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NGO Response to Winstonís Column
The Dutch-based NGO SOMO wrote to in response to last weekís Winstonís Column, "Biased Bashing of Consumer Electronics." SOMO officials requested that Winston publish their response to the Ethical Corporation article which was the basis for the column. Since a good watchdog engages all stakeholders, we are printing the SOMO response below complete and unedited.

Electronics giants must take responsibility
SOMO read with interest the article "Extractive industry Ė NGOs undermining their own cause" published in February. As one of the organisations mentioned SOMO would like to give some background to the article and correct several of the authorís factual mistakes and misleading statements.

SOMO has been involved in research on the platinum group of metals as part of makeITfair, a research and campaigning project conducted by a coalition of European NGOs working on the electronics sector. In this three-year project, SOMO is conducting research on the whole supply chain of consumer electronics such as mobile phones and laptops, from the extractives level to recycling and waste.

The research reports published within this project in the first year focus on several metals, including tin and platinum, of which the electronics industry is a significant purchaser. These metals are part of electronics companiesí supply chain for which they must take responsibility. The reports clearly link the electronics companies to these metals, and at a January 2008 roundtable meeting organised by makeITfair and attended by several electronics companies, suggestions were made as to how electronics consumer brands could extend corporate social responsibility down the supply chain to the extractive industry.

Recent steps by an industry initiative to research the extraction, recycling, purchasing and use of metals, as well as further research by one of the larger electronics brands, shows that companies are indeed following up on responsibilities for the metals used as a direct result of this project. The makeITfair project will follow up on this direct result in the coming years.

Although one of the many projects SOMO is working on, this is by no means a ďone-off NGO reportĒ as the Ethical Corporation article claims. SOMO has been involved in long-term engagement and extensive work on electronics since 2004 and started examining the extractive industry in connection with the electronics industry in 2007, and will continue with the work on the platinum group metals in the coming years.

The article finds many mistakes with what is described as our "initial report".

As is SOMOís normal practice, after the initial research a draft report was sent to electronics companies as well as platinum mining companies, including Anglo Platinum, for comments and factual verification. SOMO incorporated the comments from Anglo Platinum and other companies into the final report.

It is thus totally inappropriate for the article to refer to issues in the unpublished draft report that were either changed, further explained, or referenced with Anglo Platinumís comments in the final report. SOMO did use the Bench Marks report, as well as other background information on platinum mining (all referenced in the final report), and clearly pointed out the companiesí disagreements with specific issues in the Bench Marks report.

SOMO is disappointed by Ethical Corporationís decision to publish such an unbalanced article written by a mining industry consultant and former employee of Anglo American, the mother company of Anglo Platinum. It is not surprising that the article is one-sided and simply repeats Anglo Platinumís response to the criticism of organisations working on platinum mining, without further thought, research or interviews. Ethical Corporationís article could have addressed the severe issues detailed in the research reports, such as child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo to mine cobalt for batteries; contract workers in South Africa working in platinum mines without much health and safety training and for poverty wages; and tin mining in Indonesia creating environmental disasters. And the article could have addressed the efforts of the organisations within makeITfair that are calling upon electronics companies to improve these conditions.

Instead the article focused on a spelling mistake in an unpublished draft report and pointed out sectors the research reports on the responsibility of electronics brands for their supply chain did not address, such as catalytic converters for the car industry.

Esther de Haan and Tim Steinweg
Researchers SOMO encourages all stakeholders to provide us with their views regarding the consumer electronics industryís sourcing of materials. Please send your comments to

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