End of November 2018 I had the big pleasure to talk with Heather White (US) about her documentary “COMPLICIT” and herself.
Heather, living in New York City, is an award-winning social entrepreneur and researcher with 20 years experience as an advocate for increased corporate social responsibility, focusing on supply chain and human rights issues. She is the Founder of Verité, a non-profit organization and award-winning non-profit organization recognized for its groundbreaking leadership in the areas of global supply chain monitoring and factory social audits.
In early 2013 she was a Network fellow at Harvard University's Safra Center for Ethics and had arrived in China researching a book on the rise of China's mega-factories in the Pearl River Delta region. She read a news article describing dozens of Chinese teenagers who were paralyzed and in coma due to occupational poisoning in the newly established export factories in that region. With videographer and co-director Lynn Zhang, based in Beijing, she started her research, first visiting hospitals in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. There both discovered dozens of hospital rooms filled with young Chinese workers being treated for Benzene and N-Hexane poisoning from workplace exposures, those chemicals used to make cellphones from multi-billion-dollar corporations like Samsung, Nokia and especially Apple and its iphones, flatscreen tv's and monitors, tablets and other electronic gadgets produced for our society in our profit obsessed world.
The opening scene of COMPLICIT shows the funeral of Yi Long, a Chinese migrant worker who died of leukemia caused by Benzene poisoning. He worked at one of Foxconn’s — the largest electronics manufacturing firm in the world — many assembly lines, in pursuit of the highly visible wealth of his country outside of his rural backgrounds. He is one of many who died without fully understanding why and how he became the victim of globalization.
COMPLICIT follows Yi YeTing, who’s been diagnosed with leukemia due to Benzene poisoning, as he organizes other migrant workers who suffer from Benzene poisoning (a widely used known carcinogenic chemical compound), N-Hexane poisoning (damage to the nervous system), and other occupational diseases. Because many of the 260 million migrant workers — of which 12 million are teenagers — lack legal knowledge and face corporate and bureaucratic obstacles, advocacy groups like Labor Action China, to which YeTing belongs, are key to establishing the victims’ legal status and getting rightful compensation. Apple accounts for 50% of Foxconn’s sales. In 2014 Apple banned the use of Benzene and N-Hexane from final assembly of iPhones and iPads. Tim Cook got a whole lot of applause for it. Yet the PR move does little to alleviate the dangers migrant workers face everyday — little to nothing is done to enforce the ‘ban’ and offer an alternative.
Yi YeTing, also featured in COMPLICIT, wanting to help others, works for a non-profit organization that assists workers with occupational illness and injuries. He discovers there are dozens of workers in his local area who were poisoned while making smartphones. Through research in the community, he discovers a leukemia cluster in the neighborhood surrounding Appleʼs main supplier Foxconn. Yiʼs research leads him to several workers and their families trying to survive while burdened with their health care costs. He also helps teenage workers who were paralyzed by N-Hexane while cleaning screens in electronic factories. Powerful forces are unleashed as he confronts local factories, putting his own safety at risk.
Yi YeTing himself has been through over 35 chemotherapies. He had to quit his work at Labor Action China in 2016 due to health problems. Since then, the family has no income. He and his wife (who also appears in the film) have a 6-year old son and a 3-year-old daughter to support. Each of the workers and their families in the film deal with immense economic struggles in addition to the continued effort to fight their illnesses.
Through a funding page Heather White and her team hope to raise money to help those workers and their families. This work will continue.
COMPLICIT began with a very successful crowdfunding campaign in 2014 under its first name “Who pays the price, the Human Cost of Electronics” and had its world premiere in 2017. Since then this documentary is a winner of seven international awards including the top prizes in Paris (FR), Valencia (Spain), Sardinia (Italy) and sold out screenings at the Lincoln Center and IFC premieres in New York. All in all this uitstanding documentary, shot below the radar and directed by Heather White and Lynn Zhang, both first-time filmmakers, had screenings in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe such as the Toronto Film Festival, the Human Rights Watch Film Festivals, the Geneva International Film Festival, the Tel Aviv Solidarity Film Festival and the FIFDH Paris Festival, where it received the Investigative Report Best Film Award.
I had the great honor talking with Heather White during her stay in Groningen end of November 2018, while she was accompanying her husband Freddie Bryant, jazz guitarist and educator from NYC, who was the music director, composer and performer of COMPLICIT.
Please enjoy a very special and inspirational open human video interview!
The Reel Word: “Complicit is a harrowing and powerful documentary that may be set in fast developing China, but it raises an ethical question that we should all consider: From the smartphones we swipe to the Fitbits we wear, what really happens along the supply chain? Directors Heather White and Lynn Zhang make audiences face the uncomfortable truth that there is a devastating human cost to the conveniences we enjoy on a daily basis.”
THE REEL SCORE: 10/10
“Complicit reveals the human costs of global outsourcing while highlighting the choices made by a group of inspired activists seeking change.” PressReader
“Complicit reveals the inhumane ways in which hopeful, hardworking citizens are exposed to toxic chemicals on the job and the shady attempts by multi-billion-dollar corporations to shed all responsibility. The result is equal parts devastating, gut-wrenching, and infuriating—a necessary call for westerners to re-evaluate their relationship with capitalism and its astronomical cost.” The Georgia Straight
Cover picture: Copyright by Zoltan Acs.