Wipro applies thought. Earth heaves a sigh of relief.

Feature story - July 18, 2006
BANGALORE , India — After nine months of intensive campaigning by Greenpeace activists, two high-profile demonstrations at Wipro’s doorstep, hundreds of calls by our volunteers and supporters to their board number, thousands of forwarded eCards telling the company to clean up its act, and just one day before its AGM, the IT giant has turned back the toxic tide emerging from its assembly line.

Greenpeace activists demonstrate outside the headquarters of Indian IT giant Wipro in Bangalore. After nine months of intensive campaigning by Greenpeace, Wipro has committed to phasing out toxic chemicals from its products.

Just earlier in the day, Greenpeace activists dressed in white haz-mat suits, protective masks and gloves had landed up at Wipro’s headquarters, holding up computer monitors bearing the letters ‘CLEAN UP NOW.’ 

 

And for a week leading up to this moment, Greenpeace activists had run circles around Electronic City in their ‘eWaste Mobile.’ Festooned with scraps of Wipro’s own e-waste and pictures of the inhuman conditions under which this waste is handled in India’s many scrap yards, the eWaste Mobile showcased the lethal output of India’s shining IT industry.

 

 

Greenpeace volunteers, meanwhile, engaged Wipro employees on a daily basis – distributing leaflets with damning facts on what goes into their employer’s products. Click here to see the toxics in your PC.

 

A miracle nine months in the making.

 

Months earlier, in September 2005, Greenpeace had called upon Wipro with 500 kilos of its e-waste, asking the company to ‘Apply Thought’, adopt Clean Production and put in place mechanisms to take back their end-of-life products. Click here to read about that action.

 

While Wipro had initially responded with enthusiasm, it reneged on its promise to come up with a roadmap for Clean Production within six months.

 

Months passed. Nothing happened. This silence from Wipro was unnerving, even as governments and enterprises the world over acknowledged e-waste as a problem and made moves towards addressing it.

 

As a matter of fact, while Wipro was incommunicado, sustained campaigning from Greenpeace was already forcing international market leaders like HP, Dell, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Nokia to eliminate some of the most hazardous chemicals from their products.

 

What was going on in their heads? Did Wipro have the stomach to do what needs to be done? Was it ever going to show a vertebral column and stand up as a giant among the IT players? Was it about to live up to its corporate feel-good monikers (future-active, innovator, thought leader) or was it biding its time?

 

We could wait and watch. Except that Greenpeace doesn’t do wait and watch.

 

Applying thought? Then think binary.

 

Electronic engineering is clearly about thinking in binary. Zero or One. Black or White. On or Off. Yes or No. Clean or Dirty. It seemed odd, then, than Wipro was inhabiting a grey zone of diplomatic ambiguity.

 

One week before Wipro’s AGM, we issued a public challenge to its chairman Azim Premji, demanding that they become the first Indian electronics company to tackle the growing e-waste crisis.

 

The countdown timer had started ticking. Our eWaste Mobile was doing the rounds. Leaflets were flying. Phone lines melting their insulation. And eCards slicing through the ether.

 

 

Last evening, all the hard work paid off. Wipro has responded to Greenpeace with a commitment to 100% RoHS compliance by June 2007. (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).

 

But that isn’t the half of it. Wipro has also pledged to implement a take-back policy for its end-of-life products by September 2006. It will also furnish information to customers on how Wipro’s products be properly recycled, as well as support a legislation that calls on manufacturers to take responsibility for recycling.

 

As for the highly toxic PVC and BFR (Brominated Flame Retardants) in its products, Wipro has admitted that there is still a lot of research to do, but has committed in spirit to phase these out as well, adding that they will share a clear timeline with Greenpeace by the end of 2006.

 

Too late to lead, but not too late to follow.

 

Now, perhaps for the first time in its history, the rainbow in Wipro’s corporate logo actually means something.

 

The company’s progressive move should also send out a sharp pulse through India’s sprawling IT industry. Other players should recognize that today it’s simply not enough to do well. It’s also important to do good.

 

What Wipro is demonstrating is that a cleaner way to do business exists, that there is an alternative way to be profitable. It’s now up to the rest of the industry to follow suit, and fast.

 

The government, too, needs to have 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.

 

Without that, Wipro’s move will merely end up being a flash in the toxic pan.

 

 

 

This victory could not have come about without the help of people just like you. While Wipro has made the right move, it’s the only one so far. Together, we need to bring about a larger shift within the industry. Please do consider supporting our urgent and necessary work. Click here to donate.

 

For a press release on this development, click here.

 

For more information on our campaign against Toxic Technology, visit http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/toxics/electronics

 

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