With unprecedented access & undercover footage, Complicit offers a rare, intimate, and devastating glimpse into the daily existence of a group of teens who are paying with their health and lives to make the devices we can’t live without.
Heather White, the courageous filmmaker of Complicit, joined B2B News Network CEO, Jen Evans, to share details of her 2 ½ year journey to make the documentary under the radar of the Chinese government.
You’ve been involved in looking at supply chain issues for years. What made this topic one you wanted to turn into the film? What was in that Chinese newspaper article that sparked the interest?
Stories had been coming out about abuses in China such as factory worker Tian Yu, who was 17 years old when she jumped from the Foxconn factory dormitory after making iPhones for only three weeks, is now paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.
Ming Kunpeng committed suicide in January 2015, while another worker was kidnapped in 2013 and has not been heard from since. Reading accounts was too abstract – the issue needs to be shared in film to persuade folks to care and then to DO something about it.
How did you meet Yi Yeting, the worker the film follows through experiences of trying to understand and then deal with what was happening at the factories?
Yi was dealing with his own work induced leukaemia and trying to increase awareness of the effects of the chemical benzene. I had been involved in the factory work and we connected and decided the story had to be told on a bigger scale.
We were introduced through the advocacy group based in Hong Kong where he was working. He was assisting workers who had occupational leukemia, helping them apply for compensation, which is a banned activity in China right now.
You’ve spent a lot of time in China. Describe your view of where their manufacturing capabilities sit on the power scale when it comes to this kind of supply chain.
China is # 1 in the world in terms of their tech capacity – produces 100% for Apple. Why would US companies want to give this IP away? Short termism + greed explain it. Short-sighted corporations are going to find they made their suppliers into competitors.
Explain the role of and problem with benzene. Who is still using it now that Apple is not?
Over 200,000 petitions were delivered last week by several NGOs to Samsung, calling on the co. to disclose what chemicals are in use. 200 + workers have been diagnosed with leukemia and other cancers, nearly all young women in their Korean factories.
Benzene has been banned in most countries for factory use since the 1970’s. We discovered however it’s widely used in Chinese factories b/c it’s cheap and available. Responsible brands should ban it from their supplier factories and monitor the situation.
There’s currently a government led human rights crackdown in China. We’ve been unable to make contact safely with workers in the smartphone factories since 2017. The non-profit groups working in the technology area have been banned by the government or are under tight surveillance.
Apple has not provided proof to the public the chemicals have been eliminated from their products. Their ban covers only 1/3 of their workforce in China and none of their subcontractors. there’s no proof they have stopped using it. According to a NYT report, benzene-free glues in China are 30% more expensive than benzene-containing ones. Apple consistently declined interview requests and doesn’t report what safe solvents they use.
What are you asking manufacturers to do – 3 concrete steps they could take – and why do you think they have not done it?
Report on their use of chemicals – to the public, and to workers. Prove they protect consumers and children from toxins in their production and final assembly.
- Ban all life threatening chemicals in their supply chain
- 2.Report on their use of chemicals – to the public, and to workers.
- Prove they protect consumers and children from toxins in their production and final assembly. No tech company has done this yet.
Have you had any direct dialogue with manufacturers? How has the tech industry reacted?
Silence – how do they rebut leukemia?
The recent discovery of rare precious metals in Japan virtually guarantees supply to keep manufacturing tech devices almost perpetually. Is there a risk to consumers?
There are no laws protecting consumers from any known hazards embedded in devices.
You spent six years working on this film. What do you want it to accomplish?
My goal for the film was met early, back in 2015 when Apple agreed to ban benzene. However their ban doesn’t go far enough because it’s only for the final assembly. Consumers need to pressure the company to eliminate anything life-threatening from supply chain.
What do you think this issue and the film say about technology and its current role in society?
COMPLICIT reveals a hidden backstory behind the glitzy veneer of our smart devices. With the recent Facebook hearings and the U.S.’s largest pension fund calling on Apple to be more responsible regarding children we’re seeing the beginning of a tech backlash led by consumers,
What action do you encourage customers and consumers to take?
Watch the film, ask for the film, arrange screenings, tell your friends and keep the pressure on.
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