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Big 5 mobile companies to review Indonesian mining

September 2013

Five multinational mobile phone manufacturers are now committed to urgent action over the damage from the mining of tin used in their products.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth had investigated the devastation on the Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, where tin is extracted for use as solder in mobiles and other electronic devices.

The investigation revealed that silt from the mining was killing coral reefs and the sea grass eaten by turtles and was driving away the fish on which fishermen’s livelihoods depend.

On land, said the investigators, forests had been destroyed to make way for mines, and agricultural soil was being made acidic so that farmers struggled to grow their crops.

In the mines themselves deaths from accidents were put at one every week in 2011, and in the unofficial mines there were many accounts of child labour being used.

The phone manufacturers responded after representations from Friends of the Earth and more than 15,000 individual complainants.

The Japanese conglomerate Sony and other members of the US-based Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition, which promotes social, ethical and environmental responsibility in supply chains, have been discussing how the industry and its stakeholders can achieve sustainability in their operations and minimise their effect on the Indonesian islands.

Sony’s policy contains a commitment to “working toward a sustainable society for the next generation”.
The Canadian Blackberry company says it is working with its stakeholders to understand the issue better and find ways to improve conditions for the islanders affected.

LG Electronics, the South Korean manufacturer, another member of the coalition group, is helping to fund a study being run by the Netherlands-based Sustainable Trade Initiative to understand the issue. LG intends to “take further action based on the results of this study”.

Andy Coughlin, LG UK’s head of mobile communications, said the company was “concerned” to learn of the claims made about the Bangka working conditions.

He told Ethical Performance: “We already have a code of conduct in place which states that our suppliers must not use materials obtained through any illegal form of mining and we are reviewing our sourcing policy in the light of these claims.”

Motorola, a US participant in the coalition group, is working with a number of bodies, including local government councils, smelters and NGOs, in order to offer “meaningful assurances that tin mining on Bangka island is done in an environmentally and socially responsible manner”.

The Finnish company Nokia, which has joined the other manufacturers in working with the coalition and the Sustainable Trade Initiative, said: “We are committed to ensuring that all materials used in our products come from socially and environmentally responsible sources.”

Friends of the Earth welcomed the industry’s “great” response. However, it criticised Apple, the world’s second most valuable corporation, which is involved in the coalition effort but has not answered more than 24,000 customers who had asked whether the group obtains its tin from Bangka.

It said: “Apple’s … public refusal to give a straight answer to concerned customers is totally at odds with its competitors and contradicts its own chief executive’s commitment to be more transparent about Apple supply chains.”

The environmental group is following up its report by urging tough new EU laws on non-financial reporting to compel companies to reveal the human and environmental impacts of their activities.

Global | Mining

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