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Tin has hit the headlines quite a few times in the last few years – it’s one of the metals covered...

Sustainable tin in Indonesia: the value of patience and partnership

Tin has hit the headlines quite a few times in the last few years – it’s one of the metals covered by legislation on conflict metals, because much of it has been sourced in the past from the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding areas. However, tin is now the focus of our attention for a different reason, this time related to Indonesia, where we buy most of the tin we use to line steel cans for food packaging. So it’s a concern for our packaging customers too.

Tin mining is a big part of the Indonesian economy, and the country badly needs both the jobs it provides and the investment in the surrounding community. But it has its issues: Indonesia has a large population of small-scale miners, many of whom work in conditions which are unsafe or environmentally unsustainable. We could have decided to buy our tin somewhere else, but we decided not to, believing that the right approach was to stay in Indonesia and help improve the industry, which could bring sustainable development benefits for local tin mining communities.

We know it’s easier to make positive changes when companies and civil society work together, which is why we joined the tin working group led by the IDH sustainable tin initiative. Other members include Tata Steel, Apple, Samsung, Sony, Blackberry, and Philips, as well as industry bodies and Friends of the Earth. The Working Group brings all these organisations together, and it’s collaborating with governments, NGOs and the miners themselves to find a better way forward.

The issues here are social, environmental, and economic. They won’t be solved overnight and the first steps are simply preparing the ground for change. A major piece of work was done in 2013 to assess the scope of the problems in the industry, and in 2016 we plan to launch a five-year plan for sustainable tin mining. This has taken a long time to achieve, because the issues are complex and relationships needed to be built first. But the long-term results will be better having done it this way, because it means that the leadership and ownership will come from local people.

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