A documentary screened earlier this month at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival (SIDF) follows the heart-wrenching journey of Chinese migrant workers poisoned by benzene exposure – toxic chemicals used regularly as inexpensive cleaning solutions in China’s smart phone manufacturing processes.
The film follows Yi Yeting, who was a healthy, young ex-PLA soldier who excelled in martial arts before he started working for Foxconn in the consumer electronics industry. Now he is struggling to survive leukemia caused by benzene exposure in the workplace while taking on corporate and government interests from his hospital bed in an effort to protect others like him.
Benzene is a known carcinogen and has been linked by numerous studies to the development of leukemia. Despite this, benzene continues to be widely used in the smart phone manufacturing process.
The documentary titled Complicit was filmed over the course of three years in China’s electronics zones Shenzhen and Guangzhou and tells the stories of workers who have been sickened while working in China’s electronics manufacturing. The industry is a big profit maker for the country, which provides a huge incentive for manufacturers to downplay or delay compensating workers poisoned while on the job.
Manufacturing workers in the United States are also exposed to benzene. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in association with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has passed laws to limit the use and release of benzene to keep levels low as possible. But workers continue to be at risk of the dangerous effects of benzene exposure.
The SIDF, or Doc/Fest, is an international documentary festival that includes film screenings, interactive and virtual reality exhibitions, talks and sessions for the funding and distribution of documentaries and development of filmmakers. It is the United Kingdom’s largest documentary festival and the third largest in the world.