Children die mining the tin for your smartphone

Businessweek publishes a feature on the hazardous work performed by poor people on an island in Indonesia to mine "The Deadly Tin Inside Your Smartphone." Some of them are 15 and under.


  1. I like how the article singles out Apple for criticism (without evidence), but leaves the other companies – those that either won’t discuss or don’t have plans in place – relatively alone.

    Conflict-Free Sourcing of Extractives

    Apple’s commitment to social responsibility extends to the source of raw materials used in the manufacturing of our products. We require that our suppliers only use materials that have been procured through a conflict-free process and from sources that adhere to our standards of human rights and environmental protection.

    Apple is taking multiple steps to tackle this challenge. We are working with the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) in an industry-wide effort to train and certify smelters of these metals as being conflict-free through a rigorous independent third-party audit process aligned with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines. These audits include a comprehensive review of business and procurement systems as well as inspection of documentation of raw material purchases and inventory to ensure the absence of conflicted minerals. As the EICC/GeSI initiative completes smelter audits in tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold, we will require our suppliers to source from these conflict-free certified smelters.

    Apple was one of the first major electronics companies to completely map its supply chain in order to trace the materials used in our products back to their source. Since we began this effort, we have identified 218 Apple suppliers that use tantalum, tin, tungsten, or gold to manufacture components for Apple products and the 175 smelters they source from, broken out as shown in the following table.

    In partnership with fellow EICC and GeSI member companies, we are also working on an outreach program to train management at smelters about the need for conflict-free sourcing of raw materials and in the EICC/GeSI certification process. To date, more than 34 smelters have received onsite training and consultation through this endeavor.

    For additional information regarding the conflict-free smelter certification program, please reference; for more information regarding global guidelines, please consult

    1. I think that Apple catches a lot of the flack because their brand is extraordinarily high profile, and punches above its (already considerable) weight in the sort of demographics that are more likely to care about this sort of thing.

      Plus, by the standards of the world’s computer brands, it is substantially the most consumer focused. If phones are full of tin, you’d better believe that servers are; but Joe Public doesn’t buy servers or have the slightest awareness of who does or who he could lean on if he cared.

    2. Apple is the Wal*Mart of consumer electronics.  They represent such a massive chunk of business that they can largely set the terms they want, and wait for producers to scramble for their business.  In fact, they’re famous for throwing their weight around when negotiating for other terms – like better prices or manufacturing standards.

      But somehow when it comes to human rights, all they can muster is an anaemic committee to invent some official certification which we’re told will make everything ok.

      Apple could probably single-handedly end a lot of human rights abuses related to tin, coltan, and other materials, simply by making it a top priority in their negotiations.  But as long as it’s lower on the list than price, why should we expect any change?

      1. Really? Apple makes the majority of consumer electronics? You’re saying ahead of samsung, hp, foxconn, Nokia, Dell, Toshiba, Intel, LG, Cisco, Canon, Fujitsu, Quanta, Motorola, Hitachi, Sony, Ricoh, NEC, and Asus? Because my list seems to place them at #19, below those companies. So, what are those companies doing? And I don’t want you to provide some sort of anemic (sic) certification – I need you to provide real evidence. Tough challenge, isn’t it? But I’m sure you’re up to it because that’s what you’re demanding.

        1.  Apple has the most money and sells the most smart-phones, that gives them a pretty big stick to wave around

        2. I don’t think anyone claimed they made the majority of all consumer electronics, but they are a huge player.  Your source shows some good info, but it doesn’t distinguish between commercial providers and consumer ones.  For example, HP, listed as #1 on your list, is a major provider of commercial hardware, so is cisco, etc.  Also, many of those companies primarily manufacture components rather than end devices, like Intel or Samsung.  And of course, even if there is another company which is on top right now, look at the trend line: for the past two years, Apple’s hardware growth has far outstripped anyone else on the list.  There’s a good reason they’re always in the news – they’re a rising star.

          Obviously, other companies should be held accountable as well.  It is the entire system of quasi-imperialism based around foreign resource extraction which is the problem, not just one company, or even a list of companies.

          However, Apple is both complicit in this process and their market strength gives them the power to stop.  And because they’re so heavily oriented towards direct-to-consumer marketing, they are particularly susceptible to this kind of pressure.  So it makes sense to try to get them to change first.  And it certainly doesn’t make sense to defend them with the justification that someone else somewhere is doing worse.

  2. Oh, another Apple official document with a tiny apple on the top right corner! How credible that makes it!

  3. Tin is probably among the most common (possibly copper, depending on the circuit design, or steel if you count cases) metals in virtually any electronics.

    Classic tin/lead solder is what it sounds like(usually 60/40 mix, sometimes 50/50). Newer lead free solders tend to be even heavier on the tin, with a rather broader cast of supporting characters, since most of the lead replacements are more expensive than lead and require some mixing to get good properties.

    Unless you are using some fairly esoteric electronics, you can rest assured that if it plugs into the wall or accepts batteries, it has a decent bit of tin in it. 

    1. My company makes solder sold to all the aforementioned electronics companies’ for use in these products, and none of them use Sn/Pb solder, because in the countries these are produced in Sn/Pb solders are banned. Sn/Pb solder is basically used ONLY in the US. All the solders used in these products are Sn/Ag and Sn/Ag/Cu, virtually always with a Sn content higher than 95%.

      That said, we at least, get very little of our Sn from Indonesia. 

  4. I’m offended but relieved by that headline. I don’t have a smart phone, but that means BoingBoing isn’t tracking me.

  5. Obviously, it’s not just phones.

    The next time you see some piece of imported work that is so impossibly cheap it had to have been made with abusive labor practices, remember that’s because it was made with abusive labor practices.

    There is no cheap microwave, TV or smartphone that doesn’t include human tears.

    1. too true. Including the tears of those who used to be paid 10 times as much to make them before, tears when their job got outsourced and their livelihood shattered.

  6. And yet for all the consumer guilt and horror this evokes, consumer electronics will continue to be made and the world’s poor will continue to labor in mines.

    If we’re lucky, perhaps a few American-influenced companies will listen to popular American sentiment and ensure their materials are coming from non-abusive sources, but the net results will be small. Most of developing Asia will still buy from the abusive sources, and their mine workers will continue to suffer the abuses.

    Why? Because it pays too damn well. We’re not talking about slaves or conscripted workers, we’re talking about capitalism doing what it does best. The victims become miners because it pays well, comparatively. High risk, (comparative) high reward. They’d rather take their chances in the mines and come away with enough money to provide for themselves and their family than work safer jobs with lower pay. A sweatshop is steady, miserable work but it doesn’t offer up the money that a mine does. And even when a “safe” mine (there are no safe mines, period) is available to work for, it is likewise less attractive because the extra safety comes at a financial cost which reduces wages.

    Small changes, small consumer demands, they do nothing. The problem is inherent to Capitalism. It does not – it CANNOT – provide for people fairly and adequately. It requires too many checks and balances to operate without the instability and oscillation which result in human suffering due to market failure. It also requires constant growth, which is simply unsustainable. It also promotes the accumulation of wealth at the top of the spectrum, which is likewise unsustainable. And it also makes no allowances for those who are unwilling or unable to compete – the infirm and incapable are simply left to the mercy of others, a mercy which is counterproductive to offer in this system, in that individuals caring for the infirm are less able to compete for their own sakes.

    The miners are not simply the victims of unscrupulous businessmen. They are the victims of an economic model which is inherently flawed, and which operates on the very level of cutthroat competition. For one party to be enriched, another must be impoverished. Limited resources, unlimited greed.

    And the end result is this – people are somehow shocked and amazed to hear about the human suffering being caused by a system that is lubricated by the blood, sweat, and tears of those who fail to compete.

    1. oh, they compete all right. Capitalist competition is fractal, with no bottom. Just read the Bolivian news, on how local cooperatives fight each other for the privilege to be the ones leaving *their* blood on the rock.

  7. a rather sophomoric, cheap take on a real issue, because smartphones are so the fashion. Tin is used in SO many things, smartphones being just a minor consumer

    FYI, in Bolivia (where I come from) mining of tin is worse, if possible. To begin with, most mining is done by so called “cooperatives”. Members in such common-interest-groups want to get as much product as fast as they can. Safety equipment, if available, is seldom used -> it would lower productivity. No age restriction exists, as long as you can work. Only males allowed inside the mine – not for any care for the weaker sex, but for a real and accurate belief that women bring bad luck (sorry, not my opinions precisely, but we have to respect the local’s beliefs, don’t we? in this Kumbaya Year of The Science of 2012). Women work their share outside, and little kids too, separating by hand mineral-rich rock.

    Because the current government loves the poor, then the established mining companies, the ones that are required to use safety equipment, are getting kicked out. Only cooperatives remain, and those, since they are made up by the same freedom-loving people that the government likes, do not need any inspections, do they? Also, since we all die someday, maintenance is not necessary, any complicated equipment falls in disrepair, and it’s what we can take right now that counts. Environmental impact? of course none, none that needs accounting. Retirement? Health insurance? you must be joking, right? If you don’t like it, you may go plant coca in the tropical lands, there’s some bozos that will pay you a lot for it!

    Because there are grievous taxes for export, a lot of the  mineral is taken through the border in a de-facto common market, and then exported from Chile as it were production from there (similar as with a lot of the quinua that makes it to the North).

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