Concerns have been raised over the safety of workers at factories used by Google were exposed to harmful chemicals amid hundreds of safety violations.
Workers at an unidentified factory were routinely exposed to reproductive toxin N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP), the company admitted. NMP is legal, but classified as a restricted chemical in Europe owing to side-effects including birth defects in children, serious eye, skin and respiratory irritation caused by inhaling or splashing a droplet on the skin.
Workers hired by an unidentified Google supplier were forced to submerge Google motherboards – the chips that run smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices – into NMP every day. Spent NMP liquid was dumped four times a year into the local water system, posing a waste hazard.
Ted Smith, the founder and former executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and co-founder of the International Campaign for Responsible Technology, said the discovery highlighted a “very serious problem”.
“Most of the workers in these factories are women of childbearing age,” he said. “There have been a series of studies done in the workplace and surrounding communities showing high rates of miscarriages from women exposed to this chemical.”
Google, which did not respond to requests for comment, admitted the violations in a report shared with investors.
It helped the motherboard supplier “transition” to using safer alternative chemicals in 2018.
It is unclear how many workers were affected, or if any suppliers continue to use NMP and other restricted chemicals like toluene, methylene chloride, and hexane, which have all been found to pose a hazard to humans and are on Google’s own blacklist.
Mr Smith said that Google should be praised for discussing the use of restricted chemicals. Google and rivals such as Apple, HP and Dell often have little insight into how the parts they buy were made and if it was under safe conditions.
Human rights activists have increased campaigning to hold the companies accountable for their participation in alleged suffering caused by outsourcing cheap labour.
“Companies are getting to grips with the fact that their supply chains are using a lot of nasty chemicals,” Mr Smith added.
“Brands [like Google and others] at the top of the food chain have been sailing by, pretending that they didn’t know what was going on. There has been lots of activity to get them to focus on these issues.”
In the report, Google said it had asked 160 of its 1,000 suppliers to reveal if they had used compounds on its blacklist last year. The company said it “followed up” with 90pc of those who admitted they did, but did not disclose how many this was.
The report stated: “Our investigations are to ensure that chemical management practices are in place to protect workers and to continue to influence the choice of safer and greener alternatives at the design stage.”
In addition, it found 525 violations of its supplier code across a sample of its factories in China, India, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and the US.
Violations included workers being subjected to more than 60 hours a week or more than six consecutive days without rest. Some employees were not paid legal minimum wage or benefits according to the report, which was shared with investors. This was up from 399 in 2017. Google said the violations were due to adding more suppliers to accommodate demand for its products and new product lines.
Google is no stranger to chemical contamination. In 2013 it emerged that its headquarters in Mountain View were contaminated with banned chemical trichloroethene (TCE). The levels of contaminants were later judged not to pose a hazard. In 2011, Raytheon, Intel and other companies settled with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice after the agencies found they had contaminated 60 commercial and residential buildings in Mountain View, California after 20 years of dumping volatile chemicals out with wastewater.
For the original article, please visit https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2019/12/28/google-admits-workers-making-tech-exposed-birth-defect-chemical/.