Apple has noted on its Supplier Responsibility website that it is investigating the mines it uses to produce metallic tin for its products. A Friends of The Earth campaign may have prompted the investigation, over concerns the tin may be being sourced in illegal, unregulated, and thus dangerous and environment-damaging mines on Indonesia’s Bangka Island. Tin is used by nearly 250 of Apple’s sub-suppliers to make components and solder for Apple hardware–just as it is for components of nearly all consumer electronics.
Bangka has been a controversial tin source forever. In an expose last year Businessweek reported about underage workers and noted the death rate of about one worker a week in 2011 was twice that in 2010. Apple, as part of an earlier supplier responsibility investigation, said that it had sourced its tin supplies which came from 58 of the world’s refineries. The new investigation should shed more light on the matter.
Apple has been serious about investigating illegal activities among its suppliers in recent years, including previous allegations that underage workers were used in sub-contracting factories. Samsung, Apple’s biggest direct rival, has faced similar allegations of worker abuse. It has already traced some of its tin supplies to Bangka Island and sent its own team to look at the allegations of illegal mining.
Targeting Apple and Samsung is a PR maneuver by Friends of the Earth because of the media impact of these two firms. But to put the situation in context for hundreds of years, Bangka has been one of the world’s dominant tin-producing locations, and tin–particularly when used in solder–is utilized by literally every piece of electronics ever made from doorbell buttons to military hardware.