Ma Jun helps Chinese find out who's polluting and shame corporations into cleaning up
2012 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Ma Jun enlists ordinary Chinese to help clean up China's pollution.
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His biggest recent victory was Apple's disclosure last January of the 156 Chinese companies that supply it with parts – a list that the company had always insisted was confidential. Some of the suppliers were on Ma's list of violators. Apple, which had come under pressure from US activists because of a spate of suicides at one of the company's main suppliers, Foxconn, said it was suspending business with some of the most egregious environmental law-breakers, and pushing others to undergo environmental audits.Skip to next paragraph
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That sort of pressure is working more broadly, Ma says.
"Most of the 570 companies that have come to us" to propose remedies that would get them off the list "were afraid that they might lose valuable contracts with foreign companies," he explains.
Ma wins environmental prize
Identifying 570 companies out of an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 firms breaking environmental laws in China "is a drop of water in the ocean," Ma acknowledges. But he is not daunted. "We need to redouble our efforts," he says.
He will be encouraged by the news this month that he has won a Goldman Environmental Prize, the biggest worldwide award for grass-roots environmental activists.
The six annual prizes, which were first awarded in 1989, give a $150,000 prize to environmentalists working in the six inhabited regions of the world (Africa, Asia, Europe, islands and island nations, North America, and South and Central America) to help further their work. As in the case of Ma, Goldman winners often undergo considerable personal risk in pursuing their goals.
"[Ma] is very dedicated, very creative, and smart," says Lorrae Rominger, the Goldman Prize director. "Though IPE has no regulatory authority, they have succeeded in shaping corporate behavior in China."
"Our efforts are just a tiny level of experiment, but they work," Ma adds. "We should not underestimate the challenges. But we are small, and if we can do this with small resources, there is no reason for others to be cynical."
Adds ChinaDialogue founder Hilton: "Ma Jun operates on the principle that in a global world we are slowly moving to global standards.
"You cannot wave a magic wand and change China, but that is not a bad place to start."
• For more on Ma Jun's Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, visit his institute's website at ipe.org.cn/en.
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