Prices for tin—the metal scraped out of Indonesian mudpits by men and teenage boys who are regularly killed in mudslides, and turned into the solder that holds your precious smartphone and tablet components together—are jumping, as inventories of the the metal have tumbled to levels not seen since last March (paywall). It’s partly because heavy rains have cut exports and production from Indonesia, traditionally one of the largest suppliers of tin to the world.
But another reason is that regional governments in Indonesia want a bigger slice of the tin profits pie. The country’s constitutional court recently ruled that regional governments would get greater power in designating mining areas, raising the prospect that the supply of tin could get more difficult to ensure. Bloomberg reports:
“By decentralizing the licensing power, the number of decision makers will increase, coordination between parliament and regencies or provinces will likely become more difficult and time consuming,” Xavier Jean, Singapore-based associate director of corporate ratings at Standard & Poor’s, said by e- mail today. “This could potentially reactivate the uncertainty on the strength and quality of the mining licenses and concession areas, keeps the risk of litigation well alive.”
Prices for metals like tin are such a tiny part of the cost of your phone that even if they keep going up, you’re unlikely to feel it. Still, it’s always interesting to keep an eye on the ingredients that we rely on, even if we don’t know we rely on them.