Apple stays mum on Bangka

Macworld Australia Staff
8 July, 2013
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Environmental activist group Friends of the Earth (FoE) has campaigned for some months against the use of tin from the Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung. Specifically, the FoE has asked Samsung and Apple whether they use tin sourced from the region as a solder in their products.

The FoE’s investigations claim that the tin mining is dangerous and unregulated, with the following effects:

  • police figures show that in 2011, on average, one miner died each week in an accident
  • silt from the mining is killing coral reefs and the seagrass that is eaten by turtles, driving away fish and crippling the local fishing industry, and
  • soil has become acidic, causing farmers to struggle to grow crops.

FoE has announced that its pressure, via 15,000 emails sent by concerned individuals, resulted in Samsung admitting it uses tin from Bangka’s mines. The Dutch electronics company Philips also publicly acknowledged its use of the tin, following similar pressure from Friends of the Earth Holland.

But Apple is still not saying anything, even after 24,000 people were rallied by FoE to ask Apple outright if it uses tin from the endangered region. Instead, the Cupertino company helped set up an industry stakeholder group to discuss urgent action to address the problem.

A tin miner in Bangka, Indonesia, where 20 percent of locals are miners and another 40 percent work in related industries (photo: Ulet Ifansasti/FoE).

This is a start, but not yet good enough, according to Friends of the Earth’s policy and campaigns director Craig Bennett. “Unlike Samsung, Apple is still keeping its customers in the dark by refusing to confirm or deny where the tin in iPhones and iPads is from,” he says. “Apple has helped set up an industry group looking into tin mining problems on Bangka island. This is welcome, but until it publicly admits using forest-trashing tin in its products, customers can’t be sure it will commit to helping end the devastation.

“We believe Apple customers care about the environmental and social costs of how their devices are made and that with this rotten refusal to tell them the truth Apple is risking its reputation for high standards. CEO Tim Cook has said he wants to be more transparent about Apple’s supply chains – it’s time to show he means this by coming clean about Bangka tin.”
The FoE claims that all electronic gadgets contain tin-rich solder, an alloy of at least 95 percent tin with a little silver and copper, to hold together resistors, transistors and circuit boards. Almost half of all mined tin is turned into solder for the electronics industry and around a third of the world’s tin is from the Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, says the organisation.
In an attempt to gain publicity for the issue FoE activists planned to visit Apple stores in the UK last weekend to highlight their concerns and raise awareness among customers.

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