Key social impacts of electronics production and WEEE-recycling in China

Andreas Manhart, Öko-Institut e.V., June 2007, 33 p. (pdf)

Both, electronics production and WEEE-recycling have major social impacts on workers, neighbouring communities and the Chinese society: While electronics production is a major driver for the country’s economic development and makes up almost two thirds of the country’s export surplus, the economic output of the WEEE-recycling industry is of lesser
national importance. Nevertheless WEEE-recycling spurred significant economic developments within the industry’s major clusters. In addition, WEEE-recycling is a source of raw materials and has therefore positive economic impacts on other sectors that have not been quantified so far.

Nevertheless a review of related literature yields that both sectors feature some serious risk processes, while other processes are relatively safe for both, humans and the environment.
For the future development of the two sectors in China it is vital to take the environmental and health and safety risks into account and work out ways to enable sound protection of people’s health and the environment.
In terms of employment quality, workers in both sectors are to a significant portion subject to low wages, partly excessive overtime and the absence of functioning social security systems.
While in the WEEE-recycling industry this situation is mainly caused by the sector’s informal character, the electronics production industry is facing severe international competition leading to low profit margins and high pressure to reduce costs in any part of the supply chain. In order to improve the social impacts on workers, it is vital to insure their possibility to
actively involve in business decisions that are directly affecting their working conditions.