Nokia, Sony, Blackberry, Motorola and LG Electronics have all publicly accepted for the first time that their phones are likely to contain tin that's destroying tropical forests, killing coral and wrecking the lives of communities in Indonesia, Friends of the Earth reveals today.
Following pressure from the environment charity, the five global mobile manufacturers have committed to urgent action to tackle the problem. This now leaves Apple alone among the best-known brands failing to give a straight answer to more than 24,000 customers who have asked if it sources tin from Indonesia's Bangka island.
The move was prompted by Friends of the Earth's investigation into the devastation caused by mining for tin on Bangka. Tin is used as solder in all phones and electronic gadgets and around a third of the world's mined tin comes from Bangka and neighbouring island Belitung.
In April, Samsung Electronics lead the mobile industry by publicly admitting that it uses tin from Bangka's mines, following pressure from Friends of the Earth and more than 15,000 individuals. Earlier in the year Dutch electronics giant Philips publicly acknowledged its use of Bangka tin after a similar campaign by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie).
Pressure on Apple from Friends of the Earth resulted in the notoriously secretive technology company helping to set up a new industry stakeholder group discussing urgent action to tackle the problem. Yet its current policy is to refuse to acknowledge that iPhones and iPads contain tin mined in devastating conditions.
Friends of the Earth's Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook on 25 June pointing out that the company's public stance on the issue is now "indefensible," especially given Cook's claimed desire to be more transparent about Apple supply chains.
Friends of the Earth's investigation in Bangka found (foe.co.uk/resource/reports/tin_mining.pdf):
Dangerous and unregulated tin mining
Police figures show that in 2011 an average of one miner a week died in an accident. Reports of child labour in the unofficial mines are common.
Coral and sea life threatened
Silt from tin mining is killing coral reefs and seagrass eaten by turtles, driving away fish and ruining fishermen's livelihoods.
Farmland and forest destroyed
Farmers struggle to grow crops in soil left acidic after the destruction of forests for tin mining.
Extracted statements from phone companies (foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/phone_statements0.pdf) below, responding to a request for a statement of company policy on Bangka tin:
Blackberry: "The Indonesian tin mining industry is an important part of BlackBerry's supply chain. We have confirmed this through our responsible sourcing due diligence activities. We are very concerned about the reported environmental and health risks associated with the industry and are actively engaged in a multi-stakeholder effort to better our collective understanding of the situation and identify opportunities to influence the improvement of conditions for the people of Indonesia."
Sony: "Sony Mobile does not directly source tin from any supplier in Bangka Island, but we found that some of Sony Mobile's part or material suppliers which are based outside Bangka Island had used tin originated from Bangka Island to make parts or material for use in mobile phones. .. Some of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) members, including Sony, have been discussing joint efforts to find … how [the] electronics industry and other stakeholders can take constructive steps toward the sustainability concerns and the impact of Indonesian tin production."
LG Electronics UK: "… We can confirm that we do not directly source any products from Bangka, but our investigations have revealed that some of the tin used by our third-party suppliers may come from this region. We already have a code of conduct in place which states that our suppliers must not use materials obtained through any illegal form of mining and we are reviewing our sourcing policy in light of these claims… LG is participating in a working group through the EICC to address concerns about the impact of Indonesian tin production, and is helping to fund a study being carried out by the IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative) to better understand the situation in Bangka. We will look to take further action based on the results of this study."
Motorola: "… Motorola Mobility recognizes that suppliers in our global supply chain may potentially use Bangka tin. As a result we are working diligently with our suppliers to confirm the country of origin of tin used to produce our components. We are also working with the EICC, which has established a working group to address tin mining, and with other entities such as local governments, smelters and NGOs with the goal of reaching meaningful assurances that tin mining on Bangka Island is done in an environmentally and socially responsible manner."
Nokia: "… the presence of Indonesian tin in our supply chain procedures or ultimately in our products is likely… we cannot rule out the possibility that tin mined at Bangka-Belitung may be in our supply chain… As we are committed to ensuring that all materials used in our products come from socially and environmentally responsible sources, we are working to establish greater clarity about the situation there… We are also part of the EICC-IDH Tin Working Group, which brings together a range of stakeholders to address concerns about the impact of tin production in Indonesia."
Friends of the Earth's Director of Policy and Campaigns Craig Bennett said:
"It's great that most of the mobile industry is now being upfront with customers about the socially and environmentally damaging tin in their phones – and committing to tackle the problems together.
"Apple's cowardly public refusal to give a straight answer to concerned customers is totally at odds with its competitors and contradicts its own CEO's commitment to be more transparent about Apple supply chains.
"To prevent problems elsewhere and help companies identify risks and inefficiencies in production, we're also calling for new laws in Europe requiring them to reveal the full human and environmental impacts of their operations."
Friends of the Earth's Make It Better campaign believes that the story of Bangka tin shows why we need a strong new European law on non-financial reporting, that would require and assist companies to understand and report on the full human and environmental impacts of their operations.
Image: Edi, a sea tin miner, separates sand from tin ore in Rebu Village, District Sungai Liat, Bangka, Indonesia, on Tuesday, August 28, 2012. Edi, 42, has been mining for six years around the beaches of the island of Bangka. The former labourer started tin mining to earn more money but has seen his income decrease over the past three years as tin becomes harder to find.
Friends of the Earth Indonesia (Walhi) estimates about 2,500 such rafts are mining Bangka's coasts at any time. Mining within two miles of the shore is technically illegal but these rules are frequently ignored.
Edi says: "I know this job is illegal but I need the money. I can make 200,000 Indonesian rupiah (Â£12) a day, but it depends on the price of the tin. If I work as a labourer the wages are very low and it is difficult to buy food."
Before becoming a miner, Edi worked as laborer with an income of 70,000 rupiah a day (Â£4.50).
The damage caused by giant dredging boats and sea mining rafts off Bangka's coast is forcing fishermen to work further away in more dangerous deep water in search of fish.