First published in Nov/Dec 2014
Taking IT seriously
Heather Webb and Jane Turner examine the complex ethics behind our laptops and tablets.
See also our Guides to Tablets and Hybrid laptop-tablets.
In this guide:
We look at how the Dodd-Frank Act has affected the trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and we also assess companies’ conflict minerals policies. Read more...
Danish non-governmental organisation DanWatch look at child labour in gold mining in Ghana and Mali. Read more...
Friends of the Earth Netherlands rank companies on their policies on the responsible sourcing of tin. Read more...
We look at one of the manufacturing giants of the world - Foxconn, the company well known for its lack of respect for workers and its ‘city of workers’ in China, is now manufacturing in Europe. Read more...
We examine Apple and its extraordinary tax avoidance. Read more...
We report on Hewlett-Packard’s strategic role in Israel’s repression of Palestinians. Read more...
We review green labels and recent ratings by Greenpeace. Read more...
Despite tablets’ growing popularity, laptops are still the UK’s most popular type of computer, appearing in over 80% of homes.1 HP is the most popular laptop brand followed by Acer, Lenovo and Dell.2
However, in early 2014 Sony sold its laptops business to a Japanese investment firm who is only making the VAIO models in Japan. That was followed by Samsung announcing in September that it too would stop selling laptops in Europe to concentrate on smartphones and tablets.
Laptop, tablet or hybrid - which is for you?
A laptop’s larger screen, full-sized keyboard and large hard drive make many tasks easier, and they’re great for browsing the web.
Laptops are better if you:
- want to work on them, write long emails, organise files, and edit text documents, photos and spreadsheets
- want to store files and photos on the device and access them without an internet connection
- play DVDs.
A tablet is a gadget that’s slim and lightweight, and easy to use.
Tablets are better if you:
- want to play – browse the web, read ebooks, watch videos, shop online, and stay in touch with family and friends.
- want it to be more portable
- only need to type short emails, do internet searches and simple forms for online shopping
- don’t need it as your main storage device and are happy to keep some files online.
A laptop-tablet hybrid offers the best of both worlds. With touch-screens that rotate and flip and keyboards that detach or can be hidden away, they can be as powerful or portable as you want.
When choosing a brand of tablet or laptop you may also want to bear in mind the operating system that runs it. The operating systems are owned by three companies which all feature in this report – Apple, Google and Microsoft.
- Apple iOS – all Apple products
- Google Android – most non-Apple tablets.
- Google Chrome – Chromebook laptops.
- Microsoft Windows – most laptops and hybrids
You can also use an open source operating system such as Linux. Beginner’s guide to open source.
References: 1 MINTEL – Desktop and Laptop Computers, August 2014 2 MINTEL – Tablet computers November 2013
Conflict Minerals: update on the Dodd-Frank Act
The extraction of minerals, which form vital components for electronic gadgets, has become entangled with human conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the profits from mining fund armed groups.
In 2010 the United States Congress passed a regulation under the Dodd-Frank Act. Section 1502 of the Act has been hailed as a landmark piece of legislation that aims to disrupt the trade in Congolese conflict minerals. The law requires US publicly-listed companies who use tin, tantalum, tungsten (3Ts) or gold to find out whether their purchases are inadvertently funding armed groups in the DRC. It has impacted the way that “companies scrutinise their supply chains and has catalysed important reforms in eastern DRC and neighbouring countries.”1
First year of reporting
Before the required reporting deadline of 31st May 2014, several companies had already led the industry effort to push for reforms on the supply of conflict-free minerals from the Congo. In its company rankings in 2012 the Enough Project identified HP, Apple, Acer, Dell and Nokia as leaders of efforts to create a conflict-free supply chain.
For some, the May 2014 deadline marked a milestone in terms of corporate transparency, and showed that for electronics companies this was “a mission-driven issue which is key to their overall sustainability efforts”, not just a regulatory requirement.2
Nonetheless the industry’s lobby groups still challenged the requirements calling them “arbitrary”. A recent appeal forced a temporary halt to the requirement for companies to report whether a product contained conflict minerals or not.
Patricia Jurewiz, director of the campaign organisation Responsible Sourcing Network stated “Our advice [to companies] is to report as originally intended by the SEC... We’re not interested in companies who are looking for the least common denominator. We need to support companies who understand transparency is important and who are willing to support the communities in the DRC and buy their minerals when they are responsibly sourced.”3
What’s changed in the DRC?
The effect of the legislation is already visable in the DRC according to research carried out by the Enough Project in June 2014.4 Through on-the-ground research over five months the research organisation found that:
Armed groups and the Congolese Army were no longer present at two-thirds of 3Ts mines surveyed in eastern Congo’s Kivu and Maniema provinces. Before the Dodd-Frank Act (in the Kivu provinces), almost every mining deposit was controlled by a military group.
The Dodd-Frank Act and electronics industry audits have created a two-tier market for 3Ts from the DRC. The Enough Project found that minerals that did not go through conflict-free programmes sold for 30% to 60% less, thus reducing profits for armed groups trying to sell them.
Bisie, one of the world’s largest tin mines which generated hundreds of millions of dollars for a number of armed groups and criminal units of the army, was now largely demilitarised.
Twenty-one electronics and other companies were now sourcing from 16 conflict-free mines in Congo, from projects such as Solution for Hope, Kemet and the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative.
The Enough Project found that the communities near conflict-free mining projects experienced a reduction in the presence of armed groups, and, that hospitals and schools were starting to be built in those areas. The wage of miners had also increased and miners now received helmets and safety equipment and experienced safer working conditions.
The Enough Project remarked that for the first time in Congo’s history there was “a validation process to evaluate mines as conflict-free or not, these include third-party conflict-free audit system, the Conflict-Free Smelter Program and due diligence guidelines by the OECD and United Nations.”
Conflict-Free Smelter Program (CFS)
In January 2014, the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI), an initiative on conflict minerals of the tech industry association: the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), announced that, for the first time, there were audited conflict-free smelters or refiners for the four identified conflict minerals: tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold.5
This leading industry initiative on conflict minerals is seen as an important development in the movement to develop a clean minerals trade worldwide because smelters were identified as a choke point in the global supply chain for minerals. The basic concept is that as more smelters get audited in a stringent manner, there will be fewer and fewer places that smugglers can sell conflict minerals, eventually forcing them to give up, and move to a more transparent, clean minerals trade. As of September 2014, there were over 100 smelters which had been verified as being conflict-free by the CFS Program.6
Despite progress with the 3Ts, Enough found “gold is still financing armed actors and business and political elites.” The U.N. Group of Experts estimated that 98% of artisanal gold (roughly 10-12 tonnes, worth between $380 and $500 million) was smuggled out of Congo in 2013 with the Army still involved in the illicit gold exploitation.4
In September 2014, an open letter by a coalition of around 70 Congolese leaders and international experts, called on the conflict-free process to improve its consultation with government and communities.8 It claimed that the Congolese Government and civil society were poorly consulted on Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act prior to its passing.
The letter stated that due to the slow and complex nature of getting mines audited, many buyers had left the region. It said only “a fraction of the hundreds of mining sites have been reached by traceability or certification efforts.” Other mines had suffered due to international buyers responding to legislation by going “Congo-free”. The coalition pointed out that this had led some miners into the margins of legality (ie. they joined smuggling rackets) while others had simply lost their jobs causing local economies to suffer.
It called on those involved in the process to work towards meaningful reform to prevent the audit process becoming an exercise in “window-dressing” and that more incentives were needed to help encourage better practice including engaging with groups formerly involved in the conflict.
Its biggest criticism was centred on the fact that the process had failed to understand the relationship between minerals and conflict in eastern DRC and called on the need for all stakeholders to address the root causes of conflict “rather than a single focus on minerals”. It stressed that artisanal mining is a key livelihood in the eastern DRC and “holds as much potential to help steer the region away from conflict as it does to contribute towards it.”
Finally it called on multinational corporations to address other critical challenges such as “access to credit, technical knowledge, hazardous working conditions, and environmental degradation”.
To get a best rating companies must fulfil both points in part A plus three or more points in part B.
- The policy should commit the company to ensuring that sourcing practices do not support conflicts and human rights abuses. It should also contain a continued commitment to sourcing conflict-free minerals from the DRC.
- The company is a member of a multi-stakeholder initiative such as Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative or the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA).
- The company requires its suppliers to adopt a robust conflict minerals policy.
- The company’s statement should include detailed steps it will take to identify, assess, mitigate and respond to risks within its supply chain.
- The company commits to only use 3TG minerals from smelters once they have been verified as conflict-free by the CFS Program, or equivalent, as they become available.
- The company has published a list of smelters and their conflict-free status.
No Policy - Archos, MESH, Creative, Kobo, Tesco
Poor - MSI, Fujitsu, ASUSTek, Amazon
Good - Toshiba, Lenovo, Samsung, LG
Best - Dell, HP, Apple, Sony, Acer, Microsoft / Nokia Lumia
Companies that did not achieve a best rating received negative marks in the Habitats & Resources (unsustainable mining) and Human Rights (oppressive regimes and human rights abuses) categories.
References: 1 Global Witness, U.S. Appeals Court ruling on conflict minerals law is a partial victory, says Global Witness: Court’s decision on free speech violation disappointing, 15th April 2014
2 Guardian Online, Companies’ Conflict Mineral Reports are Mixed as SEC Deadline Passes, June 2014
3 Guardian Online, Conflict Minerals Reporting Deadline: Is your Buisiness Ready?, May 2014
4 Enough, The Impact of Dodd-Frank and Conflict Minerals Reforms on Eastern Congo’s Conflict, June 2014
5 More information on CFSP www.conflictfreesourcing.org/media/docs/CFSI_CFSP_SmelterIntroduction_ENG.pdf
6 For a full list of conflict free smelters visit www.conflictfreesourcing.org/conflict-free-smelter-refiner-lists
8 The Open Letter can be viewed in full at http://ethuin.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/09092014-open-letter-final-and-list.pdf
9 Enough, Expectations for Companies Conflict Minerals Reporting, September 2013
Child-mined gold in your gadgets?
There is gold in your mobile phone and computer. In fact, almost all consumer electronic products contain gold. That gold could be from mines where children from the age of six years old are working with their life at stake. Yet none of the best selling mobile phone or computer brands in Europe are able to guarantee that the gold in their products comes from mines without child labour. Whilst the IT sector has increasingly engaged in initiatives to refrain from sourcing conflict minerals (as we discuss above), few have addressed the issue of child labour in their gold supply chain.
The 2013 DanWatch report “Child-mined gold in your gadgets?” describes how children from the age of six years work in small, unauthorised mines in Mali and Ghana, two countries that are among the largest exporters of gold in Africa.
Around seven percent of the gold that is produced ends up in electronics such as mobile phones and computers. An increase in the demand for gold has meant that the gold price has increased dramatically over the last ten years. This has created a growing gold industry in Africa, where there has been a gold rush. According to DanWatch this rush is characterised by small, unauthorised gold mines where there is no monitoring of working conditions.
In these gold mines, children are digging in deep, insecure mine shafts and work underground in shifts of up to ten hours. In Mali, it is estimated that between 20,000 and 40,000 children are working in gold mines, while there are no numbers available in Ghana. Worldwide, it is estimated that at least 1.5 million children are working in the gold mine industry.
Child workers are at great risk of mercury poisoning. Mercury is used to purify gold from ore in a process called amalgamation. Mercury attacks the central nervous system and can cause chronic disabilities, especially in children because their bodies are still developing and therefore particularly vulnerable to heavy metals.
Company policies on gold
DanWatch investigated the policies of eight companies covered in our guide – Samsung, Apple, Nokia, HP, Acer, Lenovo, Asus and Dell. None of these companies is monitoring their gold supply chains to the extent that they could ensure there is no child labour in them. They therefore all lose a point in our Workers’ Rights category.
Read the full report at www.danwatch.dk/en/articles
How responsible are companies with tin?
Tin is used as solder in all electronic gadgets and around a third of the world’s mined tin comes from Bangka and neighbouring island Belitung in Indonesia. In 2012 Friends of the Earth published a report on the devastating aspects of tin mining on Bangka Island.
It found evidence of:
- Dangerous and unregulated tin mining – Police figures show that in 2011 an average of one miner a week died in an accident. Reports of child labour in the unofficial mines are common.
- Coral and sea life threatened – Silt from tin mining is killing seagrass eaten by turtles, and coral reefs, driving away fish and ruining fishermen’s livelihoods.
- Farmland and forest destroyed – Farmers struggle to grow crops in soil left acidic after the destruction of forests for tin mining.
In 2013, FoE assessed how open manufacturers were about their use of raw materials and whether they are honest about the use of tin from Indonesia. They also asked companies if they were prepared to address the abuses in the tin mines on Bangka, for instance, by participating in the Sustainable Trade Initiative. The results are shown in the ranking below.
FoE’s tin ranking
Green: Acer, HP, Lenovo, Apple, LG, Nokia, Sony, Samsung
The brand provides ample information on the use of raw materials and is helping to improve the situation in the tin mines on Bangka Belitung.
Orange: Dell, Toshiba
The brand either takes no responsibility for the situation on Bangka Belitung or does not provide enough information on the use of raw materials.
Red: ASUS, Microsoft
The brand provides little information on the use of raw materials, nor does it take any responsibility for the situation on Bangka Belitung
On our rankings tables ‘Orange’ and ‘Red’ companies lose a mark in our Habitats & Resources, Workers’ Rights and Pollution & Toxics categories.
More information from https://milieudefensie.nl/english/mining/what-is-hiding-behind-your-screen
Chinese company Lenovo is the world’s largest PC manufacturer. It has been acquiring other computer companies including IBM, Motorola and Medion.
Dell is the world’s number 3 supplier of PCs (behind Lenovo and HP). In the largest leveraged buyout since the recession, Dell was acquired in October 2013 by company founder and CEO Michael Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners.
In 2013, Michael Dell received $13,896,912 in total compensation, 394 times the average US worker’s pay. The average worker made $35,239 in 2013.
Japanese company Toshiba owns Westinghouse Electric. This subsidiary claims that almost 50% of nuclear power plants around the world and about 60% of US plants are based on its nuclear technology. Toshiba itself is also involved in the nuclear industry.
US bookseller Barnes & Noble now makes its Nook tablet with Samsung after it struggled to make it competitive when up against Amazon’s Kindle Fire. The Samsung Galaxy Tab4 NOOK is basically Samsung hardware plus Nook software.
Kobo owner, Japanese online retailer Rakuten, agreed to end all online sales of whale and dolphin meat by the end of April 2014, after the international court of justice ordered Japan to immediately halt its annual whale hunts in the southern ocean.
The decision by Rakuten came after the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) exposed the company as the world’s biggest online retailer of whale products and elephant ivory. However the company is still carrying ads for elephant ivory products, many originating from illegal ivory poached in Africa.2 You can send an email or tweet from the EIA website asking them to stop.
Rakuten is sometimes called the Japanese Amazon. It recently made an investment in sharing site Pinterest.
References: 1 AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch, September 2014 2 EIA website – http://eia-international.org/action-alert-tell-rakuten-to-end-elephant-ivory-sales
FOXCONN in Europe
Chinese modes of production and management are increasingly shaping employment relations in Europe. Leading the way in this new race to the bottom is notorious Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn.
New research has shown that Foxconn, through its factories in Turkey and the Czech Republic, has imported working arrangements that keep its costs down. This has allowed them to move manufacturing bases closer to consumers in Western Europe in a process known as “onshoring”.
Most of Foxconn’s 1.2 million workers are based in China. However, 200,000 workers are now employed outside of China, including in Europe.
Research has uncovered four similarities between Foxconn’s operations in China and in Europe.1
Firstly, Foxconn’s production depends on a flexible and available workforce. In the Czech Republic it achieves this by employing 40%of its workforce through temporary migrant agencies.
The workers were found to have come from Bulgaria, Mongolia, Romania, Poland, Ukraine and Vietnam with the researchers stating that “The historic links between these former socialist countries form a foundation for these migratory flows, which are often managed by recruitment agencies with international branches.”3
In Turkey, where all workers are employed directly, the researchers found that Foxconn achieved flexibility by varying the working hours from 30-60 hours per week, depending on production needs. Shifts were often between 10 and 12 hours – day or night – and workers received details about their next shift 24 hours before via text message.
Reducing labour costs
Secondly, Foxconn relies on several methods to drive down labour costs. One way it achieves this is by employing workers through employment agencies. A second method found in the Czech Republic was to create a “fund-system” of core workers on 12 hour shifts. These workers were required to work a total of 930 hours in six months. They received the same salary each month regardless of how many hours they had worked above 930 yet ended up “owing” hours to Foxconn if they failed to meet the quota.
In Turkey, Foxconn took advantage of two government-run programmes to recruit workers. The first one provided internships for high school students. These workers were paid €100 a month for 3 days of work per week. The second government scheme provided apprenticeships to unemployed workers. These workers were paid between €7.50 and €9.30 per day for 8 hours of work. Turkish legislation also permitted Foxconn to average out an individual’s working hours to 45 hours a week over a two-month period, allowing the firm to avoid paying overtime on a week-to-week basis.
Moving workers between tasks and departments to prevent them from reaching production targets and earning monthly bonuses was another practice used by Foxconn to drive costs down.
Thirdly, the Czech Republic Foxconn got a 10-year tax holiday and was exempt from the EU’s high import tariff barriers. In Turkey, Foxconn’s factory is located within the European Free Zone where it can benefit from various tax breaks, including complete exemption from VAT and from taxes on profits and wages. It was estimated that Foxconn saved around €300,000 per year on wages alone in this system.
Finally, the research found that in both countries the influence of the trade unions was extremely limited. In the Czech Republic, the trade union is factory-based, but its level of membership is low and it is forbidden from recruiting workers on the shop floor. The unions were also found to be only interested in core workers and not migrant workers who nearly accounted for nearly half its workforce.
Turkey has low membership of unions. In one factory the researchers found that initially Foxconn had hired union workers but soon forced them to give up their membership. A worker stated “the managers brought their notary to the factory and made them sign papers renouncing their membership. Everybody signed because they’d have been sacked otherwise.”2
The working conditions found in Foxconn factories in Europe may not be as extreme as those found in south-East Asia. However issues such as excessive hours, military style management, lack of unions and repetitive tasks are common place.
The factory in Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic used to make products for Apple. But when the workers started getting together to demand better working conditions, the division was closed. One of the 300 workers who worked on production line stated “They laid off 29 people every ten months – if the number reached 30, the dismissals had to be authorised by the trade union and the local authorities. Those who agreed to leave the union carried on working.”
In Turkey, workers told the researchers that the company only cared about production targets and treated workers as “if they were robots”. One worker stated that the work is “easy and very stressful”. At first she didn’t mind but now she is exhausted and unmotivated. It was found that between two production lines, 5,000 computers were built in 24 hours at a rate of 110-115 computers per hour. Foxconn management resorted to different methods to ensure that targets were reached, including competition between the two assembly lines and among workers in general.
Foxconn moving closer
For Foxconn the practice of moving its production closer to customers looks like it may continue. Terry Gou, Foxconn CEO, announced in February 2014 that it was building factories in the US4 and in Indonesia. Foxconn has demanded free land, tax breaks and import protection in return for locating a factory in Jakarta.6
For Foxconn the need for it to remain competitive and respond to various customer demands means that it is often the workers which bare the brunt of excessive demands, such as shorter production times and reduction in production costs.
References: 1 Rutvica Andrijasevic, Made within / outside the EU: what’s the difference?, June 2014 http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/2014/06/11/made-withinoutside-the-eu-whats-the-difference 2 Open Democracy, The fox at Europe’s door: Foxconn in Turkey, December 2013 3 Open Democracy, China may be far away but Foxconn is on your doorstep, June 2013 4 Wall Street Journal, Foxconn Chairman hopes to step back from role, February 2014 http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/02/17/foxconn-chairman-hopes-to-step-back-from-role 5 Appleinsider, Foxconn may replace ‘iPhone 6’ assembly line workers with ‘Foxbot’ robots, 6th July 2014 www.appleinsider.com/articles/14/07/06/foxconn-to-replace-iphone-6-assembly-line-workers-with-foxbot-robots 6 Wall Street Journal, Foxconn demands unrealistic says Indonesia’s finance minister, September 2014
Apple’s extraordinary tax avoidance
Apple is the most profitable private company in the world.1 Last year it made $37 billion of profits on $174 billion of sales. This made it more profitable that all the world’s oil companies, all other manufacturers and even all the banks and finance companies in the world.
Traditionally, across most human cultures, a windfall of good fortune can lead to an urge to share at least some of it with friends, neighbours or the less fortunate.
Not so Apple. According to the 2013 US Congressional report into Apple’s tax arrangements: “Apple Inc established an offshore subsidiary, Apple Operations International, which from 2009 to 2012 reported a net income of $30bn, but declined to declare any tax residence, filed no corporate income tax return and paid no corporate income taxes to any national government for five years.”2
Not much has changed since then. An investigation by the Daily Mirror in 2014 into Apple’s UK tax arrangements calculated that from about £10.5 billion in estimated UK revenue it paid only £11.4 million in corporation tax. This works out as a tax rate of around 1% (the tax rate is currently set at 21% for larger companies).3
In the words of the BBC’s business correspondent Robert Peston “It is as though a bunch of alien techies arrived from Mars, sold us $30bn (£19.6bn) worth of smartphones and laptops, and then took all the moolah up to the stratosphere, where they simply circled the earth.”
Apple has always had an arrogant, we-know-better-than-you side to its culture. Over the years it has improved in some important key areas where it has now acknowledged that it was wrong. On demonstrating environmental responsibility and grappling with workers’ rights in its supply chains, it has gone from being one of the worst rated computer companies in Ethical Consumer and Greenpeace reports to one of the best. There is still lots to do in these areas mind you (it still scores worst for environmental reporting on our table and middle for supply chain management), but it is demonstrating an understanding of their importance.
Its approach to tax though remains juvenile and profoundly irrational.2 Some of this looks like it may be straightened out by regulators getting tougher – particularly in Europe.4 Until that time, or until it has a change of heart, there are those of us for whom this remains a barrier to buying its products.
References: 1 On www.forbes.com/2000 list viewed 4th October apple was the fifth most profitable company in the world. The four companies listed above it, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, ICBC, and Gazprom are effectively state controlled. The values were calculated in May 2014 2 Robert Peston BBC News Website: Is Apple’s tax avoidance rational 21 May 2013 3 www.mirror.co.uk/news/ampp3d/apples-uk-tax-avoidance-two-4344344#ixzz3FAyIKAHX viewed 4/10/14 4 Apple may have to repay millions from Irish government tax deal. The Guardian Tuesday 30 September 2014
Hewlett-Packard - Strategic partner in Israel’s occupation of Palestine
Hewlett-Packard is a household brand in the UK thanks to the price and quality of its computer equipment. What is less well known about the company is that it’s one of the top arms-producing companies in the world,1 one of the 25 biggest military contractors in the USA,2 and has an extensive number of contracts with the Israeli state and its forces occupying Palestinian lands. The latter render it a key target in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
The BASEL system
A defining characteristic of Israel’s occupation are the checkpoints which range from large permanent security zones to ‘flying’ checkpoints that can spring up anywhere with little more than a military vehicle. In February 2014 there were 99 fixed checkpoints in the West Bank3 in addition to a monthly average (in 2013) of 243 flying checkpoints.4
The checkpoints allow Israel to monitor and control the movements of Palestinians, whilst being the backbone of a network of military bases for the occupying army.
The larger of the checkpoints are supported by a purpose-built, high-tech computer infrastructure that involves ID cards with biometric hand and facial recognition. This is known as the BASEL system. It was ostensibly designed to enable Israel to control the passage of Palestinians into Israel and was funded by the USA.
Today the BASEL system is operational at checkpoints deep inside Palestinian territory and, because of the associated ID cards, Israel has collected the biometric information of nearly every Palestinian over the age of 16 in the illegally occupied territories.
The BASEL system was developed by the Israeli company EDS which was bought by Hewlett-Packard in 2008 and renamed HP Enterprise Services. Who Profits from the Occupation, an Israeli human rights organisation, has established that HP’s contract to maintain the BASEL system was extended until the end of 2013. In June 2014 the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from HP citing the company’s provision of electronic equipment for checkpoints.5
The naval blockade
After winning a contract with the Israeli Navy in 2006, HP Israel assumed “full responsibility for the management and operation of the Navy’s IT infrastructure, including computer and communications centres, information security and full end user support.”6
Since 2007 Israel has maintained a sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, preventing goods from being imported or exported and fishermen from sailing. This has crippled the Gazan economy and contributed to a situation of chronic food insecurity, as well as inhibiting the reconstruction of the territory after devastating Israeli bombardments.
The Israeli navy stands accused of war crimes as a result of these attacks, which included the murder of four children playing football on a beach in July 2014.7 It is also responsible for the deaths of nine international peace activists aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010.8
Israeli army contracts
Israeli soldiers are issued with personal digital assistants which are based on HP technology.9 In 2009 HP won a three year, US$15 million ‘virtualization project’ with the army and HP Global won another contract to supply all computer equipment to the Israeli military. In 2011 it won another two contracts, one to supply all the servers to the Israeli occupation forces and security services. According to Who Profits, “the contract was signed in the US and most of it was sponsored by the US Military Aid Funds”.
Since HP bought EDS in 2008 it has operated a development centre in the illegal settlement of Beithar Illit. It also provides technology and services to two of the biggest settlements in the West Bank, Ariel and Modi’in Illit, including a municipal data storage facility in Ariel.10
Israeli prison services
HP provides central servers, printers and maintains computer equipment for the Israeli prison services. Human rights organisations have documented serious human rights abuses in Israeli prisons, including the detention and torture of children.
Global Exchange / the Coalition to Stop HP
Global Exchange and the Coalition to Stop HP are calling for a boycott of all HP products.
Also see The Coalition to Stop HP Facebook page:
TCO Certified is the international sustainability certification for IT products that was set up in 1992 and run by a Swedish non-profit organisation. It is a voluntary scheme which is third-party verified. TCO Certified combines requirements for social responsibility at the facilities where the product is manufactured, user safety and ergonomic design, as well minimal environmental impact for both the product and its production during the whole life cycle. The criteria include Energy Star (a voluntary US government energy efficiency program) compliance for energy consumption and zero or low use of certain hazardous substances.
In June 2013, a group of 23 organisations working with worker rights and environmental issues criticised the fact that Samsung’s smartphone Galaxy S4 was TCO Certified.1 The critique focused on previously documented cancer cases and workplace accidents among workers at two of Samsung’s factories as well as Samsung’s alleged “anti-union” policy.
The organisations accused TCO of greenwashing – “Sustainability certification is far too simple a tool to ensure respect for human rights in the complex global electronics supply chain”, said Pauline Overeem, Coordinator of Good Electronics, based in Amsterdam.
TCO investigated the criticisms and concluded that they had occurred before the smartphones were certified and it was happy that the TCO requirements were being fulfilled.2
The following are TCO Certified models:
169 Laptops – 109 from Samsung but also 18 models from Asus and 42 Lenovo Thinkpad models.
17 Tablets – All from Samsung.
On the score table we have given those brands Product Sustainability plus points. If you want to find out the model numbers, go to the product database.
Green gadgets rating
The Greenpeace International report, Green Gadgets: Designing the Future, was published in September 2014 and evaluates the progress and future challenges for 16 leading consumer electronics companies on:
- the elimination of hazardous chemicals (focusing on the worst, PVC and BFRs),
- reducing their energy footprint, and
- building sustainable supply chains.
The report found that, while the electronics industry has taken several steps in the right direction, problems remain. The manufacturing of phones, laptops and other devices requires a huge amount of energy and is concentrated in East Asia where coal dominates energy production. Moreover, large quantities of hazardous PVC are still used in electric cables. These dangerous substances will remain in discarded e-waste for many years.
Apple is the only company to have eliminated the use of PVC and BFRs in all its products and recently announced promising further steps on chemical elimination in production.
All of the other brands continue to use PVC power cables as well as PVC and BFRs in some minor components. If the PC market leaders completed the phaseout of PVC in power cables, over 50% of the market would be represented by companies whose products are virtually PVC/BFR free.
Meanwhile, new players in the tablet and mobile markets continue to lag behind: Microsoft have dropped their previous phase-out commitment, and rival Amazon (Kindle Fire tablet and Fire mobile phone) is failing to provide any information to the public.
The report identified supply chain transparency and the elimination of all hazardous chemicals as key next steps for the industry.
Progress on hazardous chemicals in PCs and tablets
- Early movers – from 2008, PVC/BFR free including cables: Apple
- Followers – mostly PVC/BFR free, but all still use PVC in cables: HP, Dell, Acer, LG, Lenovo, Samsung, Toshiba
- Laggards – continue to use PVC/BFR in some parts with no clear phase out plan: Sony.
Apple receives a plus point on our score tables for Product Sustainability. Apple products are also free from phthalates, lead, mercury and arsenic.
Read the Green Gadgets report on the Greenpeace International website.
Laptops consume 85% less energy than a desktop computer.3 Tablets consume even less energy than a laptop because they have lower-powered processors. It’s the processor in a computer which accounts for the bulk of the energy use.
However, for tablets, don’t forget that the energy consumption has shifted to the data centres to which the tablets connect. According to a Greenpeace report, these data centres are often powered by dirty energy: “The rapid growth of the cloud and our use of the internet have produced a collective electricity demand that would currently rank in the top six if compared alongside countries; that electricity demand is expected to increase by 60% or more by 2020 as the online population and our reliance on the internet steadily increase. Critically, the internet’s growing energy footprint has thus far been mostly concentrated in places where energy is the dirtiest.”4
Battery or mains?
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.
References: 1 Asia Monitor Resource Centre, Global health and justice groups demand that TCO Development withdraw its sustainability certification award for Samsung’s S4 Smartphone, 5th June 2013 2 TCO Development , Analysis of critique directed at the certification of Samsung Galaxy S4, December 2013 3 Energy Saving Trust website – www.energysavingtrust.org.uk 4 Clicking Clean – How companies are creating the green internet – Greenpeace, April 2014