Who Are the Victims and What Is the Harm They Suffer?

Overview of Key Groups of Victims

The most affected victims of the illegal e-waste shipments from the EU to China are those directly involved in the informal e-waste processing activities in China. The rudimentary methods employed in the informal recycling and dismantling sector put those involved in these practices in direct human health risks and create significant environmental risks. As the informal activities are spatially highly concentrated, exposure is highest in those Chinese towns involved in the informal sector (Breivik et al. 2014), including for instance Guiyu, Longtang, and Dali (see map in Fig. 6.1).

As discussed above, the majority of workers in the informal sector are poor, rural migrants, who are already at the margins of Chinese society; many are from ethnic and religious minorities (Hicks et al. 2005). Likewise, the presence of children, pregnant women, and young women with babies at the e-waste recycling and dismantling sites shows how these illegal e-waste processing activities impact those members of society who are most vulnerable and at risk (China Labour Bulletin 2005; ILO 2012). The impact of e-waste processing on these vulnerable groups highlights the inherent social inequalities and environmental discrimination reinforced by the illegal import of e-waste.

At the same time, the impact of informal e-waste dismantling and recycling is felt, not only at the e-waste processing sites, but in surrounding communities as well. In Beilin, China, it was shown that the homes of e-waste processing workers had high levels of toxic substances, putting even those who are not directly engaged in the industry at risk (Brigden et al. 2005). In addition, informal e-waste processing and recycling in some cases take place at the homes of the workers.

Contamination of food and water sources also poses significant risks to communities in the surrounding regions and eventually to the nation as well (Sepulveda et al. 2010).

 
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