Laptops and netbooks

Free shopping guide to Laptops & Netbooks, from Ethical Consumer

Free shopping guide to Laptops & Netbooks, from Ethical Consumer


This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings

 

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Best Buys

as of March/April 2011


As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the scorecard may have changed since this report was written.


Our Best Buy advice combines the total score on the corporate responsibility ranking table above with information from other areas of this report including: conflict minerals policy, supply chain workers’ rights policies, elimination of PVC and BFRs and greener products.

Best Buys for laptops and netbooks will be second hand where possible.

For new laptops, Best Buys will be:
ACER Travelmate Timeline 8172T, 8372T, 8472T and 8572 (around £700);
ASUS UL30A (£500);
HP Envy 13 (£900), HP ProBook 4320, 4520, 4720 (from £500), HP EliteBook 8440p/w, 8540p/w and 8740w, 2540p, 2740p (from £800).

Best Buys for new netbooks is the HP Mini range (£300). The 5103 model came fourth in Greenpeace’s Green Electronics Survey.

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Taking IT seriously



Jane Turner and Rob Harrison help you navigate your way through all the ethical issues involved in buying a computer. Additional research by Tim Hunt, Leonie Nimmo, Jo Southall and Bryony Moore.

 

The personal computer sits triumphant at the apex of modern consumer capitalism. It is probably the most complex single item that most of us have in our homes. More than two thousand materials are used in the production of the microchip alone – just one of the many components in each machine.(1) Each of these materials – many of them toxic – will have been mined or processed somewhere on the planet by other businesses.

Trying to make ethical decisions amidst all this complexity is a daunting task. Fortunately, in the four years since Ethical Consumer last looked at the computer industry, the number of civil society organisations working to address these issues has increased considerably. Whilst people are still a long way from being able to systematically measure and manage all the impacts of personal computer (PC) manufacture, campaigners have at least identified and focussed their energies on the most urgent areas.

In this Buyers' Guide we have therefore identified these and compiled extended sections looking at four main areas:
Greenpeace and its success at reducing toxic chemicals
Mining of conflict minerals
Energy use and greener PCs
Campaigns addressing workers' rights in manufacture

Our company tables and scores take into account these and other issues and our Best Buy advice tries to balance the scores with these four most urgent concerns.

All this civil society activity appears to be having some effect – with transparency and reporting on social responsibility issues improving (albeit inconsistently) across the sector. Apple is perhaps the best example of this. The brilliant but spoilt child of computer manufacture had built a reputation of disdain for the general trend towards corporate social responsibility. However, as a result of high profile campaigning this has changed over the last few years, and its transparency – though still idiosyncratic – is now amongst the best. These changes, whilst welcome, are not the same as saying that the industry is, in any sense, humane or sustainable yet. We look specifically at one factory in China (where some of our Best Buys are made), which shows how much remains to be done.

The second point to be made is that, although regulatory and consumer interventions are helping to drive a reduction in the impact of each PC, there is a trend towards more than one PC in each household. Even if we halve the impact of use, if we more than double the number we have, then the overall impact is growing rather than falling.

 


Cultural pessimism?


"Perhaps the most disturbing environmental impact of computers, however, is the way they displace reality. Instead of the infinitely complex and genuine world of animals, plants and human beings, we are presented with a rarified and simplified virtual world that, however fascinating, is illusory...The hours and days spent on the computer are hours and days subtracted from our real lives – from real love and real adventure, and also from real heartache and real sorrow. Not only are they unreal; our computer lives are not the ones we dreamed of. When we think of the lives we really want to live, when we picture our heroes, we don't imagine them spending their days sitting at a computer. Nor when we come to die will many of us look back and regret that we didn't spend more of our time staring at a video screen."
John Nolt, Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.(2)

Profoundly impacting almost all aspects of work and leisure, the way people spend their waking hours has been transformed by the PC revolution in as little as twenty years. There is inevitably, and properly, some concern about where all this is leading. The New York Times recently reflected on a report that the "average person spends 8.5 hours a day in front of a screen" and the Daily Telegraph in the UK worried that "Children spend 7 hours 38 minutes a day online".(3)However, it is a mistake to ignore the actual activities going on. If one person's 8 hours were broken down, they might look like this: 2 hours spent reading/learning; 1 hour spent shopping; 3 hours spent working/selling; 2 hours chatting with friends or playing. Looked at this way, it doesn't look too different to what humans have been doing for hundreds of years.

And the advantages of doing all this on computers are profound in that they allow us to have far more varied and complex interactions with people around us. On a remote Scottish island, for example, I can in theory communicate instantly with individuals all over the globe, either individually or with hundreds at a time – all in a very controlled and safe environment. There is actually very little real cultural pessimism around concerning computer use – and hundreds more people going online every day.

There are three real disadvantages though. The first is the sustainability of all this activity – the subject of moving global production onto a more sustainable path through our buying choices is the main focus of this report.

The second disadvantage is that there is emerging evidence that the sedentary nature of all this online interaction may (unsurprisingly) have negative health effects. A recent publication in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that spending more than four hour a day of leisure time in front of a TV or computer increased the risk of hospitalisation from heart disease twofold.(4)

 


The digital divide


The third disadvantage is that, as more and more human activity migrates online, the potential inequalities in society become more extreme. There are three main areas of concern here. A recent UK study showed that 25% of households had no PC and 29% no internet connection. This corresponded to 2 million children without internet access in an age where the correlation between owning home PCs and good educational qualifications were rising.(5)
The second social group where there are clear disadvantages in an increasingly online culture is older people. When we raised this issue in our email (!) newsletter recently, Rose Stockwell explained her position:

"Both my 90 year old parents run their lives, with increasing difficulty, without computers. Their banks keep telling them they can run their accounts online and get text messages on their mobile phones updating them on things. Additionally the banks are talking about no longer having cheque books...This is just a taste of the number of people telling them to do things online, which of course they cannot.
Mum gets frustrated because so often the alternative is to ring a number which inevitably leads to 10 minutes of listening to options – many of which mean nothing to her. And to add insult to injury I heard someone suggesting the other day that perhaps grandchildren or children could use their computers to do things for the grandparents. However, some things – like money – are often private.I think it is essential that all services remain able to use non-computer as well as computer systems, both for older people and for the times when there are power cuts and hacking or other disruptions."

The third area of growing inequality is between rich western consumers and people in the Global South. At least 1.1 billion people are too poor to have access to this kind of technology.

 


Shifting power


As we mentioned above, computers are popular partly because they have increased the potential for human interactions exponentially. Indeed, amongst the pessimistic headlines in the Daily Telegraph recently we also discovered that: "Half of young people claim they are happiest online".(6)

Most common though are commentators who point out how computing and the internet have shifted the balance of power significantly from big companies to ordinary consumers and, on occasion, to the civil society organisations which operate on their behalf.

Recent attention has focussed on, for example, the organisation of direct actions against tax avoidance by UK Uncut on Facebook. Others have pointed to the success of the global email campaign specialist Avaaz – which has won campaigns on issues as diverse as corruption in Brazil and the persecution of homosexuality in Uganda. Indeed, Ethical Consumer itself is an organisation which would not have been possible without the PC. Even before the internet, PCs were central to building our databases of companies, producing our publications and managing our customer lists.

 


Collective buying


The final key to making consumer culture more sustainable lies in the hands of businesses and governments by looking at their own purchasing of computer equipment. The EPEAT standard, mandatory for procurement of IT by all US government departments, is credited with driving better energy efficiency generally in the sector (EPEAT is covered in more detail below).

The European workers' rights campaign group SOMO (covered below), is also doing work around procurement. It has a website at www.procureitfair.org which gives some examples of best practice in IT purchasing amongst European cities such as Zurich and Stuttgart.

There are also a range of activities around the digital divide. One from Practical Action is an annual No-Tech Day which asks people to give up their gadgets for one day to think what life is like for people in the developing world. It is due to take place in June this year. I wonder how many of us will attempt this? And of those that do, how many will succeed?

 

References 1 The Story of Stuff. Annie Leonard. Constable 2010 2 http://web.utk.edu/~nolt/radio/computer.htm viewed 24/1/11 3 NYT 27/3/09, DT 1/2/10 4 Jan 18th 2011 issue. Stamatakis et al 5 Guardian 28/12/10 No web access at home for 2m poor pupils warns charity 6 Daily Telegraph 13/10/09


 

 

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Greenpeace vs the Electronics Industry



Since 2004, Greenpeace has been directly targeting electronics companies with increasingly sophisticated campaigns. Rob Harrison looks at how effective this approach has been.

From its early boycott campaigns against suppliers of Icelandic fish to its recent campaign against Unilever over palm oil, Greenpeace has also long understood the effectiveness of intervening in markets by targeting companies. Its campaigning on electronics manufacture is particularly characterised by the use of 'league tables'. Greenpeace is now producing three separate rankings looking at the electronics sector.

 


League Table 1 – The Guide to Greener Electronics


The first version of this ranking was produced in August 2006, and its two main areas of focus were:
• phase out of PVC and BFRs (brominated flame retardants) – both identified as particularly toxic
• take back (end of life) policies

The ranking is now updated quarterly, is on its 16th edition, and is using quite a few additional criteria, including: carbon footprint disclosure, and support for chemical regulations.

Below are the scores (out of 10) for the 11 computer companies Greenpeace has rated:


Philips
5.5
HP
5.5
Samsung
5.3
Sony
5.1
Apple
4.9
Dell
4.9
Acer
4.1
Fujitsu
3.9
LG
3.5
Lenovo
3.5
Toshiba
2.3

www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/toxics/electronics/Guide-to-Greener-Electronics.

 


League Table 2 – Cool-IT


The Cool IT Leaderboard is a relatively new ranking of 17 technology companies and the progressiveness of their policies and practices on climate change. It scores a slightly different list of companies and has 12 criteria, looking at three main areas:
• managing their own CO2 emissions
• political advocacy for climate policies in government
• offering innovative technological solutions to climate change (e.g smart metering, energy management etc)

Scores out of 100 for the 4th edition(Dec 2010) were as follows: (Companies in our buyers' guides are highlighted with an asterisk)

CISCO
70
Ericsson
57
Fujitsu*
52
Google
47
IBM
46
HP*
45
Dell*
39
Nokia
37
Wipro
38
Sony*
34
Intel
31
Microsoft
29
Sharp
27
Toshiba*
25
Panasonic
21
SAP
21
Oracle
12

More information from: www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/cool-it.

 


League Table 3 – Green Electronics Survey


A spin-off from the Guide to Greener Electronics, this survey ranks the greenest products (not companies) in 8 sectors including: laptops, desktops and monitors. There are four main factors considered: presence of hazardous chemicals, energy use, product lifecycle and innovation and marketing. The top three in each sector in January 2011 are listed under 'Green Laptops and Netbooks' below.
More information from: www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/Towards-green-electronics-Getting-greener-but-not-there-yet/.

 


Measuring effectivness


In a recent document, 'Milestones on the Road to Greener Electronics', Greenpeace had a stab at measuring the success of its campaign approach.(1) There is clear evidence of progress on toxic chemical phase out. In 2006, five companies had commitments to phase out PVC and BFRs. In 2010 all 18 companies had phase-out plans with 13 of these rated as 'credible'. More importantly the projected global market share of PVC/BFR-free PCs for 2012 was 52% (and for mobile phones was 60%).

 


Key levers for change


It should be noted that the league tables are only one element in a much wider campaign that has also involved direct actions and lobbying for regulatory changes. Individual companies – not up to scratch in the rankings – have been picked out for public attention. HP was a focus in 2005 for some direct actions at company sites, followed by a hugely successful 'Green my Apple' campaign in 2006. There were further actions at the HP HQ in 2009 and the current campaign is asking consumers to email Michael Dell and tell him to phase out toxic chemicals.

The second key element is remembering the market pressure. Not only are the general public around the world fed the quarterly Guide rankings but, according to Tom Dowdall (Greenpeace Campaign Co-ordinator), they also talk to big institutional purchasers of electronics products 'behind the scenes'.(2)

The final element is staying one step ahead. Not only has Greenpeace had a twitter campaign against Samsung, but it's also become renowned for using supporters to help Google's search to present the Cool IT leaderboard every time someone searches for a biography of one of the companies' chief executives on the web.

 


Conclusions


If we had to be critical, it would probably be for not casting the net widely enough. BlackBerry (RIM), for example, is a perennial underperformer on social responsibility and, with $14.9bn of sales in 2010, it could certainly do with a bit of arm twisting. Tom Dowdall was clear however that their approach of targeting bigger companies was driving change across the sector. However it is nonetheless hugely encouraging to see the ranking approach deliver such dramatic global results. As Tom explains, and as we at Ethical Consumer have also discovered, "One thing big companies are sensitive to is being directly and unfavourable compared to their key rivals – especially in competitive markets." Which is especially good news for campaigners because it allows them (using one of our favourite phrases) to harness the energies of competition for the common good.

 

References 1 Milestones on the Road to Greener Electronics Greenpeace (Jan 2011) 2 Interview with Tom Dowdall Jan 14th 2011



Getting to Conflict-Free Minerals



Enough, a project to end genocide and crimes against humanity, write about their consumer campaign to address the conflict in the Congo.

Violent conflict has persisted in eastern Congo for more than a decade and a half, causing more death than any war since World War II. Although Congo's conflict stems from long-standing grievances, the trade in conflict minerals provides the primary fuel for the conflict. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year, the conflict minerals trade provides incentives for rebel groups, militias, and criminal networks within the Congolese army to control strategic mines and trading routes through patterns of violent extraction and deeply exploitative behaviour.

Minerals extracted from eastern Congo – the ores that produce tin, tantalum, tungsten (the 3Ts) and gold – are essential to the electronics devices we use and depend on every day. Tin is used as solder on circuit boards in every electronic device we use; tantalum stores electricity and is essential to portable electronics and high-speed processing devices; tungsten enables cell phone vibration alerts; and gold is not only made into jewellery, but is also used in the wiring of electronic devices. These minerals are central to the technologies that have allowed our culture to thrive and that drive our businesses, our communications infrastructure, our social engagement, and our national security.

With this in mind, two years ago the Enough Project initiated engagement with major electronics companies on conflict minerals. We wrote to 21 consumer electronics industry leaders to call their attention to this issue and inquire about the steps they were taking to ensure their products were conflict-free. Our objective was to have companies at the top of the minerals supply chain use their buying power to influence their suppliers, exerting pressure down the supply chain. This model of change has had success in the apparel, forestry, and diamond sectors.

 


Company Rankings


The Enough Project's consumer action guide tells you what actions companies are or are not taking so that you can use your consumer power to make more responsible purchasing decisions and send messages to companies you purchase from, reminding them how important conflict-free is to you.
There are currently no certified conflict-free products available on the market. This is because companies and governments are still developing the processes through which supply chains can be thoroughly monitored in order to ensure that conflict minerals, responsible for fuelling a deadly conflict in eastern Congo, do not end up in our products.

Green: On the Right Track

These companies have taken proactive action to trace, audit, and certify their supply chains and have exercised leadership in industry-wide efforts.
Dell, HP

Yellow: Room for Improvement

These companies have taken some steps to investigate their supply chains, and are members of the industry-wide effort, but more action is required of them.
Acer, Apple, Lenovo, LG, Philips, RIM, Samsung, Sony Ericsson

Red: Falling Behind

These companies have done next to nothing to shift their practices toward conflict-free. They are not members of the electronics industry association process, and have not engaged with other stakeholders. Toshiba

Since the launch of the campaign, we have seen dramatic changes, including the passage of conflict minerals legislation in the United States. The Dodd-Frank Act takes affect in 2011 and will require companies to disclose whether they source conflict minerals from Congo or neighbouring countries, and require companies to report on steps taken to exclude conflict sources from their supply chains, backed by independent audits. There is also an evolving multilateral architecture for supply chain due diligence from the United Nations and OECD.

Enough has engaged with industry-wide efforts, specifically the work of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition/Global e-Sustainability Initiative, or EICC-GeSI Extractives Working Group. However, as we have observed and as this report details, without sustained leadership from individual companies, industry-wide efforts can also lead to a lowest common denominator response incommensurate to the scale and urgency of the issue.
Despite some progress, there is still a long road ahead. The violent extraction of mineral resources continues to stoke conflict on the ground in eastern Congo. It will take a collective effort by multiple industries to curtail the demand for conflict minerals, and the impetus for such efforts will continue to arise in large part from conscious consumers.

More information from www.enoughproject.org where you can download the report 'Getting to Conflict-Free – Assessing Corporate Action on Conflict Minerals' and you can email the 21 electronics companies.

Ethical Consumer has used these rankings to give companies ratings in its Habitats & Resources (unsustainable mining) and Human Rights categories (oppressive regimes and human rights abuses).



Choosing a greener PC




Scope


A notebook pertains to its size and is basically another word for a laptop.
A netbook is a smaller, lightweight laptop especially suited for Internet use, hence its name. They don't usually come with CD/DVD drives but you can buy an external USB drive as an extra. They usually have small 7"-12" screens whilst laptops have a 15"-17" screen.

See also our Buyers' Guides to Desktops, Tablets and LCD Monitors.

 


The top sellers


Taiwanese company ACER (which also owns the Packard Bell and eMachines brands) is the biggest seller of laptops. It sells twice as many as Toshiba, HP and Dell. The top five manufacturers account for over 80% of sales.


Despite having an almost tribal allegiance amongst its users, Apple products are not a big seller, perhaps because of their premium pricing (basic MacBook notebook starts at £867 from the Apple Store).

 


Climate footprint


As we have seen above, assessing the impacts of computer manufacture is a complicated thing and there is, unsurprisingly, some disagreement among different commentators. We currently favour the analysis of Mike Berners-Lee whose book about the carbon footprint of everything was published last year and therefore has the most up-to-date data.(2)

He explains that, even before you turn it on, a new iMac has the same carbon footprint as flying from Glasgow to Madrid and back.(2) That's 720kg of greenhouse gases.(2)

Using the computer is a less significant factor. He says that the carbon footprint from use would equal the computer's footprint from manufacture after 16,000 hours – that's 10 hours every day for five years.

This is at odds with the EU Ecolabel's life cycle analysis which states that energy consumed in use is the dominant factor.(1) The discrepancy is due, says Mike Berners-Lee, to the fact that the footprint of some of the complex processes has been missed out.(2) With the footprint from manufacture as the dominant factor, Mike Berners-Lee says it doesn't make sense to buy a new, more efficient machine on carbon grounds. See 'Reuse, repair...' below for info about upgrading your existing machine.

But if you are choosing a new computer, it always makes sense to think about its power consumption.(2)

 


Low power consumption


The power consumption is largely dependent on what type of processor (CPU) is used in the machine. Our IT team, Open Plan IT, recommend you look out for low power processors such as the Intel Atom which also requires no fan so machines are virtually silent. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_CPU_power_dissipation. The 'Thermal Design Power' is what you're after. It ranges from about 4w for some of the Atoms and VIA processors to over 130w for some of the Pentium D models.

Our favourite website for checking power consumption of consumer electricals easily is www.sust-it.net. When choosing a lower power machine aim for the best power consumption you can. As a guide, the following figures come from the sust-it website:
Desktop – power used when idle can range from 10W to 315W
Laptop – power used when idle can range from 5W to 22W
LED monitors – power used 'in use' ranges from 17W to 127W.

 


Using less energy


The amount of energy a computer uses is dependent on what the computer is doing. If you are playing games with graphics, charging or streaming video, then your processor will be working hard and be using more electricity than if you are just running a word processing program. But even when the machine is just turned on or 'idle', it could be using up to 100KW/h.(3) Computers apparently can use energy when connected to the power supply even when turned off, so it's worth unplugging them at the end of the day or turning them off at the wall.(2) To minimise energy use the advice is to make full use of the computer's power management tools (found in the Control Panel in Windows operating systems) so that it powers down and 'hibernates' when not in use.

 


Laptop or desktop?


Clearly if you need a computer to be portable then you will choose a laptop or notebook for this reason alone. However, some are suggesting that a laptop may be a better environmental choice even for a relatively stationary PC because of its lower energy consumption. Plus they all come with LED screens.

A new laptop typically uses around 80% less energy than a new desktop computer. This means it would cost around £30 less to run each year and its carbon footprint would be around 110kg a year lower.

This is not the case though for the very low energy desktops from VeryPC, Aleutia or Tranquil (see 'Low energy desktop computers' below). They have an equivalent energy performance to laptops, are more easily upgradable, and are thus likely to last longer.

Laptops also have other drawbacks. An equivalent specification laptop is usually more expensive and its use can encourage bad posture.

 


Laptop or netbook?


A netbook uses even less energy, less resources and toxic chemicals and will have a lower carbon footprint. While a laptop has a battery life between 2 and 5 hours, some netbooks can last up to nine hours before needing a recharge. Netbooks are very portable but not as capable or powerful as laptops. They are fine for email, web, word processing and music and may therefore be a green option for some people. All the main laptop manufacturers make netbooks.

 


Battery or mains?


According to Chris Goodall, in general it makes sense to run a laptop or netbook off the mains where possible. One study saw 20% efficiency losses from running off the battery rather than the mains.(3)

 



Sustainable products



There are now a number of competing certification schemes for more sustainable PCs. We outline each one briefly below. Greenpeace's electronics campaigns (explained in more detail above) also rate highly a number of models which have achieved the most in harmful chemicals reduction.

Ethical Consumer has given extra Product Sustainability marks on its ratings tables to some of these models. We show below under 'Green Laptops' the specific models for each brand which have received these recommendations and why. We have included those models which were listed in January 2011. But be aware that not all manufacturers' models are available in all countries and manufacturers discontinue models and bring out new ones all the time.

For our Best Buy recommendations we checked the availability of these green models and have not included ones which do not seem to be on sale anywhere. Those that were only available in e.g. the USA are thus indicated.

 


Energy Star


Energy Star is a voluntary US government energy efficiency program. The US equivalent of Which?, Consumer Reports, has criticised the Energy Star criteria as being too weak. About 25% of products in a category should qualify but many more than that usually meet the standards. Plus, manufacturers test their own products for compliance with the standards and there is no independent verification.

The Energy Star 5.0 standard recommends over 1,000 models of monitors and desktops and over 3,700 laptops – too many to list here. The TCO and EPEAT labels below use the Energy Star energy consumption criteria.
www.energystar.gov

 


Energy Saving Trust


A UK government energy efficiency program, an Energy Saving Trust Recommended desktop computer will use around 40% less energy in a year than an average new computer. www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/

 

 


EU Ecolabel


The criteria cover the life cycle of the product from manufacture to disposal and include energy use, limits on the use of hazardous materials and recyclability of the product. www.eco-label.com/default.htm

 


TCO


TCO is a widely respected international eco-label developed by a Swedish trade union. It is a voluntary scheme which is third party verified. It uses Energy Star criteria for energy consumption, and a wide range of specific criteria for different products including limits on toxic chemicals and design for recycling. The TCO certification system also requires that the brand owner actively promotes social responsibility. It has a 'Certified Edge' label for those products it feels are at the cutting edge of environmental innovation. www.tcodevelopment.com

 


EPEAT Label


EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) is managed and operated by the Green Electronics Council, a US NGO. The label covers criteria for design, production, energy and materials use and recycling with ongoing independent verification of manufacturer claims after registration. EPEAT evaluates electronic products in relation to 51 total environmental criteria, 23 required criteria and 28 optional criteria. Products are then ranked by EPEAT according to three tiers of environmental performance – Bronze, Silver, and Gold. To achieve the Gold standard, products must meet all 23 required criteria plus at least 75% of the optional criteria. Most criteria deal with the environmental impact of the product and include meeting the Energy Star standard for energy use. But corporate performance criteria are also included.

US greener electronics campaign group, the Electronics Takeback Coalition, says that EPEAT is weak in many areas. Ethical Consumer has awarded and extra half mark for models meeting the EPEAT gold standard.

See the full list of models at www.epeat.net.

 


PVC and BFR free products


According to Greenpeace, some brominated flame retardants (BFRs), used in circuit boards and plastic casings, do not break down easily and build up in the environment. Long-term exposure can lead to impaired learning and memory functions. They can also interfere with thyroid and oestrogen hormone systems and exposure in the womb has been linked to behavioural problems.

PVC is a plastic used in some electronics products and for insulation on wires and cables. Chlorinated dioxins and furans are released when PVC is produced or disposed of by incineration. These chemicals are highly persistent in the environment and many are toxic even in very low concentrations.

Greenpeace has been campaigning on these issues since 2004 (see above) and its list of PVC and BFR free models is integrated into our recommendations below.

 


Tell Dell


Greenpeace is asking supporters to email Dell and tell it to phase out PVC and BFRs. Whilst Apple and HP have taken substantial steps to eliminate these toxic chemicals, Dell backtracked on a commitment to remove them from all its products by the end of 2009. Its current commitment is to eliminate PVC and BFRs by the end of 2011 but only in computing products.

You can email Dell from the Greenpeace International website.



Green Laptops & Netbooks


Only ASUS has applied for and been awarded the EU Ecolabel for the following laptops which should be available in the UK: ASUS U30, U33, U35, U50, U53, U80, UL30, UL50, UL80, UX50 Series.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y460 multimedia laptop (not available from Lenovo UK website) and 102 Samsung models are TCO Certified Notebooks 3.

EPEAT Gold Label: Fujitsu Lifebook P8110 notebook, 12 MacBook notebooks, HP Compaq – 39 notebooks, Lenovo – 32 ThinkPads and IdeaPads laptops.

Greenpeace virtually PVC and BFR Free list: All Apple MacBooks, HP Envy 13 Laptop, HP ProBook 5310m, 4320, 4420, 4520, 4720 and EliteBook 9440p/w, 8440p/w, 8540p/w and 8740w, 2540p, 2740p, ACER Notebooks – Aspire 3811T, 3811TG, 3811TZ, 3811TZG. Travelmate 8172T, 8372T, 8472T and 8572

Greenpeace Green Electronics Survey Top 3: ASUS UL30A, Panasonic CF-F9KWHZZPM, Samsung NP-SF410 laptops. Netbooks: HP Mini 5103.



Free And Open Source Software



By Pete Boyd, Open Plan IT.

 

Commercial software is written for profit, for vested interests and to lock people in to using it. Its source code is secret, and few people know what it does.

Free and open source software (FOSS) is plentiful, useful and popular. It comes not only with a guarantee that people can use it as they wish but, to back that up, the source code it was built from. Engineers use and learn from such code, building upon the work of others in thriving communities. This motivates and enables people to build high quality software. When commercial organisations build free software, the community still benefits from their work. Typically such notions apply to software installed on a computer, but as programs on the web replace some of this, the benefits of FOSS are the same

You can now go all the way and choose a complete free software operating system like the popular and well supported Ubuntu, SUSE or Fedora in place of Windows or Apple's OSX. Or you can just use FOSS applications on Windows or OSX. Some manufacturers supply computers with them ready installed, or you can easily install them alongside or instead of Windows or OSX on your desktop or laptop, or choose a netbook-specific version. They come with all the software you'll need, either installed or available through an app store program. You'll find the same free software programs for Windows or OSX, such as Firefox, a web browser like Internet Explorer; OpenOffice / LibreOffice, an office suite like Microsoft Office; Thunderbird, an email client like Outlook; and GIMP, an image editor like Photoshop.

Tablets and smartphones come with Apple's iOS or Google's Android operating systems, with no alternatives yet. Most of Android is open source, freely available to manufacturers to include on devices. iOS is only usable by Apple, a small part of it is open source. These devices come into their own if you tie them into Google or Apple's Internet services, but that lock-in has disadvantages.

When installing software, iOS only allows it to be installed from its App Store, denying the freedom to choose software not Apple approved; Android allows software from outside of its Market app store. People have new and different expectations of mobile software; the popular FOSS applications mentioned above haven't yet caught up (though Firefox is near), but some niche and some mobile-specific software is available under FOSS terms.

Using the web instead, which is convenient on mobile devices and where one site will work across all of them, should eventually replace locally installed software applications. Whether or not such sites will be available under free and open source terms remains to be seen.



Company profiles



 

One of Acer's subcontractors in China was found to have employed under 16 year olds and made them work more hours for being 'less productive' than adults. 13 hour days and, in peak season, 400 hour months.(1) One wonders what determines 'peak season' in the electronics sector – presumably not the weather?

Aleutia was one of the few companies to reply to our questionnaire. Aleutia is a limited company established in 2006 with the vision of delivering energy efficient, affordable, silent, rugged, solar-friendly and online computers that operate in remote classrooms/offices in Africa. One of its co-founders used to work for Belu Water which gives all its profits to charity and GreenNet, an ethical Internet Service Provider. Aleutia admits that it does not have a Supply Chain Management Policy – "It's very difficult to monitor or control how workers are treated in our supply chain since almost all electronic components are made in China."

Apple Inc recently announced profits of £6 billion. That's a lot of iPhones. Bizarrely, CEO Steve Jobs has seen none of this in recent years, having been paid just $1 a year, with no bonuses, stock awards or, apparently, other remuneration. Sitting across from him in the boardroom is Chief Operating Officer Timothy D. Cook, who earned nearly $60 million in 2010 – the highest figure for company executive pay unearthed during the research for this article.(2) Who buys the first round?
The company refused to take part in a recent mobile phone Eco Rating (see EC127), saying that it publishes its own data on its website. However after the Greenpeace 'Green My Apple' campaign, the company became, in March 2009, the first laptop maker to eliminate toxic poly vinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). So far so good. But Apple still has some work to do. At the moment, the company is very weak on its climate and emissions reductions policies. Although it boldly quit the US Chamber of Commerce in protest of climate-unfriendly lobbying in Congress, the company needs to take real action to become a leader on climate or risk losing out on its green credentials.

American company Archos sells Android Tablets at prices not too hard to swallow. Not a whiff of any Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) information on its website, and it did not respond to Ethical Consumer's request for some.

ASUSTeK Computer Inc owns the ASUS brand of PCs, notebooks and peripherals (e.g. printers, scanners etc). It has been named in reports by Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) as sourcing from factories in the Philippines and China where workers' rights abuses were widespread. In 2007 a Chinese employee sued a subsidiary of ASUS for discrimination, claiming that he had been dismissed because he was a Hepatitis B sufferer.(3)

In 2009 five former BenQ executives were acquitted on charges including money laundering and forgery. The protracted 2-year trial related to a period during which the company, then Taiwan's biggest mobile phone manufacturer, lost $997 million, wiping out the profits it had made since 1999.(4)

The Blackberry brand is owned by Research In Motion, whose website makes no mention of workers' rights at supplier factories. RIM spent over $2 million on lobbying in 2010.(5) In 2009 several executives and directors of the company settled an investigation into the backdating of stock options by agreeing to pay penalties that totalled $62.5 million. According to the New York Times the company said the people involved had made "a similar offer" to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which was also investigating.(6)

Creative Technology, maker of the Ziio tablet, has no publicly available Corporate Social Responsibility information. In 2010 it was sued by Foxconn in Singapore for allegedly failing to pay for supplies and services which totalled $500,576.(7) The Singapore-based company also trades in Asia, Europe and the US.

Top marks were given to Dell Inc by the Enough Campaign's report 'Getting to Conflict-Free Assessing Corporate Action on Conflict Minerals'. However, the company was targeted by Greenpeace in March 2009 for failing to meet, and postponing for two years, targets to eliminate PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). It has been named alongside Acer as buying from a Chinese supplier that utilised child labour.(1)

Dixons Retail plc, the UK's largest electronics retailer is an out of town centre shopping centre giant that owns Curry's and PC World.(8) Advent Computers is the own brand of PCs for PC World, Currys and Dixons Online. Headquartered in Hertfordshire, it has subsidiaries in tax havens including Gibraltar and the Isle of Man. No publicly available information on policies such as the use of toxic chemicals and sourcing from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could be found.
The Fujitsu Group failed to achieve a top score for environmental reporting as it only had its carbon emissions data verified by a third party. The company has a Nanotechnology Research Centre, for which it loses half a mark in the Pollution and Toxics category. It has been criticised for poor working conditions at supplier companies in China and Thailand.(1) According to the company's website it supplies IT services and solutions to the Ministry of Defence and national security agencies.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) received top marks for its conflict minerals policy. Chairman Mark Hurd resigned in August 2010 following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment which, whilst not revealing violations of sexual harassment policy, had revealed other forms of workplace misconduct.(9)
HP paid most of all the companies in this report for lobbying expenses – more than $5 million in 201010 – but this figure is dwarfed by the remuneration package received by then-Chairman Hurd, which came to more than £30 million in 2009.(11)

Netherlands-based Iiyama is a subsidiary of Japanese company MCJ which has an estimated turnover of £587m. Iiyama's website contained virtually no Corporate Social Responsibility information.

Lenovo was already the biggest computer maker in China when it acquired IBM's personal computer operations in 2004.

In November 2010, LG was ranked 27th out of 29 companies in a report on water pollution and IT companies in China and was thereby highlighted as being one of the least responsive companies to the issues.(12)
A boycott of LG products was called in March 2010 by the Save Rapu-Rapu Alliance because LG part owns open pit mines on the island of Rapu Rapu in the Philippines which the Alliance say are threatening the livelihoods of the island's inhabitants and the ecosystem on which they depend.

Mesh is a UK plc with an estimated turnover of £30m. It sells to corporate and government markets as well as to individuals. It currently has no ethical policies in the public domain.

MSI was established in Hong Kong in 1986 and has quickly grown into a global company with a turnover of £1.4 bn. It now has subsidiaries in four oppressive regimes (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Thailand) and two tax havens (Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands).

Philips is the only company to score top marks for both its supply chain and environmental reporting policies.

Samsung is one of the largest companies that we've covered, it has a turnover of £28 bn. Despite its massive income it still receives a worst rating for its ethical policies. A recent report from Electronic Engineering Times stated that Samsung workers were victims of occupational cancer caused by poor working conditions and that this had already led to deaths amongst employees.

Sony, despite its massive turnover of £35,323,439,500, still scores worst for its Supply Chain Management (see below). It seems it would rather spend money, $2.7m in 2010, on lobbying around issues such as Copyright, Patent & Trademark, Taxes, Trade, Environment & Superfund, Hazardous & Solid Waste, Energy & Nuclear Power and Taxes.

Toshiba is heavily involved in nuclear power in both Japan and the USA and also supplies military communications equipment to various governments.

Tranquil PC is a British company designing and manufacturing its products in the UK (although parts will be made by overseas contractors, final assembly will be in the UK). It produces low power and fanless (silent) desktops and the 'carbon footprint' of systems during a normal five year lifetime is offset by Tranquil as soon as you buy. It calculates the carbon dioxide gas that needs to be created to power the products it sells (over their serviceable life expectancy) – and then offset this by a continuous, managed tree planting campaign. [Ethical Consumer was underwhelmed by carbon offsets when we reviewed them in EC106].

VeryPC – Established and headquartered in Sheffield since 2004, VeryPC claims to have led the way in the development of green computing solutions and its environmentally aware approach to IT and computer manufacture. All VeryPC products carry the Made in Sheffield mark and are manufactured under ISO9001 for quality assurance. The chassis is manufactured in Yorkshire from European aluminium before final assembly in Sheffield [other components presumably made by overseas contractors].

Viewsonic is a relatively small company based in the US. It is currently trying to break into the developing markets, specifically China and India. Sadly it is not so innovative with its ethical policies scoring worst for all of them.

Viglen is largely a supplier to the corporate, education and public sectors. Apart from its all-in-one computers, you will need to buy a monitor for its desktop range. It is a subsidiary of Alan Sugar's Amsprop London company.

 

References
1
"Clean Computers Campaign: Report on Labour Rights in the Computer Industry in China", Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), November 2006
2 http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/320193/000119312511003231/ddef14a.htm [accessed 21/01/11]
3 http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-02/28/content_815391.htm [accessed 21/01/11]
4 http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/26/taiwan-benq-insider-trading-markets-equities-lee-kun-yao.html [accessed 21/01/11]
5 http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?lname=Research+In+Motion&year=2010 [accessed 21/01/11]
6 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/technology/companies/06rim.html [accessed 21/01/11]
7 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-29/foxconn-s-singapore-unit-sues-creative-technology-over-500-576-payment.html [accessed 21/01/11]
8 http://premium.hoovers.com/subscribe/co/overview.xhtml?ID=ffffsfrfftyxhjrrkc [accessed 21/01/11]
9 http://premium.hoovers.com/subscribe/co/overview.xhtml?ID=ffffrfktyffsrtthyt [accessed 21/01/11]
10 http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?lname=Hewlett-Packard&year=2010 [accessed 21/01/11]
11 http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/47217/000104746910000369/a2196150zdef14a.htm#cs71401_fiscal_2009_summary_compensation_table [accessed 21/01/11]
12 "Green choice consumers urge the IT brands to break their silence", Friends of Nature, Green Beagle and Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, August 2010.



What about the workers?



Will Hodson explains our new supply chain management ratings and looks at other campaign groups addressing workers' rights in this giant industry.

 

According to Moore's Law, the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years.(1) IT supply chains show a similar trend towards complexity. Suppliers are added, contracts subcontracted and parts bought in from elsewhere. This complexity however should not be an excuse for the brands to shirk their responsibilities for workers' rights.

We have long wanted to look at how companies manage workers' rights in their supply chains in closer detail [see the Editorial in this issue]. We have now developed new rating criteria to try to give the most realistic picture yet.

Good policy and procedure is however no guarantee of perfect conditions in distant factories. The Foxconn article (below) and Company Profiles (above) provide an important reality check on some of the good intentions covered here.

Our new supply chain ratings comprise four sections:
• Supply chain policy
• Stakeholder engagement
• Auditing and reporting
• Difficult issues

Under 'supply chain policy' we look at policies' content. These policies are a crucial foundation for responsible supply chain management.

Top marks in this section went to those which covered some key International Labour Organization issues (child labour, forced labour, discrimination, freedom of association as well as a living wage and a maximum 48 hour working week) and which covered the entire supply chain. Companies lost marks for each of these issues they omitted.

Stakeholder engagement can bring external expertise into the management of working conditions. We looked to reward companies which joined multi-stakeholder initiatives (such as the UK's Ethical Trading Initiative), which work directly with trade unions and/or NGOs, and which ensure that workers whose rights were violated had an effective channel through which to voice their complaints.

The most obvious way for a company to verify that its supply chain policies are being applied is through auditing and reporting. A good policy would base its audit program on some form of risk assessment or other prior planning – focussing its efforts where there are the highest risks of workers' rights violations. A good policy would also require audits throughout its entire supply chain; it would bear some of the costs of an audit, and it would report its findings along with details of how it dealt with problems which turned up ('remediation').

Supply chain management faces other difficult issues, and we looked for corporate initiatives that addressed these. For example many such schemes are often beset by audit fraud. Others are undermined by untrained buyers who, in practice, will ignore workers' rights and focus on getting prices as low as possible. We also hoped to see IT companies engaging with the problem of sourcing minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Careless sourcing could well turn out to be funding conflict (see above).

 


The Ranking Table


 

Management of workers' rights in companies' supply chains

 

Company
Supply Chain Policy
Stakeholder engagement
Auditing and Reporting
Difficult Issues
TOTAL SCORE
Ethical Consumer Table Score
Hewlett-Packard
67
50
67
67
62
Best
Apple
33
50
67
67
54
Best
Philips
33
50
67
67
54
Best
Acer
33
50
0
33
29
Middle
Dixons
33
0
33
33
25
Middle
Dell
33
0
0
33
17
Worst
Samsung
33
0
0
33
17
Worst
Sony
33
0
0
33
17
Worst
ASUS
33
0
0
0
8
Worst
Fujitsu
33
0
0
0
8
Worst
Lenovo
33
0
0
0
8
Worst
Toshiba
33
0
0
0
8
Worst
Aleutia
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
Archos
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
BenQ
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
RIM
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
Creative
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
Iiyama
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
LG
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
Mesh
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
MSI
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
Tranquil
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
VeryPC
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
ViewSonic
0
0
0
0
0
Worst
Viglen
0
0
0
0
0
Worst

 

As can be seen from all the zeros in the bottom half of our results table above, just over 50% of companies covered had no apparent policies or procedures at all on this subject in the public domain. Most of those that got points on the board achieved this through the professed intentions of their supply chain policy. The majority had signed up to a base code developed by industry initiative, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC). However even this code was rated as 'rudimentary' in our ratings scheme. Its working hours clause did not fulfill Ethical Consumer's criteria as it limited hours to 60 per week "except in an emergency." It also stated that compensation paid to workers shall comply with all applicable wage laws, which failed to acknowledge that the law in some countries makes inadequate provision for payment of a living wage.

Some companies after adopting the EICC code have added some of the missing provisions to it.

Companies' performance in auditing and reporting was rather dismal. Only three companies scored highly here – Apple, HP and Philips – which also had the highest overall score for supply chain management.

Those three giants, along with Acer, were the only brands to demonstrate any activity in the area of stakeholder engagement. This was despite the prevalence of Chinese manufacture, where workers do not have recourse to independent trades unions.

Of the difficult issues, most companies that earned points were engaging with the problem of sourcing conflict minerals – such as coltan from the DRC. We discuss this in more detail above.

 


Workers' Rights NGOs


SOMO, the Netherlands' Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, has pursued a programme to improve labour, environmental and social conditions throughout the electronics sector. In 2007 they partnered with various labour organisations in the Global South to publish 'Hard (Disk) Labour' – a report on labour conditions in the Thai electronics sector.

SOMO also co-ordinates 'Make IT Fair'. This initiative brings together campaigners from all over the world. The SOMO researchers who wrote 'Hard (Disk) Labour' put together 'Configuring Labour Rights' in 2009 for Make IT Fair – a similar report into labour conditions in the production of computer parts in the Philippines.

'Configuring Labour Rights' built on work performed by the Filipino NGO, the Workers Assistance Centre (WAC) in 2007 in a report called 'Producing Computer Hardware'. On matters including the status of union organisations, employment practices and differences in wage levels, SOMO were dismayed to find very little had changed between 2007 and 2009.
Heavily reliant on worker interviews, WAC encountered significant problems. The number of respondents was limited by workers' hesitance or outright refusal to be interviewed. They feared that company management would either dismiss them or misconstrue their participation as part of an effort in union organising. Such arbitrary punishment is all too often the case in the IT industry.

Another research initiative comes from Germany's World Ecology Economy and Development (WEED), which launched the 'PC Global' website in 2005. In 2008 they partnered with researchers from SACOM to produce 'The Dark Side of Cyberspace'. This report describes the working conditions at the supplier factories in Huizhou and Dongguan, in mainland China.
'The Dark Side of Cyberspace' describes labour conditions where workers don't obtain their working contracts, work up to 380 hours a month and receive negligible protection when obliged to work with chemicals.

Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), an NGO in Hong Kong partnered with the Swiss NGO 'Pain for le Prochain' in 2008 to produce 'High Tech No Rights'. This report looked at similar issues to those covered in 'The Dark Side of Cyberspace', and expanded the surveys to seven factories across southern China, in the cities of Shenzhen, Dongguan, and Zhongshan in Guangdong Province.
The researchers looked to compare their findings with what they had uncovered in previous years. The most significant improvement they found was in relation to the payment of the legal minimum wage. Audits and social responsibility measures may have had some influence here. However the increased wages were more easily explained by reference to local government policies, which aimed to alleviate labour supply shortages and assuage the rising number of labour protests. Wherever practically possible, factory managers still kept workers to minimal pay.

All these organisations are members of the uber-NGO Good Electronics which combines human rights NGOs with church groups, trades unions, academics and environmental campaign groups like Greenpeace. All 150 groups have agreed to a list of 'common demands' for 24 key social and environmental standards in the production of electronic products.

 

References 1 Gordon Moore was a founder of microchip manufacturer Intel.



Foxconn – the hidden giant behind your PC



Rob Harrison explores the strange world that exists behind the gates of China's biggest electronics company.

If you own a PC with a Dell or HP badge, or a phone from Apple or Nokia, or a games console from Nintendo or Microsoft or Sony, then the chances are that it was made by Foxconn. In fact, Hon Hai Precision Industries Ltd (the parent company) is so big – with more than 300 subsidiaries making all sorts of component parts – that there are very few modern electronics products it doesn't touch in some way. Foxconn has been able to ride the twin waves of technological innovation in consumer products and of Chinese capitalism's extraordinary growth like no other company, and until last year it remained largely unknown. However, a 'cluster' of 17 worker suicides in 2010 brought some much needed global scrutiny to this unique modern phenomenon.(5)

 


How big is big?


In the 36 years since its birth in Taiwan, Foxconn has grown to become the second biggest private sector employer in the world after Wal Mart.(1) It is China's biggest single private sector exporter accounting for around 3.4% of all Chinese exports, and 22% of exports from Shenzen city.(2) One statistic suggests that in 2009 it took over 44% of all revenue of the entire global electronics manufacturing industry.3

It makes everything from components to complete finished products for a wide range of global electronics brands, and as the main iPhone manufacturer has been widely acclaimed as the hidden partner behind Apple's success. Recently it has grown to employ around 900,000 workers, with an astonishing 450,000 of them at one location just opposite Hong Kong on the Chinese mainland. These 450,000 employees make Foxconn 'city' bigger than Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff or Nottingham.


Foxconn City


Foxconn's Longhua 'campus' is a gated and guarded 'city within a city' covering more than one square mile on the outskirts of Shenzen. It contains 15 factories with worker dormitories, a hospital and a fire brigade. It has its own city centre with banks, restaurants, bookshops, supermarkets, an internet cafe and a swimming pool.

There are 10 employee canteens serving around 150,000 lunches a day and, at peak periods, around 3,000 new workers a day are hired.(4) The factories work 24 hours a day and most employees wear uniforms colour-coded to their department or plant. Many workers stay in dormitories inside the campus while others live close by. Foxconn city has its own TV station, and large screens in the streets beam down everything from cartoons to exercise routines. Even the plant's manhole covers are stamped 'Foxconn'.

Of greater concern are the more than 1,000 security guards which 'keep order' internally. A bit like a private police force, bullying by these guards is alleged to have been behind at least some of the 17 suicides mentioned above. A close analysis has recently argued that the attitude of the guards is just a symptom of a "military style management', a corporate culture of indifference and intense work pressure".(5)

 


Dehumanising the workforce


In June last year the New York Times interviewed workers in the factory.(6) At the time the standard working week was 10 hours a day for 6 days a week. Mr Yuan spoke of his work seated at a conveyor belt assembling hard drives. He has three components to insert and four screws to fasten, and exactly one minute to complete these seven tasks before the drive moved down the line. His section had a target of 1,600 drives a day and, with a team of 500 people at Foxconn analysing each action every worker makes, there are no wasted movements. "If you do the same thing all day you can become numb," he said. Despite the fact that he was paid just 47 pence per hour for his work, which seems a pittance to a western reader, he claimed that the factory had a reputation for relatively good wages across China.

A report by the Hong Kong NGO Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) published in October 2010(5) detailed many of the problems with the company's military management style. These included compulsory overtime (on top of the 60 hour week), continuous pressure to achieve targets, bullying management, complicit unions and overcrowded dormitories. Foxconn, and many of the companies it supplies are members of the EICC – the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition – whose code of conduct it appears to systematically flout.(7)

Unsurprisingly, the staff turnover is high, with 35% leaving – exhausted – each year, and only 5% staying for more than five years.(5) Some restructuring and reform is taking place as a result of last year's scrutiny, however too many unacceptable practices remain – of which the worst is probably the excessive working hours. SACOM "urges concerned consumers to pressure electronics factories to deliver decent working conditions in the electronics industry". Although this may mean higher prices in future for our latest electronic gadgets, the human cost of current pricing is surely just too high?

 

References 1 Fortune Global 500 Biggest Employers. 2010 2 China Daily 30/11/09 3 iSuppli 27th July 2010 Thomas Dinges. Foxconn rides partnership with Apple 4 The forbidden city of Terry Gou. Wall St Journal 11/8/07 5 'Workers as machines. Military management in Foxconn' SACOM October 2010 6 A night at the electronics factory 19/6/10 New York Times 7 e.g the EICC code requires that the 'working week should not exceed 60 hours, including overtime, except in unusual or emergency situations'



Reuse, repair...



Because of the significant carbon footprint of making a computer, ideally the life of a computer should be extended by as much as possible. Re-using a computer can save up to 20% more energy than recycling.(1)

Repairing and upgrading is much easier with a desktop rather than a portable computer (because in the latter, most components are on the motherboard rather than separate). But even a laptop can have its memory or RAM upgraded (one of the most important upgrades you can do to a computer, according to our IT team at Open Plan IT). You can even do this yourself. Find out on the website www.crucial.com/uk how much memory your computer can take.

Another option is to buy second hand. Plenty of machines are available since a lot of offices and households replace their computers every two years.(1) You might be able to find some of the models listed in this buyers' guide. Many computer retailers and manufacturers now sell second hand, reconditioned machines with warranties.

If you don't want your old computer, you could donate it to a local organisation or charity. They all have minimum specifications for the equipment they will accept so check online.

Computer Aid International is a charity which provides refurbished computers for reuse in education, health, agriculture and not-for-profit organisations in developing countries. You can donate online.

Recycle IT! is a Community Interest Company providing training, paid work experience and real jobs for homeless and other long term unemployed people. They donate computers to charities and voluntary groups in the UK and abroad.

Computers for African Schools is a charity run by volunteers which provides computers to schools in southern Africa free of charge.

Donate a PC is a free 'matchmaking' service for individuals and organisations to donate un-needed hardware to UK charities, not-for-profit organisations and educational establishments.

There is also the option of donating it to another individual through sites such as Freecycle.

 


... recycle


And finally, if you can't upgrade, repair or donate then you'll have to recycle. The EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive places a responsibility on computer manufacturers and retailers to provide or contribute to 'takeback' facilities.

Householders can:
• Ask a retailer if they'll take products back. PC retailers must provide free takeback facilities for customers to return old equipment for recycling whenever a replacement item is purchased. Some, such as the chain PC World, will accept old electronics in-store for recycling and reuse if you're buying a similar product.
• Take old computers to their local civic amenity site (visit www.recycle-more.co.uk to find your nearest recycle bank)
• Arrange for their local authority to collect the equipment (some local authorities provide a free collection service and others charge)
• Arrange for an electrical retailer delivering new equipment to take away the old equipment

E-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to developing ones, often in violation of international law, mainly because it is cheaper to recycle waste in developing countries. In 2003, in the UK alone, at least 23,000 metric tonnes of undeclared or 'grey' market electronic waste was illegally shipped to the Far East, India, Africa and China. In developing countries, there are few controls over the handling of the hazardous chemicals in e-waste. Recycling is done by hand in scrap yards, often by children. This issue was covered in more detail in our Buyers' Guide to Digital Cameras in EC124 (May 2010).

Reference 1 A Good Life – Leo Hickman, 2008

 

 

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