It is the first rainfall I’ve seen since leaving the UK, and the residents of Nanjing don ponchos to ride their mopeds on the pavement and wield umbrellas at eye level, making pedestrian activity even more perilous than usual.
I head over to meet Green Stone, an NGO set up in Nanjing to address industrial pollution, and provide environmental education. There I meet Lily Wu, and the organisation’s very friendly kitten. I first heard about Green Stone through a report compiled with IPE, headed up by the formidable and impressive Ma Jun. In it they were looking at supply chains, and exposing instances of poor wastewater treatment. The supply chain went all the way back to the British high street.
In Jiangsu manufacturing is important – in particular the electronics industry. The province contributes 10.4% of the national GDP and is the 2nd highest GDP in China. However it is here that suppliers working for Apple were taken to task over wastewater treatment and cancer rates in villages. By exposing the bad practices in the supply chain via the media, they forced the parent company to take action.
There has been some backlash though – a lot of the local people employed by the industry were reminded that their could be implications for their jobs. So they were asked to consider how they complained. Many people became reluctant to speak up as a result. I ask Lily if she would do it the same way again.
She pauses, and says that there are two ways to go about these things. You can shame the company into action, or you can try and work with the companies to make them more transparent, and implement best practice. They are working on a project right now connected to the pharmaceutical industry in Jiangsu, and she is hoping they can implement some of the latter approaches.
One of their roles at Green Stone is to empower people to learn more about the threats to their environment. They have instruction manuals written with friendly graphics on how to access governmental environmental data. She believes that people should have more direct ways to communicate with industry, if they are concerned about pollution incidents, rather than waiting and going through the EPA.
I tell her I am going to Guangxi province after this. She tells me about a toxic spill into the river there a few years ago, the same river which flows through her family’s village near Guangdong. Her mother, who has never comprehended her daughter’s choice of job, rang her up to ask questions about the spill and express her concerns. It seems she finally understood her daughter’s motivation. She, like most people, Lily says, only get upset when it finally affects them.