After experiencing tremendous economic growth, China now faces severe problems with the environmental quality of its air, land and water. More than 300 million people have no access to safe drinking water, while more than half of its urban residents face daily exposure to badly polluted air. Unsafe levels of lead have been measured in children’s blood and cases of toxic poisoning have increased across several provinces in China.
As the workshop of the world, a significant portion of this pollution comes from multinational corporations with manufacturing and sourcing operations in China. While they all make promises of clean production, transparency and accountability at home, many often fall short on these claims overseas.
In 2008, the Chinese government passed a series of regulations granting the public the right to access certain types of environmental information and ordering local environmental protection bureaus to release data about polluters violating national standards. However, enforcement was weak and the disclosure was piecemeal, making it difficult for the public to access such information. Media coverage of environmental problems was thin, and environmental organizations working to address these issues were few in number and too small to have an impact.
While working at the South China Morning Post in the 1990s, Ma Jun had the opportunity to travel extensively in the country. He witnessed the environmental pollution, eco-degradation and sufferings of people in various watersheds in China. He began focusing on research into water challenges, and his book “China’s Water Crisis” became a national call for environmental protection.
Realizing that access to information was a prerequisite for public participation in pollution control, Ma Jun founded the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), where he organizes the monitoring and enforcement data from the Chinese government to make it available to the public through online air and water pollution maps.
To date, Ma Jun and his team at IPE have exposed over 90,000 air and water violations by local and multinational companies operating in China. Chinese citizens, for the first time in history, have at their fingertips information that reveals which companies are violating environmental regulations across China’s 31 provinces—and with it, the power to demand justice.
Through its Green Choice supply chain program, which has 41 local NGO participants, IPE has encouraged consumers to use their buying power to influence corporate sourcing and manufacturing behavior. Although IPE has no regulatory authority within the government, under Ma Jun’s leadership the organization has succeeded in getting more than 500 companies to disclose to the public their plan and efforts to clean up their facilities. Ma Jun is now working collaboratively with major brands such as Wal-Mart, Nike, GE, Coca Cola, Siemens, Vodafone, H&M, Adidas, Sony, Unilever, Levi’s and Lenovo, all who now regularly reference the maps and self-regulate.
Ma’s most recent high-profile effort involved Apple, one of 29 companies named in a 2010 Green IT report about heavy metal pollution in China—and the only one that did not respond, citing a long-term policy not to disclose its supplier information. He led a coalition of NGOs to launch a “Poison Apple” campaign to protest the company’s lack of supply chain oversight. In September 2011, after a year and a half of silence, Apple approached Chinese environmental groups and began to drive its suppliers to clean up their practices. Ma Jun and his partners continue to communicate with Apple representatives on a regular basis.
Watch in high resolution on YouTube.
Watch in high resolution on YouTube.