J-STORIES - Computer production is not what you might call an environmentally friendly process. It consumes large amounts of water, nonrenewable resources, such as rare minerals, and "conflict" metals, such as tin and gold, and results in significant carbon dioxide emissions.
And that's not to mention the additional burden PCs place on the planet once they have outlived their usefulness.
To help overcome such environmental and human impacts, a Japanese startup is recycling some of Japan’s huge volume of disused PCs and other electronic devices, while at the same time employing refugees to help them in this quest.
A feature of the company is its efforts to offer customers more support than its competitors. Using the popular messaging service LINE, it offers pre-purchase advice on the most suitable PC for each customer’s needs. Unusually for a retailer of used IT equipment, it offers a one-year warranty during which it provides free support with problems such as internet scams. In particular, it aims to help customers who have only a limited experience of buying computers.
The company estimates that there are some 300 million disused electronics devices in Japan, many of which will be thrown away. According to CEO Akihiro Aoyama the company re-customized and sold 1,723 PCs in 2021 and it intends to steadily increase that number. It is also considering expanding its business into software.
But the most unusual feature of the company’s ZERO PC project is its link to refugees. While refugee numbers in Japan are low by global standards, the company was in fact established with the idea of providing work for displaced people, allowing them to feel a part of their new and unfamiliar surroundings, even if they could not speak Japanese.
The UN estimates that there are currently over 100 million refugees globally, of which only a tiny fraction are in Japan. In 2021, it granted refugee status to 74 asylum seekers — the highest on record. Meanwhile, the application process can be lengthy, with only about 1 percent of applicants eventually being successful.
To date, People Port has employed eight refugees and any communication barriers they might normally have at Japanese companies is mitigated by local staff at the company who all have experience of living abroad.
Aoyama told J-Stories that his ambition is for his company to one day employ 100 refugees and, further ahead, he hopes to expand the business abroad to help refugees in other countries, too.
Translation by Tony McNicol
Top page photo by People Port
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