Friday 30 May 2014
THE GUARDIAN. A campaign against tin mining in Bangka and Belitung islands of Indonesia is targeting tech giant Microsoft. The islands, off the coast of Sumatra, are being stripped off their forests and marine wealth and dug up for tin, used widely in the electronics and IT industry by major brands making mobile phones, tablets, laptops, computers and other gadgets.
Friends of Earth Netherlands, an environmental group fighting for sustainable sourcing of tin, said they are targeting Microsoft for “refusing to take steps to end irresponsible mining practices on Bangka and Belitung islands.” Asus, HTC and Huawei are other brands named by the group using tin sourced unethically.
“Big brands such as Apple, Philips and LG openly support projects to produce tin in a better way. It is unacceptable that other brands still refuse to follow this lead and take responsibility. They have been made aware Bangka-Belitung islands are being destroyed and miners are dying every week. All brands use tin from Bangka-Belitung since a third of global tin production comes from these Indonesian islands,” said FoE campaigner Evert Hassink.
The group has launched an online petition against Microsoft. “We ask people to support our petition. In the Netherlands we will be collecting signatures on the streets and at festivals. We will take direct action against Microsoft,” Hassink said.
On Thursday, FoE targeted Microsoft’s Amsterdam office, confronting employees over the difference between their working conditions and those of tin miners in Indonesia.
Microsoft, however, said it’s committed to responsible production of its hardware and packaging, including the raw materials used in making them. Brian Tobey, corporate vice president for manufacturing, supply chain and information services at Microsoft, said in a statement to the Guardian: “We have reecently formalised our values and approach to responsible sourcing through Microsoft’s responsible sourcing of raw materials policy, to extend our positive influence to the furthest reaches of our upstream supply chain.”
Tobey said Microsoft is in touch with FoE to share the approach. “On 2 June we will publish a Conflict Minerals report which will disclose the number of tin smelters and refineries in our upstream supply chain, including those in Indonesia. The report will include maps showing the locations of all confirmed mines and smelters or refiners identified in our raw materials supply chain.”
Nokia, which is now part of Microsoft, is already a signatory to the Tin Working Group, a public-private partnership that includes campaign groups like FoE, Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, businesses and Indonesian government, working together to improve the sustainability of tin production in Indonesia.
Bangka has population of over a million and tin mining is a major source of revenue. According to government figures 44,202 metric tons of tin was mined in 2012. The revenue tin mining generates in Bangka-Belitung province is estimated to be over £42m. But regulation is weak and many mines are illegal and in some cases even employing children.
A Guardian and FoE investigation in 2012 highlighted how unregulated tin mining was devastating the environment and killing an estimated 150 miners every year. The investigation also revealed child labour was being used to extract tin from the island which was sourced by major brands. In 2013 Samsung admited its phones may contain tin mined by children and launched its own investigation into how its supply chain was procuring tin for the company’s products.
FoE’s previous campaign, Make It Better, called for Europe-wide legislation that would require companies to report on their products’ full human and social impacts – from accidents and pollution to how much water, land and raw materials they use.
“Bangka has more or less turned into one big mining pit. Off shore tin mining is also rampant. Suction ships and bucket dredgers are killing marine life and destroying coral reefs,” Hassink said.
The Indoneisan government had passed a bill to move people away from mining to agriculture, but it hasn’t had much success on the island. Environmental photographer Marten van Dijl who has extensively documented tin mining on Bangka said locals have no alternative.
“A lot of the people I spoke to said they would much rather do different work, because they realise they are destroying their island, and the work is dangerous. They see no alternative though, because prices of export products like rubber and pepper have plummeted. People can no longer earn the same amount of money for a day’s work as compared to mining,” Van Dijl said.
About 80% of the island’s population depends on mining, he said. “All small scale fishermen have turned to mining. Over the years, dredgers and suction ships owned by big mining companies have clouded the water and destroyed coral reefs off the coast, and as a result only larger fishingboats can still find fish. Mining has driven people away from their occupation, and made them miners.”
Tin is ubiquitous across technology products, used mainly as soldering alloy to hold components of mobile phones, laptops, desk computers and gaming consoles together.