Stung by mounting criticism for using federal prison labor to recycle computers, Dell Computer Corp. said Thursday that it will begin using other recycling contractors instead. It was an about-face for the Round Rock-based computer company, which previously has defended its partnership with Unicor, the government-run corporation that uses federal inmates for labor.
“We were able to change vendors and keep the costs the same,” said Bryant Hilton, a Dell spokesman. “One of our goals has been to bring down the cost of recycling for consumers. This is one more move in that direction.”
The change came little more than a week after a Silicon Valley environmental group released a report highly critical of Dell’s partnership with Unicor, accusing the company of exposing inmates to toxins as they took apart computers and monitors.
It was the latest salvo in an ongoing battle by environmentalists who want Dell, the world’s largest personal computer maker, to institute a model recycling program.
In the past year, they’ve dubbed founder Michael Dell the “Toxic Dude” in a letter-writing campaign, dressed in prison garb to protest at Dell PC recycling events across the country and even gathered outside Susan Dell’s boutique during a fashion show in May.
Dell should lead the industry because its direct sales model would allow it to contact customers directly about recycling old computers, monitors or printers, environmentalists say.
“Their decision to stop this was very welcome,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the Austin-based Texas Campaign for the Environment, which protested at Dell’s annual meeting last year and is planning to do the same at this year’s meeting, July 18, at the Austin Convention Center.
A company spokesman denied that the recent report or demonstrations had anything to do with the decision to drop Unicor. But asked whether the company hoped the change would halt the demonstrations, Hilton said, “Yes.”
Dell will contract with Dallas-based Resource Concepts Inc. and California-based Image Microsystems Inc. for consumer recycling and is searching for other partners. The company is also expected to announce next week an expanded effort to promote recycling among corporate and government customers.
In the past, Dell said it used Unicor because it provided a low-cost solution for recycling. The two other companies agreed to meet Unicor’s price, Hilton said.
Dell provides free printer recycling for customers who purchase new Dell printers. In March, Dell began a home pick-up recycling service for $15 per PC or monitor, matching a similar program offered by competitor Hewlett-Packard Co.
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