Cell Phones, Brought to You by BC Copper via China – by Christopher Pollon (TheTyee.ca – March 27, 2014)


Click here for the entire series about copper: http://thetyee.ca/News/2014/03/24/Travels-with-Copper/

Home to Apple’s Foxconn plant, Kunshan is China’s Silicon Valley. But for how long? Fourth in a series.

KUNSHAN, CHINA — The kid standing outside the barbed wire fence at Unimicron’s electronics factory near Shanghai is feeling anxious. “Is the work hard?” he asks a middle-aged man, a private recruiter who brought the youth here.

The man tells him to relax. “It’ll be easy. Don’t worry.” It’s a Wednesday morning in September, and I’m standing with a crowd of recent high-school grads gathered to submit resumes at Unimicron, one of the world’s biggest electronics manufacturing companies, and a destination for copper mined 9,000 kilometres away near Princeton, B.C.

These kids are gathered here hoping to land an entry level factory job. High-school grads with no formal training are being offered up to CDN$680 (4000 Renminbi) per month to start, with medical insurance, room and board included (no tattoos allowed, see the translated job ad they are responding to here.)It’s a package that would have been unthinkably rich even five years ago, when Shanghai was booming as a low-cost workshop to the world, drawing millions of migrant labourers from across rural China.

But China’s electronics production is being drawn westward, away from Shanghai, by a combination of government stimulus, power and water scarcity, and the triple temptation of lower taxes, smaller wages and weaker environmental standards. It’s just the latest shift in an ongoing race to the bottom — defined as “lowest cost.” In the space of a single lifetime, electronics manufacturing dominance has shifted from the United States to Japan, to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and in the new century, to China’s Yangtze delta with greater Shanghai at its heart.

“A place like Chengdu in Sichuan province (see map, below) is currently where Shanghai was 10 years ago,” says B.C.-born author and Shanghai-based business analyst Jason Inch. While the economy of the Yangtze delta region is growing at a steady clip of about eight per cent a year, Inch says, former hinterlands like Chongqing and Yunnan are booming on 12 per cent a year growth.

Capital is on the move again, and with it the flow of copper that enables the existence of the electronic gadgetry most North Americans cannot live without.

BC copper in a modern smartphone

So far, I have followed British Columbia copper from its geological cradle at a mine near Princeton partly owned by Japan’s Mitsubishi Materials Corporation; through the Port of Vancouver, where it’s put on ships; to a Mitsubishi smelter on a Japanese island, where it is refined, and other facilities that mould and alloy the pure metal into specialty forms.

One of those is what are called “anode copper balls” — small spheres of fine-grained, extremely pure copper often mixed with minute quantities of phosphorous. Electronics makers dissolve these in an acid solution, and electroplate the suspended metal to rigid insulating backing material to make printed circuit boards.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://thetyee.ca/News/2014/03/27/BC-Copper-Asian-Cell-Phones/?utm_campaign=map

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