Tin is a key basic element of building electronics. And the civilized world has developed a huge, huge taste for personal electronics. Tablet computers, smartphones, we even still buy laptops by the millions. The tin goes into the solder that puts these electronics together.
And it comes from tin mines, many of which are in the Third World and apparently where “workplace safety” is defined as “dying of something else before your job kills you.”
Business Week has a lengthy in-depth look at the truly miserable conditions that the solder in your personal electronics comes from and it’s… well… it starts with a man having his legs crushed in a mine collapse and goes from there.
The trail from the dangerous mines to the leading names in electronics, including Foxconn Technology Group (HNHPF), the biggest manufacturer for Apple (AAPL) and others, is clear. Shenmao Technology and Chernan Metal Industrial—two of the top solder makers in Asia, both suppliers to Foxconn—say they buy 100 percent of their tin from Indonesia. Shenmao estimates it’s the dominant supplier of solder to China, the cradle of electronics manufacturing, and accounts for 16 percent of the global market.
Yep, just when you thought China couldn’t get more awful in the human rights department, it turns out to be encouraging horrible human rights abuses elsewhere in the world. Essentially, the problem is that there’s a huge demand for tin, but most of it is easy to find in tiny islands on Indonesia that have no sort of regulation or policing. They’re so hard up that they dig the tin out by hand.
They do this for the equivalent of $5 a day, just in case you won’t feeling terrible enough already. What can you do? Honestly… not much. But at least if you’re aware of it, you can act accordingly.
image via GlennFleishman on Flickr