Tin Men

Thousands of Indonesians armed with plastic scoops, pick axes and jerry cans work to find tin each day on Bangka Island – just off the eastern coast of Sumatra — extracting the tin that becomes the solder that binds components in the world’s tablet computers, smartphones, and other electronics.

About one-third of all the tin mined in the world now comes from Bangka, its sister island Belitung to the east – both just off the eastern coast of Sumatra — and the seabeds off the islands’ shores. Almost half of all tin is made into solder for the electronics such as smartphones, tablet computers like iPads and flat-screen TVs.

Much of this on-shore and off-shore mining in Bangka is, in theory, illegal but global demand drives the trade. Tin was discovered on Bangka centuries ago and sizeable mining started under the Dutch who used labourers from southern China, particularly the Hakkas.

Today, Bangka is the heart of production of Indonesian tin which has become more important as companies turn away from sourcing materials from Africa amid controversy over “conflict minerals” from Africa’s war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo being used in their products. Buying Indonesian tin is quick and “conflict-free”, solder makers say.

– Sim Chi Yin , 2014, Bangka Island, Indonesia