Tin is everywhere. It’s in your food packaging, it’s in the machine you’re reading this on, and it’s in most other electric gadgets. A third of the world’s supply comes from two islands in Indonesia – idyllic places that are facing serious sustainability challenges.

Most people don’t associate ArcelorMittal with tin, but we’re one of the biggest buyers of the metal in the world. As we use it to line cans for food packaging, we use a significant volume. Like many other tin users, most of our supply comes from Bangka and Belitung islands in Indonesia.

The industry there has hit the headlines in recent years – and not for good reasons. Mining is increasingly happening offshore, where dredging is causing damage to reefs and marine life – and to the fishing industry. Large-scale mining has left pockets of land barren. And frequent informal mining, with small-scale miners hunting for tin in abandoned mines, is unsafe and hard to regulate. This is not a simple problem, as tin is an economic lifeline for many people on the islands, who have few alternatives for making a living. But it’s clear that something has to change.

Instead of just taking our business elsewhere, we decided to stay the course in Indonesia and use our influence to help make the tin industry there safer and more sustainable.

Tin Working Group
We joined the Tin Working Group (TWG) – a coalition of high profile consumer electronics brands, metal manufacturers, NGOs, and government and industry bodies – started by the IDH and now run by the Responsible Minerals Initiative. Powered by market influence, this group began to work closely with miners, local government and other stakeholders to understand the situation and co-create a pragmatic approach to change. As a result, we’ve launched a 2020 road map and identified key activities for the second phase of work. As part of this second phase, the TWG received a grant from the European Partnership for Responsible Minerals (EPRM) to support two pilot projects: one focused on the sustainable reclamation of mining land and one to improve health and safety among miners.

The group is very much about direct engagement with and support for smelters. The issues are complex: social, environmental, economic. We know that we need to collaborate with people on the ground – supply chain partners and other local stakeholders – to create practical solutions for lasting change, such as sustainable business models and alternative ways of making a living. The TWG has also shared tools like a business plan template for securing funding and an occupational health and safety guide through their website.

Better together
Relationships, understanding, engagement – these are the things we’ve been working on for the past three years as part of the TWG. We’re creating incentives for change: guides for companies to encourage more responsible sourcing, reasons for governments to create the right regulatory environment, support and alternative income sources for small-scale miners. Our role in the TWG has allowed us to spend time with stakeholders in Indonesia, working closely with them to shape a strategy that’s both practical and effective. It also helps us to show our suppliers how important sustainability is to ArcelorMittal.

What’s critical now is that we keep up the momentum of the working group in various ways. By using what we’ve learned from pilot projects to help smelters across these islands – helping to convince other miners and smelters to come on board to create change at scale. By creating pragmatic, stress-tested standards for all companies to follow. By having meaningful conversations with our suppliers – and supporting them in making better decisions.

And most of all, by continuing to use our influence and voice as a significant user of tin to work alongside the electronics industry in creating a more responsible supply – and a better life for the people of Bangka and Belitung.

“It’s not a simple issue, but, above all, we want to improve the lives and environment of people involved in the tin industry. This takes commitment and clear expectations from all stakeholders, and we’re very pleased to see change being driven locally with the support of the TWG.” Meera Pau Mehta, Corporate Responsibility Manager, ArcelorMittal