Dell stops prison labor for recycling program

Dell Computer has dropped a federally-owned company that employed prison laborers as the provider of its consumer PC and printer recycling programs.

Federal Prison Industries, in Washington, D.C., which operates under the trade name Unicor, would stop providing the recycling services for Dell Recycling's consumer PC recycling program, effective immediately, Dell spokesman, Bryant Hilton, said.

Unicor would stop recycling Dell printers in the next "30 to 60 days," he said.

The work will now be done by Resource Concepts, in Dallas, and Image Microsystems, in City of Commerce, California, according to Dell.

Unicor's contract with Dell, which was signed in October 2002, had been controversial.

In March, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an environmental advocacy group, wrote a letter to Dell CEO, Michael Dell, urging his company to develop a new recycling program, expressing concerns about the Unicor contract and claiming that "prisons unfairly compete with private sector recycling and thus deter the vitally needed development of the private sector infrastructure for domestic waste recycling."

Worker safety concerns have also been expressed, according to David Wood, the director of the Grassroots Recycling Network, a network of recycling professionals that has worked with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition on this issue.

"What these people are managing is toxic waste, and prisons aren't governed by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and Environmental Protection Agency standards," he said. "We want to make sure that workers who are handling discarded electronics are protected because of the hazardous nature of the material that they're handling."

Pressure from environmental organisations did not affect the decision, Hilton said. "Yes, we heard some concerns from customers and stakeholders," he said, "but in no way did we make the move based on what the special interest groups are doing."

Wood disagreed. "I can only imagine that the reason they are doing this is because they've seen the kind of citizen pressure that can be brought to bear against unsustainable practices like this," he said.

The pricing for Dell's recycling programs would not change as a result of the new contracts, Hilton said.

Currently, Dell charges $US15 to pick up and recycle an old computer.

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