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Death By Design
74-minutes
In an investigation that spans the globe, filmmaker Sue Williams investigates the underbelly of the electronics industry and reveals how even the smallest devices have deadly environmental and health costs. From the intensely secretive factories in China, to a ravaged New York community and the high tech corridors of Silicon Valley, DEATH BY DESIGN tells a story of environmental degradation, of health tragedies, and the fast approaching tipping point between consumerism and sustainability.
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Death By Design

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Running Time
74 minutes

Death By Design

Consumers love – and live on – their smartphones, tablets and laptops. A cascade of new devices pours endlessly into the market, promising even better communication, non-stop entertainment and instant information. The numbers are staggering. By 2020, four billion people will have a personal computer. Five billion will own a mobile phone.

But this revolution has a dark side that the electronics industry doesn’t want you to see.

In an investigation that spans the globe, award-winning filmmaker Sue Williams investigates the underbelly of the international electronics industry and reveals how even the tiniest devices have deadly environmental and health costs.

Death By Design tells the stories of young Chinese workers laboring in unsafe conditions, American families living with the tragic consequences of the industry’s toxic practices, activists leading the charge to hold brands accountable, and passionate entrepreneurs who are developing more sustainable products and practices to safeguard our planet and our future.

From the intensely secretive electronics factories in China, to the high tech innovation labs of Silicon Valley,  Death by Design tells a story of environmental degradation, of health tragedies, and the fast-approaching tipping point between consumerism and sustainability.

Filmmaker Notes:

Nearly 5 years ago, I met Ma Jun, China’s leading environmental activist. He told me about his work building a huge database of government pollution records. His goal was to create transparency and raise public awareness about Chinese factories that were ignoring the country’s environmental regulations. The database contains the details of thousands of factory violations across the country. As Ma Jun poured through the entries what shocked him the most was the large number of electronics factories cited – as he said, we think of electronics as a clean industry – but here were thousands of factories working for the most famous brands in the world, discharging tons of toxic chemicals, heavy metals and waste directly into China’s rivers and lakes, land and air.

Ma Jun is a quietly charismatic man and at first I thought I would make a film just about him and his work. But as I learned more about the electronics industry and its history, I realized the tragic environmental scandal he discovered is not confined to China. Communities and workers around the world, from Silicon Valley to upstate New York, to Scotland, to Africa, Korea and Mexico have had their lives poisoned by the toxic materials in our devices. Fortunately, there are other dedicated individuals like Ma Jun: the veteran activist Ted Smith in Silicon Valley, Kyle Wiens and Luke Soules the young founders of iFixit, and inventor Paul Maher in Dublin, all working on the front lines of an environmental battle most of us don’t even know exists.  Death by Design is dedicated to them.

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