Phone makers admit links to unsustainable tin

Sony, Motorola, Nokia and other leading electronics companies have acknowledged that their mobile phones may contain tin from dangerous and polluting mines in Indonesia

Following a campaign from Friends of the Earth, Blackberry, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia and Sony have joined Samsung in revealing that it is possible their suppliers are using tin source from Bangka Island, where mines were responsible for 44 deaths in 2011 and serious environmental damage.

Indonesia is the world’s second largest exporter of tin and the vast majority of the metal is sourced from Bangka and its sister island Belitung, where mining activities have resulted in deforestation and damage to coral reefs surrounding the islands.

The six phone makers have released statements confirming that while they don’t source tin directly from Bangka-Belitung, they are aware that their suppliers are or might be using metal from the islands.

Sony revealed that a survey of its supply chain found some of its suppliers “had used tin from Bangka Island to make parts or materials for use in mobile phones”.

Meanwhile, LG Electronics, Samsung, Motorola and Nokia confirm that they cannot rule out the possibility that tin from Banka-Belitung is in their supply chains.

The electronics manufacturers confirm that they are taking action to better understand where tin is being sourced by their suppliers, and working with sector-wide initiatives to improve the sustainability of mining in the region, through the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Sustainable Trade Initiative, for example.

LG Electronics is also developing a new system to enable better traceability of the materials used in products. “By the end of this year, all of our third-party suppliers who source 3TG metals (tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold) will have been trained to use the new system,” it states.

Friends of the Earth’s director of policy and campaigns, Craig Bennett, welcomed the manufacturers’ statements, but argued new legislation was needed to force companies to report more widely on their environmental impacts.

“To prevent problems elsewhere and help companies identify risks and inefficiencies in production, we're calling for new laws in Europe requiring them to reveal the full human and environmental impacts of their operations,” he said.

Author: 

Sarah-Jayne Russell was the deputy editor of the environmentalist from March 2011 until June 2014.

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