Hewlett Packard in global toxic trouble

Feature story - December 7, 2005
It has been a confrontational 24 hours for the PR people at computer giant Hewlett Packard (HP) with Greenpeace activists turning up at both their headquarters in the US and China.

Few HP employees probably know that their products end up as e-waste, or that the toxic contents end up poisoning Chinese workers, many of them children.

Update March 8, 2006: HP rises to the toxic challenge.

Workers were greeted by a bright orange blimp floating above theentrance to the HP international headquarters in California. Hangingfrom the blimp was an image of a Chinese girl clutching an HPkeyboard surrounded by an electronic waste (e-waste) scrapyard with theslogan - "HP = Harmful Products".

A pirate radio station broadcast a message encouraging workers andpassers-by to contact the HP CEO Mark Hurd to demand they make cleanerproducts. The message was also delivered by phone to around 4000employees working at the headquarters.

"HP is a prime example of a dirty electronics company," said GreenpeaceInternational toxics campaigner Iza Kruszewska.  "It has donelittle to eliminate hazardous materials in its products, and it islagging behind some of its competitors."

Activists in China then delivered postcards to the employees at HPheadquarters in Beijing along with e-waste components recovered fromthe Guiyu, e-waste dump site in the Guangdong Province of China. Theactivists, wearing boiler suits bearing the words "HP = HarmfulProducts," urged HP employees to work from within and call for hazardoussubstances in computer manufacture to be phased out.

"Greenpeace believes that most HP employees are unaware of how theirproducts become toxic e-waste and pollute the environment in scrappingyards like Guiyu, in China. Armed with information we believe they willask their managers to stop manufacturing such products" said Zhao Yangfrom Greenpeace China.

Some electronics companies, such as Samsung, Sony, Sony Ericsson,Nokia, LG and Motorola have taken a first step by committing to theelimination of all types of brominated flame retardants and PVC plasticfrom their products on set timelines.  HP, Acer, Apple, Dell,Fujitsu-Siemens, IBM, Lenovo, Panasonic, and Toshiba have, to date,made no such commitment.

Additional images Palo Alto ©Greenpeace/Mike Fox/zuma, Beijing ©Greenpeace/Natalie Behring

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