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Friends of Earth claims victory in green supply chain probe of smartphones

Green supply chain news – by GreenWise staff
22nd April 2013
Friends of the Earth is claiming victory in a major green supply chain probe that it says links manufacturers of smartphones with the destruction of tropical forests and coral.
Friends of the Earth said today it had got leading electronics firm and the number one smartphone brand Samsung to admit for the first time to sourcing tin used in its products from mines in Indonesia’s Bangka Island. The green group has linked the tin mines to the degradation of tropical forests, coral, and humans in the region and has been campaigning to get electronics giants, such as Samsung and Apple, to address the issue.

The victory Friends of the Earth is laying claim to comes in the form of an email sent out to Samsung customers, in which the company wrote: "While we do not have a direct relationship with tin suppliers from Bangka Island, we do know that some of the tin that we use for manufacturing our products does originate from this area, which sources much of the electronics industry.

"We believe that our work on this issue should be collaborative, and as a responsible business we are contacting suppliers, industry bodies and governments to better understand the issues that you raise and work together to find solutions."

Electronics: links to tin mines in Indonesia
All electronics gadgets, including smartphones and tablets, contain tin in the solder that holds together resistors, transistors and circuit boards. The electronics industry sources nearly half of all mined tin in order to make solder. Around a third of the world's tin is from the Indonesia islands of Bangka and Belitung.

Friends of the Earth’s investigation of the tin mines in Bangka, reveals the destruction of forests and the loss of 60-70 per cent of the island's coral reefs due to silt from tin mining dredgers and boats. The industry was also the cause of one mining fatality a week during 2011 due to its unregulated nature. There is widespread evidence, meanwhile, of fishermen and farmers livelihoods, being destroyed by mining on the island, Friends of the Earth said. 

"It’s great Samsung has taken an industry lead by tracking its supply chains all the way to Indonesia’s tin mines and committing to taking responsibility for helping tackle the devastating impact that mining tin for electronics has on people and the environment," Friends of the Earth’s Director of Policy and Campaigns Craig Bennett, commented.
"Millions of us love our smartphones and couldn’t do without them – we want to be able to love the way they’re made too."

Pressure on Apple
And Bennett indicated that Friends of the Earth's pressure on Samsung rival Apple would not let up. "Apple is already playing catch up on the high street in terms of smartphone sales – it’s time it followed Samsung’s lead by coming clean about its whole supply chains too," he said. 

Friends of the Earth launched the Make It Better campaign in November last year. As well as putting pressure on Samsung and Apple to confirm they use tin from Bangka in their products, the campaign is calling for new rules to make all companies come clean about their supply chains, starting with a Europe-wide law. So far, it has received the backing of 15,000 individuals, the charity said. 

Samsung: "evaluating" sourcing policies
In a statement issued today, Samsung said: "Friends of the Earth has asked for our help in better understanding tin sourcing in Indonesia so we are working with key electronic industry parties to better understand the issue. We are committed to upholding the highest standards of corporate responsibility, and we continue to evaluate our sourcing policies to ensure they comply with global standards associated with our industry."

European laws
The European Commission last week announced plans for new laws that will mean 18,000 companies have to report on a range of environmental and social factors alongside their financial results, but Friends of the Earth said the plans don’t go far enough. 

"To prevent problems elsewhere and help ensure companies make products in a way that’s within the planet’s safe limits, we’re also calling on Samsung to back new laws in Europe to help and require all companies to reveal the full human and environmental impacts of their operations," said Bennett. 

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Friends of Earth claims victory in green supply chain probe of smartphones
Tin mines on Bangka are destroying the island's coral reefs, says Friends of the Earth (Photo credit: Friends of the Earth)
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