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American Chipmakers Had a Toxic Problem, Then They Outsourced It (bloomberg.com)
288 points by clumsysmurf on June 15, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 130 comments



I worked at a semiconductor factory in the US for five years. I'm glad it wasn't in Photolithography -- that end of the fab reeked of acetone. My end had arsenic, but it was pretty well contained unless you went into the bead blast room. We also had elemental phosphorous, which has a tendency to explode if you look at it funny. Wets has hydrofluoric acid. CVD uses tons of silane, which is not only toxic but explosive. You really can't do without these chemicals if you want to have semiconductors. At best, you can stay away from the really carcinogenic resist chemistries. But just try to make an NMOS transistor without arsenic for the source and drain!

Edit: This is not to say that it's OK to destroy people's health to make semiconductors. Toxic chemicals are unavoidable in semiconductor manufacturing, and we need to handle them properly even if it causes a rise in prices.


Eh, acetone smells gross but I can understand why they weren't too concerned about it. It's one of the strongest solvents out there that's actually fairly safe biologically. It's really volatile and humans can smell it down to a couple dozon PPM. Not a pleasant olfactory combination. However, your body produces it in small amounts so you can readily detoxify it.

When given a choice between various mostly dangerous solvents, I Choose Acetoneā„¢


I too spent some time working in an industry cleanroom in the past. (Specifics are probably still under NDA XD...)

All I feel comfortable saying is that I would have been a LOT happier if I were either tele-operating a robot to do the work or if the whole process were fully automated by a robot running a set of moves (and halting for remote operator if things fail checks).


>CVD uses tons of silane, which is not only toxic but explosive

Silane is even more delightful than that- a toxic irritant that turns to sand on contact with water. So silane gas that touches your eyes or gets into your lungs will deposit on your mucous membranes as fine glass. Blindness is a likely outcome of sufficient exposure, and if there is a really huge amount you can suffocate on blood and glass shards.


Another fun Silane fact for you - The auto-ignition temperature is right around room temperature / a bit lower, and pure silane burns with "invisible" colorless flames!

I worked at a semiconductor equipment manufacturer, and the silane gas delivery systems had to have separate flame detectors (from the normal one's we used) in the gas boxes for cutting off the gas supply because of this risk. We also had special strobe lights in the building with a sign below them indicating "Silane Pad on Fire if flashing", to let us know the gas bottle out behind the building (gas was piped in) was likely burning, since you wouldn't know from looking out the door / window unless you got close enough to feel the heat!

Luckily, I never experienced a silane fire, but for a point, I did design and implement the safety system for an experimental ion implant system, which used silane along with other nasty process gases containing arsenic, boron and other dopants. Cool job, but the stress of "make sure you get this right" was a lot higher than other software jobs I've had, haha!


This is easily the most terrifying thread I've ever read on HN.


Your comment reads like something from "Things I Won't Work With" by Derek Lowe.


Do you think the company you worked for wasn't handling them properly? Do you think the industry in general doesn't handle them correctly? If so, what changes do you think need to be made?


The company I worked for did a good enough job so that if you poisoned yourself they could plausibly say you were in violation of SOP. To be honest, I don't know what you could do to fix a lot of the dangers in semiconductor manufacturing. Many of them are just inherent to the process. Avoiding super carcinogenic resists is the low hanging fruit. Maybe there are a few other places where you could use safer, more expensive chemicals. But you have to have arsenic. You have to have HF. There's no known safe alternative.

I think the biggest thing you could do is remind the technicians that their safety is paramount, even when we're line down waiting for a critical tool to come back up. The pressure to restore a multi-billion dollar fab to production is intense, and it can cause people to cut corners on safety.


In your experience, did you find there was a independent, empowered worker-safety advocate in the decision line?

As you note, I seem most of the dangers not coming from dangerous chemical, but from management pressure to sidestep SOP in order to make quota.


>This is not to say that it's OK to destroy people's health to make semiconductors. Toxic chemicals are unavoidable in semiconductor manufacturing, and we need to handle them properly even if it causes a rise in prices.

Thank you for having a reasonable opinion. I'm reminded that they're rare every time the weld puddle heat soaks the non-asbestos glove on my left hand

I'm also reminded that they're rare whenever I go to buy paint for a surface that kids will never lick.


Paint, when it gets old, flakes off the out-of-reach surface onto the floor. The lead paint flakes are sweet like candy. As such, it makes sense to just not have leaded paint, period.


Also, the societal cost of more expensive and less durable paint seems a decent trade-off for people not developing impulse control issues later in life.


Acetone isn't very toxic. And it's quite biodegradable. I've had girlfriends who had acetone breath when dieting. But hey, I rather like the smell :)


Different strokes for different folks --- I know acetone isn't that bad for you, but I can't stand the smell. I have to be in another room when nail polish is being applied.


It's genetics, I suspect.


I notice this in sick kids. A decent fever and no eating and they smell this way quite quickly.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketonuria


Bead blast? Is that a type of abrasive blasting? Why? Some kind of annealing?


It's not for the wafers, it's for the equipment. Parts get coated up with various substances, and then have to get stripped back as part of regular maintenance. One of those substances is arsenic.


To sandblast the oxide layer off the GaS ingots.


Whoa there, cowboy. GaAs doesn't really make an oxide, and the last thing you want to do to an ingot is bead-blast it. You want to be in a room full of GaAs dust?


wouldn't robots solve this issue?

Also, a question for you: if chip factories were black boxes with robots in them that you put stuff into and got stuff out of, is the "output" also toxic? (Are the actual boards and such also toxic)? Or could the output be non-toxic as long as waste was handled properly, so that it's only toxic inside but neither in its waste output or product output?


Robots help. The "lights-out" fab has been an industry goal for thirty years at least. (Lights-out = no human operators. I.e. you could turn out the lights and nobody would mind.) We've moved a long way in that direction, but we're not going to remove humans in the forseeable future. The reason is something your question, like many discussions about automation, completely overlooks.

Robots break. All the time.

Robots need recovery when they break. They also need preventative maintenance. Even a fully automated fab has an army of technicians in there turning wrenches 24/7. In fact, the more automated the fab, the more people you need turning wrenches. So you can't have a factory that's a toxic swamp inside so long as it's clean on both ends, because there are people in there. You really don't want to ask them to wear SCBA gear all day long either. Nobody likes that. It's hot, it's uncomfortable, and it doesn't work well in tight spaces.


I get the point of the phrase ("light-out fabrication") but I think it's important to note that robots smart/capable enough to replace humans would probably use visible light in a manner quite similar to the way it is used by humans.


And what's worse is those wrench-turning techs have a different mindset from the test-tube shuffling techs they replace. So when they come in, they're more likely to get exposed to something nasty.


Also, if you're unhindered by things like preventing tumors by isolating chemicals from your squishy meat employees, imagine the kind of Superfund sites you'd get when these places were finally decommissioned.


How do you bootstrap a robot factory if you need the factory's output to make the robots?


maybe very slowly with the just a few workers wearing super expensive hazmat space-suits with their own self-contained breathing systems. that probably wouldn't scale to production volumes but could make sense if you're building a one-off robotic factory.

but nobody answered the question - are the normal outputs of a factory also toxic, or just what goes on inside? would a robotic factory even "solve" the issue?


You can't grind up a circuit board or chip and eat it (or drink it) - which down the line leads to problems:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_waste_in_Guiyu

That is to say, one would need proper recycling in order to avoid toxicity for the entire life cycle of products.


You'd have a similar situation as that of a nuclear power plant.


Well the "non-waste" output of a nuclear plant (what it actually produces) is just electricity, but are the chips these plants produce themselves toxic following production, or is only the production process toxic? I don't know about toxicity of these things.


Radiation is hard on electronics. Presumably some chemicals are too but it would seem easier to block a chemical contacting a part than it is to keep radiation out.


The sidelining of employee health & safety costs isn't specific to chip-makers/America alone. It's a not-so-hidden benefit of outsourcing in general.

Also, the current political climate in the US (EPA being bled to death slowly) will setup a legal climate where companies' practices that are damaging to employee health suddenly becomes legal/non-issue. It might save a few jobs from getting outsourced, but will leave behind a sick employee pool, with the state bearing the cost of health care.


Worth noting that this is a "benefit" of not offshore outsourcing, but outsourcing in general. Large companies prefer to purchase services from vendors rather than hire employees to limit their liability and responsibility for those workers' well-being. For example, a Fortune 500 will prefer to hire small janitorial services companies to service all of their offices rather than employees, so that these small services companies can ignore workplace safety and reduce costs, while the large company can say "Hey this isn't our problem" when a janitor gets injured on the job.


It is not that, office cleaning is outside the core competency of a company. Hence hire the services of a company that will keep the office clean for a cost, exactly how they achieve that and with what staff is for them to manage as per contract decided on.

By analogy think of the milk in the fridge at work. The company could have employed a farmer and bought land for a cow but that didn't happen, instead that was outsourced.

Nobody thinks 'must own cow', that is almost always outsourced, certainly in the first world. I think cleaning services are like that, no company thinks to build up a department of cleaners, it is outside the core competency, much like dairy farming is. However, the big companies that are criticised for outsourcing departments started out in an era when there weren't so many security companies, cleaning service companies and such like. If those companies started out now they would not be building up 'cleaning departments' with the management structure, pension plan and bonus incentives, it would just be outsourced, probably to some zero hours minimum wage contractor.


That's an attitude that's a byproduct of the short term thinking that dominates modern business.

Companies that I've worked for or have been associated with that were really good at running facilities always used in house staff for facility maintenance and usually had facility services run by a former Navy chief of the boat or senior army sergeant.

If you give a shit, and are big enough to have enough work, you can do janitorial, maintenance and security/reception at a reasonable price. You may save money by having maintenance done by people who give a shit vs. those who care just enough to not get fired.

My current employer successfully "insourced" pure utility functions like electricity generation, because it delivered a positive ROI.


Was the ROI measured in dollars or in 'doing the right thing' type phases? As an example, from what I have read of Apple, it would have been better for them financially to just take from the grid or buy up existing renewable energy but they see non-monetary benefits to going renewable. Cook has pretty vigorously defended Apples position to chafe holders. While I agree with Apples position, it isn't a cheap option.


AFAIK, it is good to outsource for cost reduction AND it is important to entertain in house competences to do the work.


Anyone can clean an office. It's a bad example for outsourcing. There's also security arguments to be made for in-house, respected people since janitors are great position for subversion.


This is a misapplication of core competencies. Cleaning isn't complex and the milk analogy doesn't fly because janitors are self-contained producers of cleaning.


The tragedy I think it's the idea is in the negative. Imo it is not a recipe of what you should outsource but rather what you must not.

Don't outsource your core competency somehow became outsource everything else.

Something I didn't quite understand was a former employer of mine sold their office building and rented all but two floors of the building from the new owner. I never quite understood this.


> sold their office building

Short-term realisable profit and improvement to their cash position, at the expense of future cashflow.

It can sometimes make sense if the business's return on capital is much higher than that of real estate, or the business is at risk of having to downsize.


Owning a building return a few percent on the capital. Many companies can do better yields, and are restricted by capital. It only makes sense to sell and lease back in such cases. Also, it lets you shift expenses from capital to operational on your balance sheet, which is sometimes profitable in itself.


It's very probable that the firm simply didn't have the management bandwidth to do proper property management, which is a business all on its own and unless you really care about it, you're not going to be able to do it as well or as cheaply as someone who does.

I can easily see how a company would prefer paying another company to provide a nice, delineated set of deliverables as opposed to managing workers to provide them themselves.


    > It might save a few jobs from getting outsourced,
    > but will leave behind a sick employee pool, with
    > the state bearing the cost of health care.
As opposed to the current state of affairs where the West just outsources its dangerous pollution to poorer countries, with health care systems even less prepared to take care of those sick employees?

This line of argument seems to have more to do with nationalism than concern for overall human safety.

Yes, ideally nobody would have to suffer from toxic exposure in the workplace, but the situation we're in right now is that strict Western regulations just lead to more sick people on the other side of various nation-state fences.

Given that, it's not at all clear to me that declawing an institution like the EPA is a bad thing. This pollution is happening right now on Earth, is the US better prepared to deal with it than e.g. Vietnam? Probably. But I'd love to hear some arguments on this topic that aren't essentially nationalistic NIMBY-ism.


No, as opposed to adhering to decent workplace safety standards.

Your reasoning implies that any resistance to outsourcing is mindless nationalism and therefore the choice is some kind of trolley problem between lowering standards here or elsewhere.

That's not true. You could very well introduce some restrictions with better reasons than political power-play. In the EU, there are restrictions to ship waste off-country because it would pollute the environment. You coukd just as well restrict outsourcing jobs if the workplace environments are known to be unsafe.


I'm pointing out the casual fallacy and blatant disregard for foreigners in the GPs comments "leave behind a sick employee pool", as if though moving an obviously dangerous job from their own country (with stricter safety regulations) to another country will just magically fix the problem, as opposed to just making people in some other country sick instead.

Assuming a world where every country had the same workplace safety regulations, it seems obvious that a richer more developed country would be better prepared to deal with workplace injuries and other ailments that result having less strict regulation.

Which is why I'm critiquing the GPs comment as having more to do with "nationalism than concern for overall human safety". We should be concerned with the overall human cost of the products we use, not whether the people injured in their production happen to live in place A or place B.

Some of the EU laws you mention are certainly a step in the right direction, but they're only skin deep. No penalties are paid for outsourcing toxicity to poorer countries during the normal import of consumer products, just for some exports of toxic material. The former category is much larger than the latter.


It's almost comical when they pat themselves on the back for creating a couple hundred coal mining jobs, supposedly. Drops in the bucket relative to the US economy.


From what I hear, the state doesn't really want to bear that cost.

This is obviously premature conjecture, but the US may be unconsciously moving towards older days, when at the expense of regulation and worker rights a lot of knowledge and technological edge was accumulated.


Name a company where regulations and workers' rights have lessened.


Social protections have a cost. As US became poorer, this cost becomes too high here and there, naturally moving back to the situation of old. Poor for some workers, but maybe still better than mass layoffs due to businesses shutting down. If a US worker cannot be paid less, because the US cannot become cheaper (it plays the role of gold now), some other benefits will be cut.


The US became Poorer? Isn't the US the richest country in the world?


Have you been outside a major metropolis or SV? Who, to your mind, the Trump's supporters are?

More people in the US are worse off than they were e.g. in 1990s, let alone around 2006 or so.


"with the state bearing the cost of health care" - unless it's privatised! Repeal the state-funded healthcare bill, and then it's the employee's problem if they get sick.


Aaron Greenspan has a great article about toxic waste in Silicon Valley -- "In Search of the Cookie Dough Tree," named after a persistent smell of raw cookie dough suspended around the Wells Fargo on California Avenue. The cookie dough, of course, seems to have been trichloroethylene. https://hackerfall.com/story/in-search-of-the-cookie-dough-t...


Wow. That was amazingly contemporary.


Here's what Larry Summers had to say on this topic:

> 'Dirty' Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

> 1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

> 2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

> 3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.


It's actually what a grad student said about a topic that Summers later signed onto as part of a broader report... and you left out the last and most important paragraph which belies that the thing was written as a satirical critique of opponents of Liberalization and of the economists who insist on measuring everything in purely monetary terms. The last paragraph:

> The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Summers and to distrust the World Bank, but you should recalibrate your sarcasm detectors if you think a left-leaning economist (he's the nephew of Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow.. I mean..) earnestly wrote "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."



It took me 'til "Africa is inefficiently under-polluted" to realize it was satire.


Clearly a "modest proposal".


Whatever helps him sleep, I guess, but I don't think I can go along with this.


It's satire.


OK, then they got me. Too similar to something someone would actually write.


Poe's law strikes again.


This man is bad and he should feel bad.


In these situations, it's important to know what the alternatives are. How much waste would there be if computer chips didn't exist? How much would there be if they didn't get faster and more capable each year?

Considering all of the different things that computers make possible (from advances in medical research to improved logistics, to more efficient designs for everything), my best guess is that computer chips produced this way are quite a leap forward for overall human well-being.

None of this makes me revel in or ignore anyone's suffering. All I'm trying to say is don't lose sight of the big picture, too. More and better technology (i.e., applied knowledge) is the answer to this problem. The specific form this probably takes is automation of the most dangerous work. And what controls those machines? More computer chips.


The article doesn't imply that the chip production processes should be avoided.

It lists two options. First, there are alternative chemicals that are more safe but significantly more expensive, and thus will get used only if the legal system pressures the company do so, either by regulation or by punitive payments to the injured workers.

Second, handling of the carcinogenic chemicals can be moved from people to machines. This is already happening with increased automation purely for cost/efficiency reasons, but can be accelerated if the companies treat it seriously enough.


Often the expensive production method comes down in cost if it's used more. Presumably regulating the industry can also happen directly ("make production safer") or indirectly by allowing workers to sue for health problems.


Similar to the idea that the downsides of globalism intermixed with potent capitalism, say ecological damage, will be outweighed by the sorts of technologically imbued powers that will take our civilization far beyond Earth.


That's a religious position as long as you only focus on the benefits and don't account for the costs. And I say that as someone absolutely committed to that future.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkpqA8yG9T4

Also, I think that LaRouche nutters notwithstanding, the idea of putting these extremely hot plasmas to use to recycle materials in the coming fusion economy is going to solve most of the current problems of waste and materials. Even seemingly intractable problems such as what to do with nuclear waste get easier if you can separate the bulk of the non-radioactive material from the truly hot stuff. And indeed you can do that - 100 million degrees just strips the electrons right off, leaving charged particles that are easily sorted into neat, sorted pure piles of whatever elements were in your waste to begin with.


I haven't heard that before, but it certainly does appear that Elon Musk will take us to Mars. So maybe there is something to that after all.


Well of course. Where do you think all of China's pollution comes from? Comes from outsourced US production and US demand of products.

Anytime there's a mismatch in laws and a lack of appropriate tariffs, it just asks for an externalization of cost and pollution.


And it was all done in the name of improving "human rights":

http://tech.mit.edu/V114/N27/china.27w.html

Every human has a right ... to be poisoned on the job!


> all of China's pollution comes from? Comes from outsourced US production

All of China's pollution? Citation please.


The US isn't China's only customer. They sell things worldwide, particularly to Europe.


We are likely the largest single nation to consume these products though.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_largest_trading_pa...

Nation, maybe, but EU does more overall.


Give it a few years to down size and we can revisit that fact.


Well, if that stuff is bad for the third world countries, then why don't they make environmental laws themselves that stop it?


Generally because environmentalism is luxury for wealthy countries. When you stack up carcinogens that may or may not kill you in four decades against feeding your family today, the food will always win.


I disagree; the laws are lax because oligarchies in developing countries typically don't get harmed by dangerous working conditions. The people with the power to enforce safe workplace laws have no external incentive; it is at odds with maximizing their cut of the revenue.


> ...laws are lax because oligarchies in developing countries typically don't get harmed by dangerous working conditions.

This holds true even for developed nations. If a particular company or industry can skirt workers rights, environmental laws, etc. and bear the impact as merely a negative return, they will.

> The people with the power to enforce safe workplace laws have no external incentive...

Right, and the only force which affects such oligarchies is unionization. However, as gozur88 said above, feeding your family is more important than any potential health impacts. And when you're in a situation where thousands of others will gladly assume your position, regardless of the cost, there is no feasibly to unionized striking.


Unionization fails when an oligarchy can reliably imprison union leaders. Looking at the track record of developing countries, this is the typical path, not a lack of interest by local workers.


Unionization fails for many reasons. Even in the US, with all of our protective laws, Wal-Mart is and remains a union-busting force.

Also, I'm not implying this is the fault of local workers. It's simply a terrible mess at every angle.


I don't think so.

The problem is environmental regulations raise the cost of doing business. Which is fine, if you live in a place like the US, say, or Australia. But if you live in a country where people are already going hungry, a small increase in costs means people on the margins are going to literally starve to death.


Ok, so, what you are saying is, that we as privileged first world countries, should remove their ability to choose to feed their family?

If they really prefer that, then why should we decide for them, or take away their option to do that?


Oh, I agree people should make their own decisions on this kind of stuff. I was just pointing out why things are the way they are.


Because the foreign companies are stuffing wads of cash into the hands of the appropriate officials, either directly or indirectly,


Blatant disregard for environment did not start with western companies, "development" of land was already a disaster under Mao.


Mao and his infamous Dark Satanic Mills.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_did_those_feet_in_ancien...


"In China" was implied, not that I'm convinced that there was great environmental concern before that, even if the means to pollute were lacking compared to the post-Industrial Revolution west.


It seems that you're implying blatent disregard for the environment and pollution began (and possibly ended) in China.

That is distressingly revisionist, and/or ignorant, history.

You're more than welcome to consult the actual record.


> It seems that you're implying blatent disregard for the environment and pollution began (and possibly ended) in China.

Absolutely not. What I am saying is that the protection of environment was not, until recent times, particularly high on the agenda of the Chinese government (and that the Maoist period was particularly terrible in this regard).

Obviously, the West, being the first to be industrialized, has been responsible for most of the global pollution until now (and by outsourcing some of its most polluting industries to China, has also a share of responsibility for the pollution in China).


That's what the Investor State Dispute Settlements[1] are for.

[1] see also: "Structural Adjustment Programs"


Externalization is highly desirable to _all_ interests. The interest of manufacturers is self evident. The interest of environmentalists has a level of indirection; without the frictionless externalization available to manufacturers the process of feathering our domestic environmental regulatory nest that has been cruising along mostly unimpeded for decades now would face a great deal more scrutiny and resistance.

As it is many domestic manufacturers are mostly indifferent to the regulatory state; they have no problem with the US evolving into a giant national park because they have a perfectly good alternative.

This isn't some abstract concept. As recently a the 2016 election I recall video ricocheting around the right wing echo chamber of Trump opponents at Portland protests pointing out that the last thing they want to see are those 'dirty factories' operating in the US again, employing deplorables. Every single one of them was armed with one or more Asian made portable computers, but that sort of hypocrisy never registers.


I'm starting to believe that we need to come up with some basic worker protection rights that aren't attached to the product being produced in the country in which the law exists, but wether the product is sold in the country.

Stop trying to get foreign governments to enact these laws. It seems like little progress is being made on that front. Don't ask that products from a foreign country can't be sold here if the country doesn't have enough worker protection rights.

Just don't let the product be sold here, if in its production, certain worker protection right weren't respected. It would mean more ethical products, and as an added benifit, it would mean less value in outsorcing, so the retaining of jobs within the country.

I understand you couldn't immediately have laws as strong as you might have them locally. You want the cost of lifting the quality of life for worker to be lower than the cost of stopping sales in your country. These laws would probably have to be enacted with a similar graduality as they were enacted for local workers.

I also understand that they wouldn't be easy to enforce, at first. But don't let the perfect be the enemy for the good. Propper enforcement for these kind of policies can be something that would develop over time.


I have also thought in the past that this would be an excellent policy to be added to the WTO treaty. It seems like a basic, necessary clause that signatories would be happy about since it protects against product dumping by ultra-polluting countries.

There is probably some aspect of it that makes it too hard, such as enforcement. But most of the WTO isn't enforced anyway. Typically companies sue their national government to force them to take action under the WTO; at least this is what happens with manufacturers in the U.S.


The developed world outsources / pushes away everything they don't want to the undeveloped world.

In the US and Europe there are very strict rules on the sulfur content of diesel. (less than 5 parts per million in Europe now).

The exact European company that makes diesel for that market also sells in West Africa. It is 5000 parts per million there.

Disgraceful. Environmental laws should be universal, not country by country, especially when it's a company from a first world country doing it, clearly just to boost profits.


Not surprising in the slightest. US corporatocracy has always exploited vassal states, by showing utmost lack of safety and ethics.

There was Ecuador, where once Torrijos was "knocked out", the Standard Oil siblings went in and in their greed leaked millions of barrels of crude and waste chemicals into the Amazon. There is India, where Bhopal victims were paid a pittance, and continue to die from the after effects. Russia, where resources formerly under public ownership was sold off in rigged auctions to US (or equivalently Boris Yeltsin) approved oligarchs. If the American media (and probably more importantly, it's pop-culture figures) spent half as much time on introspecting as they did on selling 'human rights', we'd have a better world.

But hey, a better world would mean the corporatocracy would have less money.. why bother ?

Seriously though, John Perkins' book 'Confessions of an Economic Hit man' is a wonderful read for the 'conspiracy theorist'.


I think that book has been largely discredited.

The U.S. in the Gilded Age was very predatory & imperialistic in Latin America.


Was. Is. Always will be.

Anyone who has not a nuke is in deep trouble, because there are no neutral tiles on the board that is the great game.


Not so.

For the last 20 years, Costa Rica's been making the kind of policy stances that used to pretty reliably get Latin American countries invaded by the Marines:

1. pro-environment 2. very pro organized labor 3. leftist economics 4. constant criticism of the US's policies by the Costa Rican foreign office

Yet no invasion.


That's called an Externality.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality

It's an essential component in optimizing a company for efficiency, but it carries lots of costs and they tend not to stay hidden for long.


International working condition and minimum wage laws need to happen already. It's disgusting that multinationals get to intentionally do this.


Minimum wage is difficult to accomplish due to forex fluctuations and wide variations in relative purchasing power. Maybe an international rule requiring a minimum wage pegged to a local CPI basket?

But then, I suspect multinationals would still find a way to arbitrage to the detriment of low-skill workers.


So you would rather have people who lack any skills that are worth minimum wage, starve instead of being able to work for less than minimum wage?


I'd rather people who cannot take care of themselves get welfare. The concept of a skill being with less than the minimum wage is saying as a society we can tolerate exportation, and perhaps slavery


This is terrible. All the more because the chips are incredibly important, both for the manufacturers and us consumers.

Same goes with Solar panels. An acquaintance with chemical engineering degree worked in the industry and he said it's so ironic that the ingredients for manufacturing solar panels are so incredibly toxic when the goal of having solar panels is to reduce pollution caused by fossil burning power plants.


That's not exactly irony. Almost every product has dangerous phases of production. Home exercise equipment started its manufactured life as molten steel. Baby aspirin starts its manufactured life as a bunch of acutely toxic and corrosive chemicals. You wouldn't want either of those hazards in your home, but it's not dangerous to use the final products. It's the same way with solar panels: if the manufacturer takes care, the final product has a low environmental impact.

By way of contrast there is no way to use internal-combustion power without emitting a lot of CO2, even if the oil driller, refiner, and fuel retailer all devote extraordinary care to environmental and safety issues before the fuel reaches a car's gas tank.


On that last: if your fuel isn't fossil-based, then yes, your internal (or external) combustion engine is in fact carbon-neutral.

Coal surpassed wood as a fuel in the US only in the 1880s. Options for replacing current fossil-fuel use, even within only limited transport applications (sea and air travel) at present rates of use would be extraordinarily difficult, though within the realms of possibility. Seawater-based Fischer-Tropsch fuel synthesis being among the more interesting possibilities.

A very long shot, but a shot.


Excuse the OT, but I read halfway through this article getting more and more curious as to how they were going to bring the topic back to American Chipmunks. It's probably related to how much information I feel compelled to consume with less and less time that I skim text to the point of misreading key words. I've started to notice myself doing this more and more. Am I alone in this?


Yep this is a common issue with long-form journalism. It's formulaic in that lenghtly and relatively uncompelling prose is mixed in with a more compelling story. Arcing back around to that original (usually human interest) topic tries to keep the reader on the hook just enough to put up with the often painfully slow trickle of high-value information.

Paradoxically I often find that kind of article simultaneously enjoyable and hugely frustrating. It's exactly like Mythbusters and many other shows where there's 5 mins of compelling content in a 40 minute program and they keep cutting and replaying to drag it all out.


Six ounces of potatoes in a 50# bag.


Americans aren't the problem. People are.

Every type of person, whether they be male or female, no matter their skin color, race, or the education and job they now hold are sadly capable of hurting their fellow human being.

Murder comes in various forms. Matthew 5:21-22


> Americans aren't the problem. People are.

I immediately feel resentment towards this style of nationalist defensiveness.

Firstly, this is cognitively dissonant because Americans are people so you ought to say "Americans are not the only contributors to this problem".

But more-so because this is a truism that will deflect attention to a rabbit-hole that is not so useful.


I hate these people who defend America. How dare they!


This is about ego and pride, not America. You could swap out 'America' with any title or organisation and it would still be equally asinine.


'Black people', for example?


In principle I do not disagree. But if we are talking about reducing pollution not by improving processes but simply by moving production to a country where regulation is more lax then I think the headline is accurate.


In this case it doesn't even come from hatred, but from ignorance.

It's not in Samsung's self interest to give all its employees cancer, for example, for many reasons. But it happens as a result of ignorance.


It's not ignorance, I have a hard time believing Samsung doesn't know about occupational hazard and toxins. They know exactly what they're doing. It's negligence at best, at worst poisoning people for profit.

edit: spelling


Indeed. I worked for a pharmaceutical company in 1989. The person I car pooled with worked in the "plant health" department. They had either weekly or fortnightly blood draws (memory fails) and any significant amount of nasty shit in their blood would prompt investigation at the least. When she disclosed her pregnancy to management, she was immediately moved out of lab work until she was no longer breastfeeding.

So, it is possible to manage these kind of work environments safely, it's a deliberate choice to not care. Or a cultural decision that says that such things only matter for the highly paid PhDs in the lab, not for the replaceable blue collar workers.


Well, it is in Samsung's interest to do that if the costs of preventing it are greater than the costs of allowing it to happen.


Humanity is doomed. At no point have we managed progress and advancement without causing a whole lot of human misery. Someone always pays the cost for your luxury.


You sound depressed. When you look at real world data it's quite clear that human misery is disappearing fast by almost any measure.

Clicking around on https://ourworldindata.org/ might cheer you up.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, ... [1]

[1] https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/A_Tale_of_Two_Cities


I can also totally recommend reading Gates Foundation annual letters.


I prefer to remain in my bubble of doomed humanity.




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