FoE probes Apple link to Bangka mining controversy

Do you trust your smartphone? Do you carry a brand using tin from the Bangka mining site?

Friends of the Earth (FoE) Campaigns Coordinator Cam Walker said FoE Australia and FoE Indonesia have joined forces to support the drive to investigate the source of tin used by smartphone manufacturers in the wake of the controversial Bangka mining site in Indonesia causing catastrophic damage to the environment.

Miners working at a tin ore mine in Tanjung Pesona, District Sungai Liat, Bangka, Indonesia. (Photo: Ulet Ifansasti)

Top mobile phone brands have been pressured to reveal the source of tin in their products. The mining site in Bangka has been accused of local labour exploitation while the mining has caused horrific deaths. One death per week is the average in recent years, reports said.  Bloomberg Businessweek earlier published a report on the harrowing conditions of workers.

Mining has also caused environmental havoc to water systems, forests, corals reefs and livelihoods of people living in and around the island, FoE said.

Top smartphone brands – Blackberry, Sony, Nokia and Motorola and LG – released statements admitting they use tin products sourced out from Bangka island. 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. The companies were also asked to cooperate in finding an industry-wide solution, FoE said.

Apple, however, stubbornly snubbed the campaign. Over 25,000 supporters have already emailed the company to reveal the tin sources of their products.

FoE UK started the smartphone campaign under Make it Better  to press phone manufacturers to observe transparency. The Bangka case highlights the need of strong laws ensuring companies reveal the human and environmental impacts of their businesses.

Bangka (or Banka) is an island province together with Belitung Island with Pankalpinang as the capital. It lies east of Sumatra, separated by the Bangka Strait. To the north lies the South China Sea, to the east, across the Gaspar Strait, is the island of Belitung, and to the south is the Java Sea. The size is about 12,000 km².

The name Bangka is derived from the word ”Wangka” which means ”tin”.  Since 1710, Bangka has been one of the world’s principal tin-producing centers. Tin production is an Indonesian government monopoly.

According to tour operators in the island, Bangka boasts of its “BANKATIN” – considered to have a worldwide reputation.

In April, Samsung Electronics led the mobile industry by publicly admitting that it uses tin from Bangka’s mines following pressure from more than 15,000 FoE individual supporters.  Dutch electronics giant, Philips, also publicly acknowledged its use of Bangka tin after a similar campaign in Netherlands (Milieudefensie) earlier.

The despicable condition of workers at a tin mine in Tanjung Pesona. (Photo: Ulet Ifansasti)

FOE’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. Read more about the  FoE iPhone findings here.

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