HP and the African e-waste problem: Round 2



African schools are putting refurbished PCs (some of the HP) to good use
African schools are putting refurbished PCs (some of the HP) to good use

I have been tracking the issue of illegal dumping of old tech in Africa for a while now and reported HP’s first efforts to investigate this issue last year:


The PC maker has just released the first findings from this study – conducted on the ground in Kenya and Morocco so far – which you can find below.

It is a complex issue and HP deserves credit for highlighting the problem. However when I told a contact of mine about the HP programme he was less than impressed.

Having worked on the ground in Africa for years, my contact is well aware of the problems of what happens to IT kit – sold new into the country by vendors like HP or refurbished machines donated by charities – at the end of its useful life.

Here are the points he raised when I told him about the HP programme – with the original language toned down a bit:

1. HP already knows exactly what needs to be done with eWaste. There is no mystery. HP already does it in many other countries that have Green lobbies and governments ready to enforce environmental protection.

2. In Europe HP builds multi-million dollar eWaste facilities and (more recently) pays for end-of-life disposal of PCs spending an amount calculated to be in direct proportion to the number of HP units sold into the European market (as it is required to do under the WEEE Directive). The question is then why, when HP is environmentally compliant within the European Community, does it pay for zero end-of-life disposal in Africa?

3. HP equipment is sold in virtually all of Africa’s 53 countries – where it is market leader in printers and competes in the desktop and laptop segments – but it seems that whilst they are prepared to invest in Africa in pursuit of sales and profit – their concern for the environment ends at the Mediteranean Sea.

5. Will Africa have to force HP to take responsibility for end-of-life disposal by passing legislation or will HP volunteer funding of environmental recycling in Africa that is directly proportional to its
market share in Africa – as it already does in Europe?

6. Computers for Schools Kenya have set up a pilot recycling facility in Nairobi, Kenya.


Instead of bloating the research budgets of European ‘think tanks’ they [HP and its researchers] could just give CFSK the funding that

they need to recycle the tens of thousands of pieces of HP kit sold into Africa every year. That won’t happen.

Instead they will now vote themselves a second round of research funding based on their primary finding that ‘more research needs to be done’!!

Here’s an excerpt from the HP release :

HP unveils conclusions and next steps of project to tackle electronic waste in Africa

BRUSSELS, February 17, 2009 – HP together with the Global Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) today unveiled the first results of a pilot project to tackle the problem of electronic waste (e-waste) in Africa. This initiative was carried out in South Africa, Morocco and Kenya and has allowed HP to gather vital information on how African governments, organisations and society are dealing with the rising problem of e-waste management, as well as test solutions on the way forward.

The information and experience gathered in this project, which also included contributions from local organisations and NGOs, will support the launch of the second phase of the project, which aims at engaging corporate and government partners to further extend e-waste management programmes to other countries and tackle the problem of e-waste in the entire continent.

“HP has a responsibility that starts with the design of a product and goes right through to its disposal and we take that responsibility very seriously,” commented Klaus Hieronymi, Director, Environmental Business Management, HP EMEA. “We see these projects in Africa as both providing employment opportunities for local communities and as a step towards a sustainable solution for tackling electronic waste in Africa.”

For more on this issue check out:




Is Google playing fair in Africa?

Just been at a really interesting event at Chatham House in London called Technology: A Platform for Development. (ZDNet.co.uk is one of the media partners). The conference had lots of very interesting speakers from NGOs and development agencies as well as lots of vendors who are keen to show their philanthropic sides whilst also getting very excited about how much dosh they can make out of growing markers such as Africa and India.
During the obligatory coffee break, I got chatting to someone (journalist ethics and Chatham House rules prevent me from saying who) who does a lot of tech-related work in Africa. He brought up the subject of Google and how from his perspective, it’s “Don’t be Evil” motto is not quite standing up in Africa at least (just as it was put under considerable strain over censoring in China).

My coffee-partner claimed that the line between the philanthropic side of Google, managed by the marvelously named Dr Larry Brilliant, and the commercial Google, appear to be blurring in Africa. And it goes beyond the normal branding exercise that a lot of tech companies go in for when it comes to doing good deeds, but actually seems to involve Google using its philanthropic work as a shoe-in to organisations who might be future clients of Google Inc – even down to data/leads changing hands betweem the two.

Now I can’t stand any of this up you understand, so it might be complete rubbish, but this guy was one of the speakers at the event and someone who should know what he is talking about. Even if there is any truth in it, then I am not sure how hard we can be on Google as other companies are certainly guilty of using philanthropy as a loss leader.

Take Microsoft’s international student discount iniatives which creates long term demand for their apps, or the companies Digital Pipeline iniative to help send refurbished PCs to the developing world – which mostly (it would have been exclusively but MS couldn’t argue the charity commission around) have Windows and Office preloaded.

The truth is that just as green IT goes hand in hand with cost savings, philanthropy for most tech companies has to have some profit generation effect to – even if its just a marketing one. As I said, it might not be true, but I thought better of Google but maybe that’s my problem.