Calling out Samsung for toxic failure

Activists in Brussels sticker 'Samsung = broken promises'

Feature story - 3 March, 2010
Samsung still uses PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in all its products, except in a few models of mobile phone, MP3 players and some components, despite many promises to clean up. That's why our activists stuck huge stickers on the Korean electronic giant's Benelux headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday stating "Samsung = broken promises".

Greenpeace climbers scale the Benelux headquarters of the Korean electronic giant Samsung, displaying the message "Samsung = Broken Promises".

All new models of Apple, Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones are PVC and BFRs (brominated flame retardants) free, and have been for over a year now. Meanwhile, Samsung -- the world's second largest mobile phone maker -- has only offered up two phones which don't contain these toxic substances (Blue Earth GT-S7550 and Reclaim M560).

A promise made in 2004

In June 2004, Samsung was the first electronics company to publicly commit to eliminate PVC and BFRs from new models of all its products. In 2006 Samsung committed to phasing our BFRs from its products by the start of 2010. In 2007 it committed to a deadline of end 2010 for the phase out of PVC. Both moves saw the company gain points and position in our influential Guide to Greener Electronics.

When a company like Samsung goes back on its commitments to clean up in the interest of the environment and public health, it erodes consumer trust in the brand. Any delay in removing hazardous substances needs to be clearly communicated with valid reasons.

Other companies ranked in the Guide to Greener Electronics have kept their promises, some even a year ahead of deadlines. In contrast, Samsung only admitted to Greenpeace weeks before it was due to deliver new greener products that it would break its promise. By this delaying tactic Samsung was able to avoid losing more points in our influential green ranking.

Samsung's promises are proving to be as thin as its TVs, as it loses face and ground to competitors like Apple, HP, Nokia and Sony Ericsson who have long delivered products free of these hazardous substances, proving that this can be done.

Iza Kruszewska, Greenpeace electronics campaigner

Samsung was penalized in the last Guide for failing to meet its deadline, and will likely be the first company to get a second penalty in the next edition of the Guide if it fails to show significant progress on toxics phase out.

Poisoning the poor

During production, use and disposal, PVC is the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics, and can form dioxin, a known carcinogen, when burnt during sub-standard recycling practices. BFRs which are highly resistant to degradation in the environment and are able to bio-accumulate (build up in animals and humans), can be released from products during use and can also form dioxins when burnt during the type of basic recycling practices commonly used in Asia and Africa.

A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that unless urgent action is taken, the e-waste crisis is set to worsen dramatically in developing countries. The world is consuming more and more electronic products every year. This has caused a dangerous explosion in electronic scrap (e-waste) containing toxic chemicals and heavy metals that cannot be disposed of or recycled safely.

Samsung needs to understand -- what is good for human health, what is good for the environment, is also good for the company's bottom line. People are becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of what they buy. They are also more aware of corporate greenwash and spin. Samsung's decision to renege on its green promises will cost them consumer trust which is difficult to win back.



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