Chinese ENGOs and the Heavy-Metal Pollution of the Consumer-Electronics Industry: Exploring the Constraining Factors

Abstract

The heavy-metal pollution of the consumer-electronics industry has been a serious environmental problem in China. Since 2010, Chinese ENGOs have taken a few measures to address this challenge. Under the influence of other stakeholders, Chinese ENGOs have only played a limited role. To further explore the potential of domestic ENGOs, it would be necessary to understand how they have approached the heavy-metal challenge and why their contribution has been moderate. By using the method of “process tracing,” this paper presents a preliminary attempt to trace and generate localized knowledge of Chinese ENGOs’ approach and the influence of other stakeholders. Specifically, this paper divides the actions of Chinese ENGOs into the following three phases: initial participation, progressive involvement of MNCs, and collaborative tracking and online disclosure. Then, it traces the participation of Chinese mass media, domestic suppliers, local governments, and communities. It argues that the following six constraining factors have contributed to shaping the limited role of those Chinese ENGOs: (1) the complexity of the consumer-electronics supplier network; (2) Chinese ENGOs’ lack of leverage on MNCs; (3) Chinese ENGOs’ shortage of financial and human resources under a broad agenda; (4) domestic mass media’s lack of long-term interest; (5) reluctant participation of Chinese suppliers and local governments; and (6) conflicting interests within local communities. Three policy options for further exploring the potential of Chinese ENGOs are discussed, including financial and technical support, further engagement of international ENGOs, and supportive policy-making and interregional coordination by local governments.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Those manufacturing for first-tier suppliers are usually termed as second-tier suppliers. There could be multiple tiers of suppliers in a complex supply chain.

  2. 2.

    UNGC: “Supply Chain Sustainability,” https://www.unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc/our-work/supply-chain (31 August 2020).

  3. 3.

    IPE’s website in English: http://wwwen.ipe.org.cn/ (19 September 2020).

  4. 4.

    The accurate lists of participants, except ENGOs and those famous MNCs, were perceived as trade secrets.

  5. 5.

    The accurate data about manufacturing costs were deemed as trade secrets between MNCs and their suppliers. However, it was commonly agreed that MNCs took the majority of revenues.

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Funding

(1) Shanghai Education Commission Chenguang Scholar Programme “The impact of industrial globalization on environmental governance in China” (16CG05), and (2) Shanghai Education Commission Research Innovation Project “Public-private partnerships in supply chain environmental management” (15ZS002).

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Correspondence to Yitian Huang.

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Huang, Y. Chinese ENGOs and the Heavy-Metal Pollution of the Consumer-Electronics Industry: Exploring the Constraining Factors. East Asia (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12140-020-09348-5

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Keywords

  • ENGOs,
  • MNCs,
  • Heavy-metal pollution,
  • Consumer-electronics industry,
  • China