Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

CSTPR Noontime Seminar: Lucy McAllister

Blind Spots: Electronics Firms, and the Social and Environmental Harms of the Electronics Commodity Chain

by Lucy McAllister, Environmental Studies, University of Colorado

Abstract: The global electronics commodity chain perpetuates widespread human and environmental harms, including the global sale of 'conflict minerals' that are used to fund the violence of warlords (Spectrum 2011), the depletion of virgin minerals and precious metals, primarily, from Africa (Boone & Ganeshan 2012), the persistence of unsafe and environmentally hazardous working conditions at electronics factories in Asia (Zhou 2013), and the abridgement of electronics workers' rights to unionize (Cheng et al. 2012). The practices commonly used to recycle electronic waste (e-waste) in the informal sector of developing countries, where roughly 50-80% of the global hazardous e-waste stream is sent, also produce severe harms, including health risks especially for women and children (Frazzoli 2010).

Despite the lead role that multinational electronics firms' likely play in the social and environmental harms of the electronics commodity chain, little research has been done on these issues. The aim of this project is thus to investigate how the specific role of lead firms in producing severe human and environmental problems throughout the electronics commodity chain has gone largely unnoticed by external audiences. Using impression management theory, I will ask whether or how electronics firms use impression management mechanisms to shift attention away from their detrimental business practices, thereby legitimizing themselves in the eyes of the public, and making it easier to sell their products and accumulate capital.

Biography: Before coming to study at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Lucy McAllister graduated summa cum laude from Connecticut College in 2009 with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and German Studies. After college, Lucy spent time in Hamburg, Germany on a Fulbright scholarship and, later, worked at the German Consulate in Chicago, Illinois. Lucy completed her M.S. in environmental studies at CU in May 2013, and has continued within the environmental studies program to pursue a PhD.

Broadly, Lucy explores the business-society-environment relationship, focusing on the role of lead firms in the human and environmental harms of the electronics commodity chain. She was the 2012 Theory in Critical Political Ecology Paper Competition Winner at the University of Kentucky's Dimensions of Political Ecology Conference, and, in the fall of 2013, Lucy was awarded a CIRES Graduate Research Fellowship. Lucy's first article, 'Women, E-waste & Technological Solutions to Climate Change,' was recently published by the Health and Human Rights Journal in June 2014.


Monday, November 3, 2014
2014 - 12:15 to 13:15





  • CIRES employees
  • CU Boulder employees
  • General Public
  • NOAA employees
  • Science collaborators


  • Seminar
  • Open to Public



CSTPR Conference Room, 1333 Grandview Avenue