When developed countries export toxic waste to developing countries, the health and environmental effects on poor people can be devastating.
“Toxic colonialism” enables wealthy nations to wash their hands of their polluting waste, and deny responsibility when the earth and water sources are poisoned and thousands become ill and die.
In 2009, Lars Edman and William Johansson co-directed a film investigating how 20,000 tonnes of Swedish mining waste were dumped in the Chilean desert.
The waste – containing arsenic, lead and mercury – lay untreated and uncovered on the outskirts of the town of Arica, and children played games on the slag heap. The health consequences were catastrophic, and the film, Toxic Playground, went on to win numerous awards and create a scandal in Sweden.
Despite the success of the film and the media frenzy in Sweden, however, little has changed for the people in Arica.
To avoid the contamination, Jocelyn was forced to move house with her young family. Patricia can no longer afford to work as she is caring for a severely disabled daughter. And community activist Rodrigo is investigating thousands of medical complaints to try and map the extent of the problems which continue to affect his neighbours.
Things start to change when Lewis Gordon, a famous American environmental lawyer, sees Toxic Playground, and begins working with Swedish lawyers and Chilean survivors. They initiate proceedings against Boliden AB – a giant Scandinavian mining conglomerate.
After being denied justice for so many years, hundreds of affected people have new hope, and Lars returns to Chile, the country of his birth, to follow the victims’ quest for justice. Lars is then called as a witness, and hours of film footage are seized as evidence.
As the case reaches it’s conclusion, Lars comes face-to-face with Rolf Svedberg, the man responsible for signing the export forms, who showed remorse when on screen in Toxic Playground, but who has now decided to testify on behalf of his former employer.
‘Arica’ is a personal journey into the question of whether poor and vulnerable people can ever achieve justice when confronted by a giant multinational company who plays by different rules.
Through the film makers’ engagement with victims, they highlight the devastating impact of toxic colonialism, implicitly challenge the morality of an international legal order that still allows the practice to take place, and ultimately ask the audience whether it is ever acceptable for poor communities to be faced with a choice between health and poverty.