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Radio Corporation of America, Taiwan


Description

RCA came to Taiwan in 1969 to produce electronic parts for televisions, employing more than 30,000 people at its peak production. Most of them on the production line were women from poor families.

The US company was found to have dumped toxic waste at its Taoyuan factory in northern Taiwan polluting the soil and underground water, leading to alarmingly high reports of cancer among its workers.

Workers were required to use organic solvents including trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene to clean printed circuit boards. Both are classified as Group 2A carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which means that they are probably carcinogenic to humans. These agents enter the body through inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion.

Without any warning or training from RCA, the workers breathed the volatile solvents in the air of the factory which had almost no ventilation and touched the chemicals with their hands that were only covered with cotton gloves in the manufacturing process.

Workers living in the factory dormitories also used untreated water pumped from the same ground where RCA had dumped waste solvents, for drinking, washing up, and laundry.

In 1998, the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration confirmed that the area where the plant located was designated a permanently polluted zone, the first case of its kind in this country.

Litigation continued until the late 2010s. As reported in October 2017, “a ruling by the Taiwan High Court in favor of RCA workers whose health was affected by industrial pollution is a victory, not only for RCA workers but for Taiwanese labor overall. A landmark case in Taiwanese labor, the case is also a case with few precedents in Taiwanese jurisprudence, as a class action lawsuit with hundreds of plaintiffs. Subsequently, it remains to be seen what will come next for efforts to secure justice for RCA workers. RCA employed thousands of workers in Taiwan between 1970 and 1992, through a Taiwanese subsidiary of the American company, the Radio Corporation of America. However, industrial pollution from the RCA plant in Taoyuan led to 78 deaths caused by the pollution, and 237 of the 529 workers involved in the case developed cancer or related illnesses. In part, the reason as to why the case would become so well known is because it involves an American company whose actions permanently damaged the health of Taiwanese workers. Based on environmental assessments previously conducted by RCA, many believe that RCA was aware of the pollution but did nothing about it.”[1]

[1] Brian Hioe, 29 Oct. 2017. https://newbloommag.net/2017/10/29/rca-ruling-second-hearing/

Basic Data

NameRadio Corporation of America, Taiwan
CountryTaiwan
SiteTaoyuan
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Manufacturing activities
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific CommoditiesManufactured Products

Project Details and Actors

Project Details200 million electronic parts for televisions at peak production
Project Area (in hectares)7
Level of Investment (in USD)50,000,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Populationmore than 1,300
Start Date01/06/1994
Company Names or State EnterprisesRadio Corporation of America (RCA) from United States of America
General Electric US (GE) from United States of America
Thomson Consumer Electronics from France
Relevant government actorsThe Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersTaiwan’s Legal Aid Foundation

USA Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndustrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Genetic contamination, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents
Potential: Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Deaths
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
The RCA horrible case has brought to light many loopholes in the Taiwanese laws and regulations.
“Before the RCA incident, Taiwan lacked effective laws and environmental regulations ,” says Chou, the lawyer representing the RCA Taiwan former workers. At that time, the Taiwanese government was not adequately prepared to deal with matters involving environmental protection and occupational hazards. It was not until 2000 that Taiwan enacted the Soil and Groundwater Pollution Remediation Act and established the “polluter pays principle” to deter violators. The case also led to the revision of the labor insurance regulation to make breast removal eligible for disability compensation, a significant advance on the rights of Taiwanese female workers.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.On April 17 2015, the Taipei District Court rendered a verdict in favor of former assembly line workers visiting the now-defunct electronics company, Radio Corporation of America. Yet, it is possible that the compensation would be unattainable.

When the team of Taiwanese attorneys applied to the courts to provisionally seize RCA's assets for investigation, they found out RCA had already transferred its assets out of Taiwan roughly around the same time when it was held accountable for the cleanup between 1996 and 1997.

It may be difficult for the Taiwanese workers to file a lawsuit in the United States because the allegations stem from abroad. Court rulings in 2017 have given larger compensations. But there is a feeling that this is too little and too late.

Sources and Materials

Legislations

Soil and Groundwater Pollution Remediation Act (Mandarin)
http://ivy5.epa.gov.tw/epalaw/search/LordiDispFull.aspx?ltype=14&lname=0010

References

Voices That Refuse to Be Forgotten

an oral history of the event created by former RCA workers in Taiwan in 2013.
http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010610175

Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor (with a New Epilogue) Paperback – April 1, 2001

Amazon description: Globalization is the lead story of the new century, but its roots reach back nearly one hundred years, to major corporations’ quest for stable, inexpensive, and pliant sources of labor. Before the largest companies moved beyond national boundaries, they crossed state lines, abandoning the industrial centers of the Eastern Seaboard for impoverished rural communities in the Midwest and South. In their wake they left the decaying urban landscapes and unemployment rates that became hallmarks of late
http://www.amazon.com/Capital-Moves-Seventy-Year-Quest-Epilogue/dp/1565846591

Challenging the Chip

Amazon description: "Challenging the Chip" is the first comprehensive examination of the impacts of electronics manufacturing on workers and local environments around the world. The essays in this volume contribute to a collaborative international discourse of citizens, workers, health professionals, academics, labour leaders, environmental activists, and others with the common goal of developing alternative visions for the regulation and sustainable development of manufacturing, assembly/disassembly, and waste disposal in the global electronics industry. Contributors from Asia, North America, Europe, and Latin America provide multidimensional perspectives on the science and the politics of environmental and social justice, documenting the efforts of community and labour
http://www.amazon.com/Challenging-Chip-Environmental-Electronics-Industry/dp/1592133304

31 Oct. 2017. Taiwan High Court rules that electronics workers should receive US$23.7 million in compensation for health damages.
https://goodelectronics.org/taiwan-high-court-rules-electronics-workers-receive-23-7-million-compensation-health-damages/

Links

RCA Taiwan Ex-Workers Win Pollution Lawsuit (ENS)

Copublished with Taiwan Environmental Information Association
http://ens-newswire.com/2015/05/18/rca-taiwan-ex-workers-win-pollution-lawsuit/

Wiki RCA Environmental record
https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=RCA#Environmental_record

Brian Hioe, RCA COURT RULING A VICTORY FOR WORKERS, BUT WHAT NOW?
https://newbloommag.net/2017/10/29/rca-ruling-second-hearing/

Media Links

Documentary: Behind the RCA miracle (Mandarin)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUqHHCo5NtA&list=PL9EJ4g_2h0WGce-qNK_prLnid1WfA1VR4

Other Documents

RCA Taiwan Factory Entrance A youtube screenshot of the RCA documentary created by Taiwan Public Television Service
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Factory_Entrance.png

Female RCA Workers A youtube screenshot of the RCA documentary created by Taiwan Public Television Service
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Female_workers_1.png

Factory Ventilation A youtube screenshot of the RCA documentary created by Taiwan Public Television Service
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Factory_Ventilation.png

Meta Information

ContributorTaiwan Environmental Information Association
Last update16/10/2018

Images

 

RCA Taiwan Factory Entrance

A youtube screenshot of the RCA documentary created by Taiwan Public Television Service

Female RCA Workers

A youtube screenshot of the RCA documentary created by Taiwan Public Television Service

Factory Ventilation

A youtube screenshot of the RCA documentary created by Taiwan Public Television Service