The United Kingdom based environmental awareness group Friends of the Earth is pushing European companies to be more transparent about their supply chains and raw materials used in their products. F.O.E. has launched a hub with the aim to pressure the European Union to mandate that companies operating and selling goods in Europe using materials more responsibly and ethically.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that F.O.E. has started this initiative with a stinging rebuke of the leading global smartphone manufacturers.

Last weekend F.O.E. published a report that focused on tin mining in Indonesia. Indonesia is the world’s second largest exporter of tin, an important component in smart phones. Since the islands became a colony of the Dutch centuries ago, mining companies have extracted tin for a bevy of uses. Today much of the tin flowing out of Indonesia comes from the island of Bangka, located just east of Sumatra.

And so while Samsung and Apple slug it out over patent disputes, F.O.E.’s research show that the two companies have one thing in common: they both deal with suppliers that have sourced tin from Bangka. What are some of the results of this industry on locals who toil in the island’s tin mines?

Land and sea tin mining in Bangka have both led to the following results:

  • An average of one miner a week died according to 2011 official police statistics.
  • The local drinking water is often polluted.
  • Not only is the local landscape forever altered, but once-fertile land has become poisoned.

  • Sources of local drinking water end up tainted.
  • On sea beds, silt containing tin is killing the basis marine life, from mangroves to sea grass to coral.
  • Fisheries have suffered, and sea life including endangered giant clams and tortoises are threatened.
  • Workers can barely make ends meet, making as little as $9 a day.

The report calls out Samsung for purchasing tin from a supplier, PT Timah, which purchases 90 percent of its materials from Bangka. F.O.E. has put Apple under scrutiny as well. Two of Foxconn’s vendors, Shenmao and Chernan, both purchase 90 percent of its tin from Indonesia. And since 90 percent of Indonesia’s tin comes from Bangka, the solder Foxconn uses to solder iPhones means that tainted tin is most likely in these coveted phones. To that end, F.O.E. is challenging Samsung and Apple to offer more transparency about its supply chain, while developing a plan to ensure that tin is not causing any social or environmental disruption.

With both Apple and Samsung together selling 188 million smartphones in 2011, F.O.E. insists that these companies become more transparent about the water, energy, carbon and materials that end up in their phones. The NGO is also pushing all smartphone manufacturers to ramp up standardization and use better materials, not to mention improved designs that would make it easier to repair these devices. In sum, these phones have got to “make it better.”

So will these smartphone giants actually listen? Stay tuned.

Published earlier today on Triple Pundit. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.

Image credit: Friends of the Earth

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.