Tin is an important metal used as a solder in tablets and smartphones. Five smartphones contain around the same amount of tin as an entire car. Tin is contained within the crust of the earth and extracting it involves clearing and ploughing land, or dredging the seabed.
About one-third of the global supply of tin comes from the Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung. Large-scale deforestation to make way for the mining has played a major role in the destruction of 10% of Bangka’s forests over the last 13 years, and if mining continues at the present rate it threatens to leave half the island arid.
Previously fertile ground and water aquifers have acidified and dredging has contaminated the seabed, killing around two-thirds of the coral and local fish populations and disrupting the local fishing trade. Some villager’s incomes have fallen by up to 80% as a result. In turn, this has attracted locals to the mining trade and the majority of the islanders are now dependent on it for their livelihood.
Tin mining also lacks proper safeguards; in 2011, almost one miner a week was reported to have died through wall collapses in Bangka, and many more deaths are thought to go unreported. In 2012 the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative established the Indonesian Tin Working Group (TWG), aiming to support the local community and reduce the negative social and environmental impacts of large-scale tin mining.
Apple, Samsung, LG and Sony, the largest smartphone manufacturers globally, have admitted at least some of the tin in their products is sourced from the islands of Bangka and Belitung.
- Friends of the Earth – Mining for Smartphones: Trilogy (Part 1) (Part2) (Part3)
- Bloombery expose- The Deadly Tin Inside Your Smartphone, August 2012 (with cool links like this ‘Inside the iPad‘)
- Friends of the Earth – Mining for Smartphones: The true cost of tin
Key Standards and Certifications
- The Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) is a non-profit alliance of 100 electronics companies. It commits its members to a Code of Conduct, requiring them to assess their supply chains and minimise any potential ethical concerns.
Existing Campaigns and Advocacy Work
Opportunities for Action
Purchase electronics good from companies that are open about where they source their tin from, acknowledge the damage tin extraction has caused in Indonesia, and support the introduction of sustainable mining practices:
- Mileudefensie has assessed major electronics companies based on their transparency and support for sustainable mining (Dec 2013). See their campaign targeting Microsoft (Guardian, May 2104), and the October 2014 update seeing 14 companies promise improvement for Bangka. (Scary promote video below… in Dutch!)
Identify the companies behind the electronic goods you own and contact them, expressing your desire for them to address the issues caused by tin mining in Indonesia.