Home Appliances


Last updated: February 2018

 

 

The ethics of home appliance brands

 

 

This special report looks at the ethics behind the brands that make everything from dishwashers to kettles. Ranking them on a number of ethical criteria and looking at some of the big ethical issues in the market.

 

 

Energy efficiency
 

The dominant theme in all the home appliances guides is energy efficiency.

Because of European legislation, washing machines, dishwashers, ovens and fridges all need to display an energy efficiency label.

Unfortunately, there is no energy label for kettles or microwaves.

Read more about the label and how some manufacturers and online retailers are failing to display the energy label, even though they are legally obliged to do so.

 

Other featured issues:

Re-use and recycling

Going off Grid

Readers top tips

 

 

More Industry Wide Issues 

 

Defence industry links

 

Some of the bigger household appliance companies specialise in mechanical engineering. Nine of them manufacture a whole host of military technology, from drones to armoured vehicles to communications equipment. This point is drawn out on our score tables, where the companies are marked down under our Arms & Military Supply category.

Those that were deducted a full mark were:

  • Zorlu Holding (Servis) – drones and fuel cells for armoured vehicles for the Turkish defence industry.1
  • Koç Holding (Beko, Blomberg, Grundig) – also supply the Turkish defence industry with armoured vehicles, including battle tanks.
  • Panasonic – computers and communications equipment in the USA.
  • Bosch – communications equipment to the US Department of Defense.
  • Liebherr – armoured cranes, flight control systems, landing gear, air management systems, gears and gearboxes for combat aircraft, military transporters, military training aircraft and combat helicopters.2 

 

Investor (AEG, Zanussi, Electrolux), Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Daewoo, and Newell Brands (Breville) were all deducted a half mark for their involvement in the armaments industry.

 

 

Conflict minerals

 

With most domestic appliances having electronic elements these days, Ethical Consumer expects all companies in this sector to have a policy on the sourcing of the conflict minerals (tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold) which are key components of electronic devices.

Companies with inadequate or non-existent policies were marked down for unsustainable mining (Habitats & Resources column on the score table) and human rights abuses (Human Rights column).

Most of the 43 companies in these guides scored a worst rating in this category – only six companies did not. See the individual guides for how the companies rated in each sector.

Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, notably in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The revenue from the illegal mining and trading of these minerals has been exploited to fund armed conflict, and serious human rights abuses are connected to those conflicts and to the mines for certain ores.

See the individual guides listed below for how the companies rated in each sector.

 

 

Toxic chemicals


We have rated all the companies in these guides on the use of three toxic chemicals commonly used in electrical equipment – brominated flame retardants, PVC and phthalates.

Most of the companies in these guides did not have a policy on the use of these chemicals – only four companies did.

See the individual guides listed below for how the companies rated in each sector.

 

 

Nanotechnology
 

Nanoparticles have been used in this sector for a while. Silver nano-coating in particular is often used in fridges and washing machines, as it sterilises many forms of bacteria (Samsung claims around 650), after being electrolysed into silver ions. Some studies have suggested, however, that nanoparticles can pose a fairly serious health risk, damaging cells in the lungs when inhaled. There are also fears that nanoparticles could damage microbes that are helpful to ecosystems, and Friends of the Earth has raised concerns about this.

Ethical Consumer’s stance is that while nanotechnology could be very valuable if proven safe, not enough research has been done about the potential risks, and it is not really necessary in a home appliance anyway.

That is without considering the fact that mining silver ore, and smelting it to make metallic silver, requires huge amounts of water and energy.

While several companies made reference to some form of ‘nano-’ feature in the description of their products, little information could be found about the technology they actually used, so they haven’t been marked down for this. But, if you see the prefix, you may want to take the precautionary principle and avoid these products.

 

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References:

1 Vestel Defence Industry website viewed 22/1/18

2 https://www.asianaviation.com/articles/944/Liebherr-Aerospace-is-a-leading-supplier-of-systems-for-the-aviation-industry