Top smartphone players own up to dodgy tin – except Apple

Top smartphone makers have released statements acknowledging they may be using tin mined illegally or among very poor working conditions on Bangka Island, Indonesia in their devices – with one noticeable exception, Apple.

Green pressure group Friends of the Earth has been campaigning for some time now about Bangka Island tin mining which it says destroys tropical forests, kills coral, and wrecks lives in the community. Nokia, Sony, Blackberry, Motorola, Samsung and LG have all made statements on the region, acknowledging possible serious problems in the supply chain.

As is quite typical of early-stage Apple crisis management, it has not said a word.

Manufacturers are committing to “urgent action” to tackle problems in Bangka, leaving Apple by itself among the top brands to make a statement. 24,000 Apple customers are demanding answers.

A Friends of the Earth investigation found that, in 2011, unregulated and dangerous tin mining has lead to an average of one death per week on the island, while there are also “common” reports of child labour in unofficial mines.

Additionally, silt from this tin mining is killing coral reefs and seagrass, FotE claims, driving away fish from the area, a vital local food source. Farmers are also reportedly struggling to grow crops on acidic soil, itself the product of clearing forests for tin mining.

Samsung said in a statement: “We take all of these matters very seriously and have been engaging with Friends of the Earth and the broader electronics industry on this issue for some time. We are also undertaking a thorough investigation of our supply chain in the region to better understand what is happening, and what part we play.”

Samsung and other manufacturers made clear that they do not have direct relationships with suppliers from Bangka Island, but recognise that it is likely tin from the area does find its way into their products – as it is one of the biggest sources for tin on the planet.

Sony said some Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition members, including itself, are holding discussions on starting joint efforts about sustainability, and looking at the impact of Indonesian tin productions, in partnership with the Sustainable Trade Initiative, the International Tin Research Institute and Friends of the Earth.

The full statements are available here (PDF).

An Apple spokesperson directedTechEye to the company’s Supplier Responsibility page, where it says: “Bangka Island, Indonesia, is one of the world’s principal tin-producing regions. Recent concerns about the illegal mining of tin from this region prompted Apple to lead a fact-finding visit to learn more. Using the information we’ve gathered, Apple initiated an EICC working group focused on this issue, and we are helping to fund a new study on mining in the region so we can better understand the situation.

But FOE insisted initial pressure on Apple from Friends of the Earth was what resulted in the company setting up an industry stakeholder group to discuss urgent action about the problem.

“Yet its current policy is to refuse to acknowledge that iPhones and iPads contain tin mined in devastating conditions,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement.