One third of the world’s tin production comes from two Indonesian islands, Bangka and Belitung. Decades of tin production have a severe negative social and environmental impact on both islands.Triodos is challenging companies to improve tin mining practices.

What is tin used for?

More than half of the world’s tin is used by the electronics industry to solder transistors, chips and other devices in products such as mobile phones and laptops, flat screens, and electronics equipment in cars. Tin is also used for other purposes such as coating steel cans to prevent corrosion, as well as in the production of glass and chemical substances. 

Sourcing in Bangka-Belitung 

Indonesia is the world’s second biggest tin producer after China with nearly 100,000 tons refined tin exported annually. Some 90% of that production is sourced from the province of Bangka-Belitung, which consists of two large islands and many small ones. Tin production is a highly important source of income for the province, which has one of the lowest poverty rates in the country. The mining in Bangka-Belitung is both onshore and offshore and is dominated by one large state-owned company, PT Timah. This company runs the world’s third largest tin smelting operation processing 30,000 tons a year. There are also around 30 independent smelters sourcing from own concessions and small-scale artisanal tin miners. The number of these independent miners is estimated between 15,000 and 50,000. Tin can also be made from recycled sources, with the pure tin recycling rate estimated to be 8 per cent, and mixtures with tin some 30 to 40 per cent.

Devastating impact

The intensity of tin mining and the uncontrolled, irresponsible way it has been carried out has had a devastating effect on the local environment and the biological diversity in Bangka-Belitung. Agriculture and fishing areas are polluted or have been sacrificed altogether. Protected forests have been destroyed and critical marine ecosystems such as Bangka’s coral reefs have been severely affected. The social consequences are also a major concern, such as inaccessibility to clean drinking water and accidental miner deaths. On average, one miner dies every week.

Indonesian Tin Working Group

Following the publication of a report  by Friends of the Earth on these controversial practices in November 2012, the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative IDH initiated an Indonesian Tin Working Group (TWG). The purpose of the TWG is to support Indonesian Government, businesses and civil society efforts, to better formalize Indonesian tin production, make it economically beneficial for local communities, and to reduce negative social and environmental impacts. The group is now seeking commitment from local government and industry, and is exploring the possibilities of rewarding local companies for improved sustainable mining. It is also collaborating closely with local mining and smelting companies to develop best practice processes.

Philips takes its responsibility

The success of this working group heavily depends on the participation of companies. Philips is one of the largest companies in the Netherlands that sources tin from this region. Philips was one of the first companies to join this initiative, partly thanks to the successful engagement efforts lead by Triodos in collaboration with other investors. Five other major electronics companies and Friends of the Earth have also joined Philips in the initiative. Triodos continues to closely monitor the efforts in Bangka-Belitung, and together with other investors it aims to engage and encourage more companies to take part in the TWG.
Note: The issues explored in this article are relevant for sustainable investments on the stock market. Triodos Bank believes that our socially responsible investments are a powerful means of promoting our values and working for greater sustainability, while enabling us to offer a complete range of attractive investment options to customers who choose to invest on the stock market.