to resell them. There are also many women and girls who mainly sell food and water to the workers, washing and extinguishing the fire from the burning of wiring. The burning of this waste makes the population that spends their day in Agbogbloshie continuously breathe a cloud of toxics air. This is reflected in the high levels of heavy metals in their blood and urine, as well as respiratory, skin, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. This situation not only affects the people of the landfill itself, but everyone around them: the fruit and vegetable market, schools, temples and houses. In addition, Agbogbloshie also creates an environmental disaster, since the river and the animals in the area are totally contaminated by the electronic waste.

Despite all of this, it should be noted that Agbogbloshie’s landfill and its surroundings constitute the livelihood of thousands of people in the area, without which they would be doomed to an even greater precarious situation. That is why the immediate dismantling of the landfill puts the people who work there and in the market area in a situation of great vulnerability.

We call for an end to the violence carried out by the Agbogbloshie dismantlement and relocation campaign, ensuring that the displacement to Adjen Kotoku leads to an improvement in the working conditions of all people, the community and the environment.

There is a large population from which the government is taking away the little they have, demanding an immediate abandonment of their current way of life. The local government of Henry Quartey must guarantee security, in a totally peaceful process where the human rights of all the people of Agbogbloshie must be respected. The new Adjen Kotoku facilities must ensure fair working conditions and minimize current social and environmental impacts.

We may think that Agbogbloshie’s crisis is a local problem, but its roots extend beyond Ghana. The current electronics production and consumption model ends up having very serious consequences in the Global South. Therefore, what is happening in Agbogbloshie is a global problem.

Moreover, the case of Agbogbloshie is not an isolated case. According to the latest data, 53.6 million tons of electronic waste were generated in the world during 2019, of which only 17.40% were properly recycled. There is considerable uncertainty about a significant amount of e-waste that ends up in illegal traffic sent to countries like Ghana, where there are no resources to recycle properly.

In front of a global problem, we demand a global solution. All parties involved have to be accountable: manufacturers, political institutions, public administrations and consumers. By denouncing what is happening in Agbogbloshie, we want to make visible the multitude landfills in impoverished countries that receive electronic waste from the Global North. The Basel Convention that regulates these illegal movements must be complied with and audited, avoiding the export of toxics to those who precisely generate the least.

As consumers, we must not forget that the solution is not only to recycle properly where it has been generated, but that the main objective is to reduce our consumption, as well as to divert our efforts to repair and reuse.

New research on lithium mining in Chile

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The Danish journalistic group Danwatch reveals in a report elaborated on the ground and coordinated by SETEM Catalunya how our increasing demand for lithium for the manufacture of smartphones and electric cars has serious environmental impacts in the Atacama Desert, Chile. Lithium extraction leads to depletion of the territory’s water resources, directly affecting the livelihoods of local indigenous communities and animals. The research was carried out as part of the European Make ICT Fair campaign, in which eleven non-governmental organizations from Europe take part, including SETEM Catalunya, organizer of the Mobile Social Congress.

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New journalistic research in Malaysia

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The Danish journalistic group DanWatch reveals in a report prepared on the ground and coordinated by SETEM Catalunya that the migrant staff of a factory in Malaysia, supplier of the main chip producers in Europe and the USA, suffer from situations of forced labor, violent threats, passport retention and significant salary deductions. The research was carried out as part of the European Make ICT Fair campaign, in which eleven non-governmental organizations from Europe are taking part, including SETEM Catalunya, organizer of the Mobile Social Congress.

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