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The cost of our global addiction to devices is revealed in the struggle of a courageous Chinese activist helping young workers poisoned while making smartphones.

A printer-friendly version of this page 89 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Heather White, Lynn Zhang
Produced by Heather White
Writer: Christopher Seward
Editors: Lynn Zhang, Christopher Seward
Cinematographers: Sun Shaoguang, Lynn Zhang
Music: Freddie Bryant

"Devastating takedown of electronics production, which worker-activists reveal to be part of the hazardous chemical industry." Andrew Ross, Prof. Social & Cultural Analysis, NYU
[Note: Community screenings of COMPLICIT can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]

Note: There are two versions of the film on the DVD: 89-mins and 58-mins.

Yi Yeting is struggling with occupational leukemia and trying to obtain compensation from his employer. Wanting to help others, he begins working for a non-profit that assists workers with occupational illness and injuries.

He discovers there are dozens of workers in his local area who were poisoned while making smartphones. Through research in the community, he discovers a leukemia cluster in the neighborhood surrounding Apple's main supplier Foxconn. Yi's research leads him to several workers and their families trying to survive while burdened with their health care costs. Powerful forces are unleashed as he confronts local factories, putting his own safety at risk.

Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2019     Copyright Date: 2016
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-18-6

"Our products come from somewhere, and no matter how far away from our daily lives that 'somewhere' might be, we owe it to ourselves and our fellow humans to understand the impacts of the manufacture of the goods we consume. Complicit reveals the faces and voices of young Chinese workers entangled in a system designed to feed the demand for electronic conveniences without adequate safeguards for their welfare. Through these stories viewers learn that the true cost of electronics involves human lives."
Joy Scrogum, Sustainability Specialist, Sustainable Technology Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"A penetrating and impossible-to-ignore critique of how human labor can be treated just as casually disposable as the technological devices we seem driven to replace. This powerful documentary reminds us that ethics are 'easy' when doing the right thing doesn't conflict with other pursuits. The rubber hits the road when we are faced with real tradeoffs -- between different sets of rights, between different people's experiences, and in terms of how our personal activities are ultimately connected to the activities of larger institutions."
George Cheney, Professor of Communication, University of Colorado - Colorado Springs, Co-author, Just a Job?: Communication, Ethics, and Professional Life, Co-editor, The Handbook of Communication Ethics

"Complicit is a fantastic film!"
Maya Wang, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch

"This poignant, gripping, heartbreaking film shines a beacon on how callous corporate greed has been killing and incapacitating the workers on whom we all depend for the electronic devices we all use...It is sure to open the eyes of students, faculty and other citizens, and help them think differently when they pick up their phones. It may well inspire some to emulate the film's brave protagonists who fight against all odds for simple justice."
Marc Blecher, Professor of Politics and East Asian Studies, Oberlin College, Author, China Against the Tides: Restructuring through Revolution, Radicalism and Reform

"Human-centered from first to last, Complicit is a poignant and devastating takedown of electronics production, which worker-activists reveal to be part of the hazardous chemical industry."
Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University, Author, Fast Boat to China: Corporate Flight and the Consequences of Free Trade

"As one gazes into the screen and taps one's thumbs on the keyboard icons, one grasps one's involvement and complicity in a major human rights issue. Even reviewing the film, staring at a screen on a laptop, feels uncomfortably inappropriate and ironic after viewing this compelling documentary."
POV Magazine

"A riveting documentary...We salute the efforts of this migrant worker-turned human rights activist whose crusade to expose the predatory practices of large electronic companies is courageous and ethically rigorous. We also asked ourselves some serious questions about our own loyalty and support of smart phones, personal computers, and other devices created by big named brands."
Spirituality and Practice

"Complicit vividly shows the struggle in China continues today for a safe workplace and just compensation for worker victims at Apple, Foxconn and other electronic producers. With China cracking down on labor NGOs, lawyers and social protest, the campaign to protect the lives and livelihood of workers becomes even more challenging."
Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate, East Asia Program, Cornell University, Author, Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance

"A shocking film on global outsourcing."

"This riveting and powerful film is unique among documentaries of Chinese labor. Its unflinching and piercing focus on workers' bodily injuries inflicted by 'high tech' production and consumption will spark many poignant and necessary debates in the classroom and beyond."
Ching Kwan Lee, Professor of Sociology, University of California- Los Angeles, Author, Against the Law: Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt

"Complicit is critical viewing in the global awakening needed to stop human devastation from unregulated, hazardous chemical use and profits-driven depravity. This film dips below headlines to follow Chinese migrant workers whose lives have been shattered in the exploitative production of consumer electronics, but the challenges they face - terrifying, opaque, infuriating challenges - affect us all, whether we know it now or find out later."
Jen Wong, Director, Materials Lab, School of Architecture, The University of Texas at Austin

"Worker bravery to speak truth to power, to challenge Foxconn and its contractors, Apple and other brands, and the Chinese government, comes alive in this haunting portrayal of the fight against unsafe working conditions in the electronics supply chain. Battling harassment, arrest, and cover-ups, the victims of occupational poisoning become heroes as they demand justice and complicity no more to the valuing of profit over persons."
Eileen Boris, Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California - Santa Barbara, Author, Making the Women Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards

"The increasingly complex, globalized nature of product supply chains has created 'black holes' in oversight and regulation where serious labor abuses are rife...Xiao's story forces us to confront the human cost of the conveniences we enjoy daily."
Sidney Morning Herald

"A harrowing and powerful documentary that may be set in fast developing China, but it raises an ethical question that we should all consider: From the smartphones we swipe to the Fitbits we wear, what really happens along the supply chain?"
The Reel Word

"Complicit is a shattering comment on inequality and the forces that work to maintain the unjust status-quo."
Film Doo

"Reveals the human costs of global outsourcing while highlighting the choices made by a group of inspired activists seeking change."

"Forces one to ponder how much a life is truly worth in our profit obsessed world...4 of 5 stars."
The Platform

"Complicit reveals the inhumane ways in which hopeful, hardworking citizens are exposed to toxic chemicals on the job and the shady attempts by multi-billion-dollar corporations to shed all responsibility. The result is equal parts devastating, gut-wrenching, and infuriating - a necessary call for westerners to re-evaluate their relationship with capitalism and its astronomical cost."
The Georgia Straight

"A powerful and moving set of stories that can compel 'digital natives' to care about the people who have produced their beloved electronic devices by showing how we, as consumers, are complicit in the system that allows companies like Apple to deny responsibility for the working conditions of millions of young workers...A must-watch film in high schools, colleges and communities to grapple with the dark side of technology."
Anibel Ferus-Comelo, Director of Student Programming, Center for Labor Research and Education, Lecturer of Public Policy, University of California - Berkeley

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DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
DVD includes two versions on the same DVD: 89-mins & 58-mins, plus SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection. With English subtitles for Mandarin Chinese.

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Awards and Festivals
Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary, FIFDH Paris, Alliance Ciné, International Human Rights Film Festival
Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Award, DOXA Documentary Film Festival, Vancouver
Best Documentary, Life After Oil International Film Festival, Italy
Best Documentary, Workers Unite Film Festival, NYC
Special Mention Documentary Award, Festival del Cinema dei Diritti Umani di Napoli
The EDAV Journalism Prize for Best Development and Investigation HUMANS Fest, Valencia International Festival of Film and Human Rights
Best Social Media Award, Raw Science Film Festival
Nominated Luis Espinal Prize, Brazilan International Labor Film Festival
Human Rights Watch Film Festivals, New York, London, Amsterdam, San Diego
TIFF/Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Toronto
Salt Spring Film Festival
Sedona International Film Festival
Galway Film Fleadh, Ireland
DocFest, San Francisco
Human Rights Nights Film Festival, Bologna
Addis International Film Festival, Ethiopia
San Francisco Green Film Festival
Doc Edge Film Festival, New Zealand
Solidarity - Tel Aviv Human Rights Film Festival
Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival
Millenium Documentary Film Festival, Belgium
Melbourne Documentary Film Festival
International Labor Film Festival, Sao Paolo
Verzio International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, Budapest
Friday Harbor Film Festival, WA
Alexander Valley Film Festival, CA
BIFED, Bozcaada International Festival of Ecological Documentary Films, Turkey
Seattle Social Justice Film Festival
Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival

Asian Studies
Business Practices
Environmental Justice
Global Issues
Human Rights
International Studies
International Trade
Labor and Work Issues
Social Justice
Social Work
Toxic Chemicals
Women's Studies

Related Titles

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Blue Vinyl
Filmmakers Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold use humor and chutzpah in their search for the environmental truth about vinyl.

China Blue
A clandestinely shot, deep-access account of how the clothes we buy are actually made.

The True Cost
Groundbreaking investigation of fast fashion reveals that while the price of clothing has been decreasing for decades the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically.

Homo Toxicus
Explores the links between the hundreds of toxic pollutants in our environment and increasing health problems.

The Coming War on China
John Pilger reveals that the United States and China, both nuclear-armed, may well be on the road to war. The film is both a warning and an inspiring story of resistance.

... more Reviews

"The digital, for all its glow and glory, is contingent on the physical. The film gives us access to personal stories of human suffering that are the direct result of our unyielding thirst to consume digital electronics, ignorant of the vulnerabilities and damage they expose. By attracting the young and the poor to the manufacturing urban centers, the allure of the city mirrors the allure of the screen: offering beauty while concealing ugliness. White and Zhang's film should help shape future policy. Will the allure of the screen distract us once more?"
Jonathan Beever, Assistant Professor of Ethics and Digital Culture, University of Central Florida

"Complicit paints a sad picture of the tragic cost of the sobering statistic that Communist China now produces 90 percent of the world's electronics...Recommended."
C. Cassady, Video Librarian

"Recommended...Shines a light on a global occupational health problem and shares important information to educate the audience...Students and those interested in human rights and global activism will benefit from this examination."
Barb Kundanis, Longmont Public Library, Educational Media Reviews Online

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