VICTORY! Wipro leads in clean production. HCL still twiddling its thumbs.

Feature story - June 14, 2007
BANGALORE, India — Two years ago, nobody could have believed that one day Wipro and Greenpeace would stand on the same stage, shake hands, and call it quits.

Applied Thought

After all, we'd once dumped 500 kilos of their own e-waste at their doorstep. Another time, we'd landed up in hazmat-suits, protective masks and gloves to illustrate exactly how toxic Wipro's products were. Our activists had then run circles around Electronic City in an ‘eWaste Mobile’ while distributing to Wipro employees leaflets with damning facts on what goes into their employer’s products. Then, of course, there was this time when thousands of Greenpeace supporters forwarded embarrassing eCards to their friends in Wipro, and called the company's board number asking to see some action instead of just empty promises.

And yet, that's just what happened today.

Wipro and Greenpeace addressed a joint press-conference where Wipro delivered on every commitment it had made a year ago. And Greenpeace lauded Wipro for demonstrating exceptional responsibility by becoming the first Indian IT company to voluntarily clean up its product line.

Good on you, Wipro!

Exactly one year ago, Wipro promised its products would be 100% RoHS-compliant. (RoHS, or Restriction of Hazardous Substances, is a European directive that requires the electronics industry to eliminate heavy metals like Lead, Cadmium, Chromium and Mercury from its products). Even though India has no RoHS legislation, Wipro has delivered.

Exactly one year ago, Wipro promised to implement a take-back policy for its end-of-life products. Now, there's no law that makes this mandatory, but Wipro has delivered

Exactly one year ago, Wipro promised it will also furnish information to customers on how Wipro’s products be properly recycled. Again, Wipro has delivered.

The fight for No.2

As of this morning, Wipro is the first Indian IT company to clean up its act, end-to-end.

Wipro has committed to doing a few other things, such as phasing out the two remaining toxic chemicals from its products (BFRs and PVC), and staunchly supporting a RoHS legislation in India that forces our entire IT industry to take responsibility for clean production and recycling.

While Greenpeace keeps an eye on the company's progress, our other eye is eagerly scanning the landscape for a runner-up.

Wipro's progressive move should send out a sharp pulse through India’s sprawling IT industry. Other players should recognise that today it’s simply not enough to do well. It’s also important to do good. They should recognise that a cleaner way to do business exists, and that there is an alternative way to be profitable. It’s now up to the rest of the industry to follow suit, and fast.

We're thinking HCL. What's HCL thinking?

We all agree that the government needs to put in place a policy to guide the industry towards the production of clean electronic goods which do not pose a threat to the environment or people, and then ensure that there is 100% compliance. In other words, a law not unlike the EU's RoHS directive.

But to wait until that law is in place before you detox your products, is like relieving yourself in public simply because there's no law that stops you from behaving like a stray animal.

Click on the Image to view the slideshow.

Sustained campaigning from Greenpeace has already forced international market leaders like Apple, HP, Dell, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Nokia to eliminate some of the most hazardous chemicals from their products.

If HCL wants to join this league, it'll need to do substantially more than just mouth empty platitudes or deliver slick soundbites for the media cameras.

It'll need to act.

The problem with HCL.

In August last year, Greenpeace purchased HCL's Ax 00014 laptop computer and, just out of academic interest, sent it to our research lab in Eurofins, Denmark.

Guess what we found? The thing was chock-a-block with Lead, PVC, Bromine and Phthalates. View a video that shows how these are disposed.

We found to our dismay that HCL, whose vision is to create the enterprises of tomorrow, is still producing hazardous laptops of yesterday.

When we took the evidence and our report (click to view) to HCL's HQ in Noida, they responded with evasion and spin. We were told that "HCL, as a socially responsible corporate citizen, has a comprehensive programme to ensure protection of environment, health and safety of all its stakeholders and recognises the need to minimize the hazardous impact of e-wastes of its products on the environment. As part of this programme, we had initiated voluntary compliance to RoHS directives for all our products."

Recognition and initiation. That's an excellent start.

But Greenpeace, our 40,000 supporters in India, and thousands of workers in recycling yards believe there's a lot more that can be done.

If anyone disagrees, look at Wipro today.


Read the press release from today's Wipro-Greenpeace meeting.

Effects of hazardous substances on human health:

LEAD: Lead is highly toxic to humans, as well as to animals and plants. It can build up in the body through repeated exposure and have irreversible effects on the nervous system, particularly the developing nervous system in children. Lead is one of the chemicals that are restricted under the EU RoHS Directive.

BFRs: This study found bromine in approximately half of the materials tested. High bromine content is likely to result from the use of a brominated flame retardant (BFR) formulation, though this study did not investigate the chemical form in which the bromine was present. Long-term exposure to some BFRs (certain PBDEs) has been associated with abnormal brain development in animals, with possible long-term impacts on memory, learning and behavior. The presence of PBDE and TBBPA, or other bromine containing chemicals, in electronics products has the potential to generate brominated dioxins and furans, when the electronic waste comes to be smelted, incinerated or burnt in the open. Brominated dioxins and furans may be of equivalent toxicity to chlorinated dioxins and furans, chemical compounds widely recognized as some of the most toxic chemicals many being toxic even in very low concentrations.

PVC: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a chlorinated plastic used in some electronic products and for insulation on wires and cables. PVC is one of the most widely used plastics, but its production, use and disposal can create toxic pollution. Chlorinated dioxins and furans are released when PVC is produced or disposed of by incineration (or simply burning). Dioxins and furans are classes of chemical compounds widely recognised as some of the most toxic chemicals ever made by humans and many are toxic even in very low concentrations.


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