Mining for smartphones: the true cost of tin

26 November 2012

Stricter reporting and transparency needed for companies

Tin used in some of the best-selling brands of smartphones is almost certainly linked to the devastation of forests, farmland, coral reefs and communities in Indonesia, according to a new report 'Mining for Smartphones: the True Cost of Tin' from Friends of the Earth.

The investigation links destructive mining techniques in Bangka, Indonesia, to products in Europe, and is released as the European Commission prepares to publish new draft legislation that will force companies to report on their non-financial impacts.

Paul de Clerck, corporate accountability campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "Samsung and Apple refuse to tell us where their tin comes from. We are asking the European Union to urgently draw up regulations forcing companies to disclose the resources they use and the environmental and human rights impacts associated with them."

Two of the biggest producers of smartphones in Europe, Samsung and Apple, use large amounts of tin, and it is likely the Bangka mine, one of the largest tin mines in the world, is one of the providers. Neither company will reveal the source of their tin, according to Friends of the Earth.

Shares of Apple and Samsung, American and South Korean companies respectively, float on the European stock exchange, and would be covered by the EU Accounts Modernisation Directive on non-financial reporting. Under the directive companies will have to disclose their impacts on the environment and human rights – including, in this case, the impacts of tin mining.

Only obligatory reporting rules will push companies to demand better conditions from their suppliers and invest more in reducing the amount of resources they use.

Pius Ginting, campaign manager at Friends of the Earth Indonesia/Walhi said: "Tin mining has damaged more than 65 percent of Bangka's forest areas and more than 70 percent of Bangka's coral reefs. Fifteen rivers are now contaminated by tin mining waste and access to clean water has become a problem for more than half of Bangka's population. Additionally, mining for tin on Bangka is a dangerous occupation: more than sixty miners have died this year, most of them buried underground or trapped underwater."

Europe is the region on the planet most dependent on imported resources. Europeans currently consume far more than their fair share of the planet's natural resources. Friends of the Earth Europe believes new EU-wide company reporting rules should require companies to disclose their land and water footprints, material use and greenhouse gas emissions. Getting companies to measure and report is the first step towards reducing our unsustainable demands on the planet.