War profiteer of the month: Poongsan

Jarron Kamphorst, Centre Delàs d’Estudis per la Pau

Where do our Euro coins come from? Maybe since we use the coins on a daily basis, this wouldn’t be the first question to pop into one’s mind, but there is a bigger story behind the production of the coins. On March 24th the Dutch television program Keuringsdienst van Waarde (KVW) broadcasted an episode on the topic and it came to a rather disturbing conclusion. The South Korean company Poongsan Corporation that also fabricates cluster munitions produces a big part of the Euro coin blanks. Making its European trade partners indirect contributors to these by convention prohibited bombs.

In its annual report of 2015, Poongsan declares that ‘as a recognized participant in the production of Euro coins, Poongsan not only continues to supply coin blanks to the EU market, but also has expanded to include Slovenian Euro coin blanks in 2006, Cyprus Euro coin blanks in 2007, Latvian Euro coin blanks in 2013, and Lithuanian coin blanks in 2014.’ In the same report Poongsan mentions that its total sales over the year 2015 accounted for 1,7 billion US Dollars of which 36,8% was earned by the defense product division (equaling around 625,6 million US Dollars). Besides, they write that ‘Poongsan’s defense products include ammunition used in small caliber arms, anti-aircraft guns, mortars, howitzers, tank guns, recoilless guns and naval guns.’ From these worrisome figures it can easily be deduced that Poongsan is not just some new kid on the block. It is rather a big fish in both the coin blank and military industry.

What Poongsan forgets to mention in the annual report and their English on-line catalogue, is that they also produce cluster bombs. A type of bomb with several smaller bombs inside which explode as soon as they hit the ground and originally created to cause as much casualties as possible. Civilians included. A bomb that was prohibited by a convention signed in Dublin in May 2008 because of the severe humanitarian consequences it has. Almost all EU countries are signatories of the convention, although there are several other countries that did not sign the treaty, South Korea being one of them. In Article 1 of the convention it is specified that ‘each state party undertakes never under any circumstances to assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party in this convention.’ This would mean that doing business with a corporation that produces cluster munitions should be considered a breach of the Treaty.

In the Cluster Monitor of 2015 South Korea is mentioned as being a known producer of cluster munitions and that it is also known for exporting these munitions as of the year 2000. In the report it can be read that ‘in March 2015 South Korea even declared that it would not release information on its exports of cluster munitions and stated “the Republic of Korea has not established moratorium policy”, on the future exports.’ This statement constitutes a direct neglect of international norms and a profound lack of transparency.

PAX for Peace, a Dutch organization for the promotion of peace specifically includes Poongsan on its red flag list. They acknowledge that the corporation produced K305, K308 and K310 155 mm artillery projectiles (all cluster bombs) after May 2008 and that there is no evidence that Poongsan stopped producing these. Nor did Poongsan declare anything to renounce the production publicly and should therefore ‘be avoided until they (publicly) change their policies.’

On the phone Poongsan was not willing to confirm to which countries it supplies the coin blanks because of ‘confidential agreements with their customers’. Strangely enough Poongsan does share this confidential information in its annual report by stating that Slovenia, Cyprus, Latvia and Lithuania are amongst their clients. And in the episode broadcasted by the KVW employees of Poongsan on a trade fair in Berlin stated on camera that Poongsan does business with France, Spain, Portugal and The Netherlands. Although in the aftermath of the transmission, the Dutch Royal Mint promised not to do business anymore with Poongsan because of its dubious role with regard to the production of cluster bombs. Obviously when confronted with the question whether or not they fabricate cluster munitions, Poongsan remained remarkably tight-lipped.

So one simple question remains. When will the European countries involved in business activities with Poongsan stop collaborating with this corporation? How much blood do the national Royal Mints allow on their hands? The evidence shows parties collaborating with Poongsan in a very bad light, to say the least. But upon contacting the Royal Spanish Mint, they weren’t willing to give any information about the suppliers due to ‘confidentiality’. A second time they declared that they obtain their coin blanks from various European producers but the name Poongsan did not ring a bell. Odd if you consider the fact that the employees of Poongsan could recall Spain doing business with them.

Whatever the case may be, it must result clearly that Poongsan should not even be a potential trade partner for any European country that signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, whether this would be Spain or whatever other country. Instead they should follow the example of the Dutch Royal Mint and not engage in any business with the corporation. They have to prioritize human rights over money, because blood money is not an option.