Challenging the Chip

Challenging the Chip Book Cover
Authors and Editors
Ted Smith, David A. Sonnenfeld, and David Naguib Pellow
Labor Rights, Environmental Justice
Temple University Press
Publication Date


From Silicon Valley in California to Silicon Glen in Scotland, from Silicon Island in Taiwan to Silicon Paddy in China, the social, economic, and ecological effects of the international electronics industry are widespread. The production of electronic and computer components contaminates air, land, and water around the globe. As this eye-opening book reveals, the people who suffer the consequences are largely poor, female, immigrant, and minority. Challenging the Chip is the first comprehensive examination of the impacts of electronics manufacturing on workers and local environments across the planet.

Contributors to this pioneering volume include many of the world’s most articulate, passionate and progressive visionaries, scholars and advocates. Here they not only document the unsustainable and often devastating practices of the global electronics industry but also chronicle creative ways in which activists, government agencies, and others have attempted to reform the industry—through resistance, persuasion, and regulation. The book grew out of a 2002 global gathering of activists and academics in San Jose, California convened by the International Campaign for Responsible Technology and Silicon Valley Toxic Coalition. Scores of people around the world were involved over the course of several years in its conceptualization, development, editing and production. It has been translated into Chinese and Korean.

An Interview With Ted Smith

Co-editor of CHALLENGING THE CHIP & Founder of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, discusses the state of the global electronics industry


Q: What prompted you to assemble Challenging the Chip?
The book grew out of a global symposium sponsored by Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) in 2002 where people from 15 countries came together to share experiences and common challenges. We realized that we had important stories to bring to the attention of the general public, policymakers, communities, workers, and others around the world. Many of the communities most affected by negative high-tech impacts have been at the forefront of creating solutions. Challenging the Chip brings these stories together to document the incredibly brave and important efforts of many people over the last three decades. In addition, the book provides some direction and hope for a more sustainable future for all of us.

Q: Would you describe Challenging the Chip as an exposé of the electronics industry?
 Challenging the Chip definitely exposes the dark side of the electronics revolution. In fact, the book includes the most comprehensive documentation ever published about the negative impacts that the electronics industry has had on communities around the globe. However, it is also about the bright side, written by people who have come together in workplaces, communities, and across borders to prompt the industry to examine the impacts to the environment and people’s health, and the social injustice towards workers in the manufacturing of its products. Challenging the Chip is about challenging the industry to use its incredible ingenuity to dazzle the world all over again with cleaner, greener technologies, products, and components that are free of toxics, easy to recycle, and produced without harm to those manufacturing, assembling, and disassembling them.

Q: What are the greatest health, environmental, and labor concerns with the electronics industry?
First, electronic products today are manufactured using more than a thousand toxic chemicals—many of which are known to cause cancers, miscarriages, reproductive problems, asthma, and other illnesses in the workers who make them, the communities surrounding the manufacturing facilities, and the places where e-waste is dumped and burned.
Secondly, the industry’s “planned obsolescence” of electronic products, makes it almost impossible to repair or upgrade existing machines, forcing consumers to buy the latest model and throw out the old one. The rapid pace of change is a real double-edged sword because new chemicals are being incorporated before adequate health testing is done, and we are also consuming faster than we can recycle.

Lastly, there has been a migration of high-tech facilities to impoverished developing countries with weak environmental and worker protections. This increases the power and profitability of electronics firms at the expense of local communities and workers many of whom are young women of color around the world.

For the full interview, visit

Check out Challenging the Chip translated into different languages:

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