back to article Is your Apple gadget made of human misery and eco-ruin?

Apple has sent a squad of eco-warriors to a far-flung Indonesian island on a mission to find out whether its devices are full of tin from mines which destroy the environment and kill their workers. The fruity firm said its team embarked upon a "fact-finding visit" to Bangka Island to see whether its suppliers source their tin …


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  1. LarsG


    How many people really care about this?

    Are they just playing to a non existant audience?

    Does anyone really buy a mobile/gadget by first researching if it is Eco OK?

    1. Tim Roberts 1

      Re: ?

      Sadly, you are correct. The more common reasons are probably:

      - is it new?

      - is it shiny?

      - have my friends got one?

      - am I being told I need one?

      - can I show it off at the pub?

      - if I don't pay my leccy bill, can I afford one?

      - do the kids need to eat next weeK?

      and others I'm sure, but eco-friendly? not on your nelly!

    2. g e

      Re: ?

      Quite possibly FotE not feeling relevant enough so generating some noise to remind people they exist, too

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ?

      Well I for one really care if Apple (and maybe others) are possibly contributing to the irresponsible rape of the Earth's limited natural resources purely for the sake of their shareholder's profit. Are you saying that you don't give a damn about it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Are you saying that you don't give a damn about it?

        Yea pretty much.

        To be honest I wouldn't be bothered if they used the skin from their backs to make a chic case.

        As long as they cleaned it first, obviously.

      2. Charles Manning

        So how much do you actually care?

        We just see Apple in the article, the same as we always hear about iphones causing problems. These are really just iconic stand-ins for the industry in general. FotE just knows they won't get as many clicks if they talk about others.

        Exactly the same impacts are caused by all similar electronic products be those Samsung, Apple, or Nokia. They all use the same base resources which are commoditised and come from the same few mines and are made in similar factories.

        Claiming to care about the impact of electronics, while using said electronics does seem a bit hypocritical.

        1. Robert Forsyth

          Re: So how much do you actually care?

          But in the past, Apple were one of the last big companies to clean up their manufacturing.

          And saying Apple is just a design company, doesn't cut it - a relation of mine is a designer and he cares deeply about the ease of manufacture and the impact on the environment.

    4. returnmyjedi

      I care

      Apple's rather patchy record on using conflict materials, child labour and workers suicides is always a handy way of swiping the smug sense of self satisfaction that most iDevice users wear upon their faces.

    5. Flywheel

      Re: ?

      It's a bit like Uzbekistan cotton - another ethical dilemma (for some). try Googling it.

  2. jake Silver badge

    Can anyone show me that ...

    iFads, Fandroids and Crackberries are NOT built by third-world sweat-shops?

    Just askin' ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can anyone show me that ...

      Can anyone show me that iFads, Fandroids and Crackberries are NOT built by third-world sweat-shops?

      No, which is why someone going in there are checking it out is IMHO a good thing. I don't care what the reason is, that it happens is good. Let's hope other manufacturers are shamed in following suit.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Can anyone show me that ...

      Well Nook's tablets weren't, until their announcement last week.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

    Apple 1976 - ?

  4. Robert E A Harvey

    All gadgets

    "Is your Apple gadget made of human misery and eco-ruin?"

    I can't see that Apple are any different in this regard than anyone else. You can go and buy a reasonable quality socket set (in a nasty blown plastic case) for a couple of hours wages. When I started work it would have been a couple of months wages.

    When I was brining up my girls a school uniform would have cost us a few hundred pounds. Now, decades of inflation later, you can get one from Tesco for a tenner. They are not made by the school uniform fairy.

    This is a major success of capitalism (I nearly wrote crapitalism) and a major failing of society.

    1. monkeyfish

      Re: All gadgets

      True, but if your going to drum up some sort of public outrage/support for your cause etc. then your better off going for a high profile company like Apple than anyone else. Especially when their adverts are all, like, we make stuff that makes you happy and, like, your life better and stuff.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All gadgets

      Partly true...

      But while things are cheaper, it has not made the poor any better off really... just their income is spent differently.. it would be an interesting analysis of house hold expenditure 30 years ago for an average family compared to a modern family...

    3. andreas koch

      @ Robert E A Harvey - Re: All gadgets

      While I do agree that it's a failing of society, it won't be a failing for ever. Cheap labour in unhealthy places has, historically, worked itself out after a while.

      These dangerous, underpaid jobs are, more often than not, the only ones that provide any income to the local population. Standards rise from there: wages and working conditions get better, just not instantly.

      Exploitation is wrong, but it is, I'm afraid, in most cases the starting point of a rise to a better working place.

      I don't think that there has ever been an industry anywhere or anywhen that began with ideal pay and H&S rules. It'd be nice, but businesses won't start anything for altruism.

      Sounds awful, but nowadays the move should be, due to better communications, much faster. This we see here; we should rather be happy that it's quite likely getting better soon than sad that it's bad now.

      It's not an Apple, Samsung or Foxconn story, just history.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ Robert E A Harvey - All gadgets

        "Standards rise from there: wages and working conditions get better, just not instantly."


        Do a little research on West Papua how the new "improved" indonesia is affecting them.

        Or how the new richer Borneo is affecting the Jungle dwellers.

        (I could carry one for hours)

        So I'll ammened.

        "Standards rise from there, for those that are lucky enough to be in power,while the others killed, have their lifestyles crushed out of existance, or are forced into a life of abject poverty due to their refusal to bow the "improved" way of life."

        1. andreas koch

          @ AC 0919 GMT - Re: @ Robert E A Harvey - All gadgets

          So you don't mean 'Depends', you mean 'not at all'. Fair enough, you don't agree, but we're talking apples and pears here. I wrote ". . . get better, just not instantly". Maybe I should have specified a time frame. I'm talking ~50 years here (at the increased rate due to better communications).

          What is the original lifestyle of a people? I'm not sure from where you hail, but I'll try and see if I can give an example:

          If you're from Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa or Oceania, your traditional lifestyle should be hunter/ gatherer (together with a lot of running away from wildlife that wants to eat you and dying because you got gangrene from the little thorn in your finger.). Most people have left that for some other means of survival and are generally quite happy about it.

          You, on the other hand, pick a random snapshot of civilisational stage that you personally like and declare that as benchmark. That's no better than the old folks sitting in god's waiting room saying how everything was better when they were young. Things change. Not always necessarily for the better, I do agree. But things will change, nonetheless. And you, mate, should be glad to live in these our modern times, because otherwise you wouldn't have any chance to voice your opinion. You'd probably stand in a wet piece of fen near Spalding, freezing your toes off while you watch your single, undernourished cow improve the soil.

      2. cortland

        Re: @ Robert E A Harvey - All gadgets

        -- Cheap labour in unhealthy places has, historically, worked itself out died after a while. --


    4. Great Bu

      Re: All gadgets

      @Robert E A Harvey.....

      "I nearly wrote crapitalism" - fair enough, but you did write - "I was brining up my girls a school uniform" - it is important to make sure the kids' uniforms are properly salty....... :)

  5. Peter Storm

    I love the smell of troll bait in the morning!

  6. keithpeter Silver badge


    No, not just Apple, most electronics is manufactured from materials that are possibly hazardous and possibly sourced from places that are not like the UK (shall we say).

    This situation links in with the slow draining away of 'livable wage' jobs from the Western/Developed world.

    My pathetic gesture of defiance of these structural changes is to use recycled electronics where possible (keeps the heavy metals out of landfill/'recycling' by children in hot countries for a bit longer).

    I have a nice stereo, a decent laptop (X200s thinkpad) and a servicable if ancient desktop (an old HP Xeon workstation from 2005, which does everything I currently need it to). I did by a blackberry curve new, and see no real reason to change it for shinyness until it stops working.

    So, yes, good for Apple for at least responding. If Ive turned his considerable talents to designing a tablet and laptop that could be recycled and upgraded long term by changing parts while still being size zero, I'd be well impressed.

    The tramp: because we all are really when you think it through.

  7. Lallabalalla

    Is your Apple gadget made of human misery and eco-ruin?

    An alternative title might be: "Apple starts to take more responsibility for another part of their operation".

    Not exactly catchy, and we can all read between the lines.

    A worse one might be "We TOLD you, over and over again, that your source of tin was killing hundreds of people and wreaking environmental havoc and you STILL don't care, but continue to take the money and line your golden nests with it".

  8. ukgnome

    Do people care?

    Well with a tiny bit of research the answer is YES (sort of)

    However the Android fairphone is never going to set the sky on fire with it's specification (probably a good thing, sky fire is bad m'kay)

  9. Flywheel

    Makes you wonder

    .. why they don't go to Afghanistan? Apart from that naughty poppy crop it sees they have an incredible amount of mineral wealth tucked under all that arid landscape, including tin

    After all, it's about time we had some payback for all the hard work and expense of subduing and liberating these people!

  10. Tim Worstal


    Tin mining on Bangka is actually pretty responsible. The ores there are cassiterite (which all commercially used tin ore is) in the sand. So, you scoop up the sand, use a bit of water flotation separation (easy technique) and extract the cassiterite and dump the sand back where you got it from.

    This is a much, much, more environmentally friendly method of tin ore extraction than the hard rock mining common in other parts of the world.

    Essentially, there's a huge tin belt across SE Asia. Back when sea levels were lower the erosion of the local mountains led to the tin trapped in the local rocks (usually some form of granite) being washed down into the sands of the river bottoms. The movement of water (and more specifically, eddies and the like) acted as natural concentrators. The cassiterite has a different density to the other parts of the what was once rock and is now powder. In a really rich ore bed you can see the cassiterite in the sand: looks like ripples of different colours.

    Now that sea levels have risen some of these deposits are under shallow seas, some are in the river bottoms, some are, as happens with silt, underneath layers of earth deposited in more recent times.

    This is a very low energy method of mining tin: certainly much better than trying to crush up the original mountains to extract it.

    The Malay, Burma etc tin industries have all been based on this resource. As is true in Banka.

    Now, what is also true is that the people in Bangka are dirt poor. That $50 a month type of poverty. So the mining is largely done with human labour, not with large amounts of mechanisation. As ever, using lots of human labour leads to accidents and deaths. So does being poor of course.

    It would certainly be possible to mechanise this mining. Trivially simple in fact: it was done decades ago only a few hundred miles north. But if you do mechanise it then pretty much all of the people currently making their living from mining get fired.

    So, whaddayagonnado?

  11. PJI


    Just how far back down the manufacturing/supply chain must each link go? When I go to the market to buy some fruit or vegetables, am I responsible if one of the N middlemen used, say, an under-aged child worker to clean, wrap, pack or carry the goods?

    Is the end customer of that latest Android guilty because a mine providing some mineral used in its manufacture, that possibly I did not even know was in that device, has some (by European standards) unacceptable employment or environmental standards? Apple, in this case, commissions some firm in XYZ to make hardware to its designs. That factory puts out a commission to some other supplier for chips or glass or whatever. That supplier .... until it gets back to the mine, that may in turn employ subcontractors. Added to this there are transport firms, polluting with cheap diesel or making their drivers work too long for too little ....

    Come on, it's easy to shout at the big name. Why not shout at us for demanding ever faster, ever cleverer gadgets that cause the manufacture and mining?

    Seems to me no so different from that character, in another Register article, suing Apple for his pornography-related problems (why not the makers and distributors?).

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: Umm

      This is a fascinating question. One reading of Dodd Frank (the law governing this reporting) is that only manufacturers need care. If you merely assemble off the shlf parts from another manufacturer then you don't have to bother at all.

      And solder is an off the shelf part. Capacitors (over tantalum) are off the shelf parts. So Apple doesn't have to give a damn.

      Needless to say, the NGOs don't agree: but that is my reading of that law.

      1. Gannon (J.) Dick

        Re: Umm

        My reading of the Law of Parsimony is that if Apple did not take steps to prevent the possibility of 'human misery and eco-ruin' in Product Development and are not now able to point to those precautions as proof of competency then they are nothing but greedy assho... Siri, help me out here, I seem to be holding my credulity wrong.

  12. Euripides Pants

    Tin? In Apple Products?!

    Surely no Apple Product would have something as mundane a tin inside! They most certainly are crafted from such ethereal materials as space pleather, antimatter and unicorn bladders (dried).

    1. Gannon (J.) Dick

      Re: Tin? In Apple Products?!

      A missing half a HiGGs Boson would certainly explain the 4G service, but if I say more I am risking a lawsuit.

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