Major smartphone companies tackle illegal tin mining concerns

Nokia, Sony, Blackberry, Motorola and LG Electronics have released statements reiterating their commitment to tackling the environmental impact of Indonesian tin production associated with the firms supply chains.

The move was prompted by Friends of the Earth’s investigation into the “devastation” caused by mining for tin on Bangka Island in Indonesia.

According to Friends of the Earth, tin mining in Bangka showed that in 2011 on average one miner a week died in an accident, while reports of child labour in the unofficial mines are apparently common. It also found that farmland and forests have been destroyed due to mining in the area.

Following pressure from the environment charity, the five global mobile manufacturers have committed to urgent action to tackle the problem.

Tin is used as solder in all phones and electronic gadgets and around a third of the world’s mined tin comes from Bangka and neighbouring island Belitung.

Blackberry’s statement said: “The Indonesian tin mining industry is an important part of BlackBerry’s supply chain. We are very concerned about the reported environmental and health risks associated with the industry and are actively engaged in a multi-stakeholder effort to better our collective understanding of the situation and identify opportunities to influence the improvement of conditions for the people of Indonesia.”

Sony claims that it does not directly source tin from any supplier in Bangka Island, but has found that some of Sony Mobile’s part or material suppliers which are based outside the area had used tin originated from Bangka Island to make parts or material for use in mobile phones.

“Some of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) members, including Sony, have been discussing joint efforts to find … how [the] electronics industry and other stakeholders can take constructive steps toward the sustainability concerns and the impact of Indonesian tin production,” added Sony.

LG Electronics UK confirmed that it did not directly source any products from Bangka, but its investigations have revealed that some of the tin used by its third-party suppliers may come from the region.

“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 light of these claims,” the company said.

LG also announced that it is participating in a working group through the EICC to address concerns about the impact of Indonesian tin production, and is “helping to fund a study being carried out by the IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative) to better understand the situation in Bangka.”

Also accepting the claims, Motorola Mobility said that it recognises that suppliers in its global supply chain may “potentially use Bangka tin”.

“As a result we are working diligently with our suppliers to confirm the country of origin of tin used to produce our components,” it said.

The company said it is also working with the EICC working group to address the problem.

Nokia’s statement also accepted that the presence of Indonesian tin in its supply chain procedures or in its products is “likely” and confirmed its involvement in the EICC’s working group.

According to Friends of the Earth, this now leaves technology giant Apple among the best-known brands “failing to give a straight answer” on whether its tin is coming from Indonesia’s Bangka island.

Friends of the Earth’s director of policy and campaigns Craig Bennett said: “It’s great that most of the mobile industry is now being upfront with customers about the socially and environmentally damaging tin in their phones – and committing to tackle the problems together.

“Apple’s cowardly public refusal to give a straight answer to concerned customers is totally at odds with its competitors and contradicts its own CEO’s commitment to be more transparent about Apple supply chains.

Leigh Stringer

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