‘Complicit’: Director Heather White Discusses Her Doco’s Urgent Tech Message


TRW: You have extensive experience in corporate social responsibility and ethical supply chain practices. What was it about the situation in China, in particular, that appealed to you as both a filmmaker and expert?

HW: China is the leading exporter of consumer products and the working conditions there continue to be challenging. I’ve been working in China on and off my entire career and was a Chinese major in college.  What I found working on this project, however, represents the worst violations of US and Canadian companies’ codes of conduct and international standards that I’ve seen in 20 years. I decided it was necessary to make a film in order to let people around the world know the working conditions and toxic chemicals involved in making devices they live with and use daily.

TRW: The title of your documentary is quite provocative. And as many of us today are avid consumers of electronics and possibly ignorant about the human cost of our devices, what message do you want audiences to ultimately take away from your film?

HW: We all own cell phones and the problems revealed in the film connect to all of us. I want teens and young people to understand that the global economy currently operates without protections for either workers’ health and/or our own safety from poisonous chemicals used in production. There is no oversight and no testing. Babies are playing with iPads that were made with toxic chemicals and minerals. No one is accountable at the moment for the hazardous toxins used overseas in making our smart devices. The industry needs stronger standards, which won’t happen unless consumers demand it.

TRW: Near the end of the film, you show Apple’s official statement banning benzene and n-hexane in the final assembly of their devices. We then see the activists’ express some skepticism about whether this would make a difference on the ground and in the Chinese factories. What is your view on this?

HW: The entire industry needs to ban the use of life-threatening toxins in the production of all of these devices. Apple’s ban only covers the final assembly suppliers, which is about a third of their workforce in China. Protections need to be in place for all of their workers, including their subcontractors.

TRW: Looking into the future, what is the next stage for Complicit, the broader cause, and this powerful story you’re telling?

HW: Once we complete our festival run, there will be a 60-minute version for television so people can watch the film free-of-charge worldwide. We will also be making Complicit available in schools, with study guides for students. And it will be available online as well.

In terms of our desired impact, we hope the various online petitions and aim to help workers and persuade the corporations to improve their standards will be achieved through the campaign efforts of many NGOs around the world currently working on the issue. They’ll be using Complicit in their work as a tool to raise awareness and educate others about toxins in Chinese factories and what it’s doing to young workers making smart phones.

***’Complicit’ is screening at the 2017 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Details, sessions and tickets HERE***

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