Despite tablets’ growing popularity, laptops are still the UK’s most popular type of computer, appearing in over 80% of homes. HP is the most popular laptop brand followed by Lenovo then Acer.
Score table highlights
Most notably, all of the laptop companies, not just Apple, scored a worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies. See our spotlight on Apple and its tax avoidance.
Laptop companies generally do better than mobile phone companies on Environmental Reporting. Only three companies get a worst rating – Apple, MSI and Acer – as they had fairly comprehensive reports but failed to present at least two future targets for reducing their environmental impact.
Paradoxically, on another environmental issue, Apple was the only laptop company to score best for its toxic chemicals policies. All its products are also free of PVC, BFRs and phthalates and so it gets a positive Product Sustainability score.
Market leader HP is the only company that scores best for managing workers’ rights issues throughout its supply chain but, despite splitting in two, it is still connected to a boycott of Israel.
Laptops and conflict minerals
Campaigners have long identified revenue from the sale of mined elements as a key driver of civil wars and conflict in Southern countries
Of the six brands that scored best, only two of them, Apple and HP, were obliged to report on their conflict minerals sourcing, the rest were reporting voluntarily.
Conflict minerals ratings.
(no companies scored a middle rating)
Human rights abuses in cobalt mines
In January 2016, Amnesty International and African Resources Watch (Afrewatch) published a report detailing human rights abuses associated with artisanal cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Abuses included forced relocations of villages, water pollution and child labour.
Currently, no country legally requires companies to publicly report on their cobalt supply chains and yet the Amnesty report calls into question corporate assertions that they are capable of monitoring their supply chains for human rights abuses or child labour.
Tin mining in Indonesia
Laptops contain tin which is used for the solder. And much of it comes from two Indonesian islands: Bangka and Belitung, which together are about the size of Northern Ireland and produce a third of the tin used worldwide.
Bangka and Belitung have been producing tin for centuries (“Bangka” means “tin” in the local dialect), and about 60% of the population are either tin miners or work in related industries.
However, while mining used to be controlled by the government, in 2001 it was deregulated, and since then mining operations have spread indiscriminately, with scant attention to environmental or social issues.
Tin mining is lucrative but dangerous, and unless remedial measures are taken, it’s very environmentally destructive. Agricultural land and tropical forest have been destroyed, and dredging for ore at sea has churned up sediment which has buried coral reefs and killed off fish stocks.
A lot of the mines are informal operations, child labour is rife, and safety measures such as terracing pits are often ignored. Injuries and fatal accidents are common.
Friends of the Earth’s tin ratings
Over the last few years, Friends of the Earth Netherlands has been examining all the biggest phone and PC companies’ policies regarding tin sourcing, and has rated them on the extent to which they are encouraging better standards in Indonesia. They argue that it is possible for tin to be mined much less destructively on Bangka and Belitung if standards are improved. For example, sea dredgers can deposit leftover sand on the seafloor rather than simply dumping it overboard.
Foxconn, the hidden giant in your gadgets
The products in these guides are put together by, or built with components made by, subcontractors, mainly in China.
There’s a good chance that one of these subcontractors is Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturing company, based in Taiwan. It has factories in Asia, Brazil, Europe, and Mexico that, as of 2012, together manufactured approximately 40% of all consumer electronics products sold. It has nine factories in China, more than in any other country, and it is for these factories that it has attracted the most criticism.
It is famous for putting together Apple iPads and iPhones and it has been widely acclaimed as the hidden partner behind Apple’s success. Foxconn became notorious in 2010 because of a series of suicides among young workers after which it installed suicide-prevention netting at the base of buildings.
Since then, a long list of worker abuses has come to light: poor wages and working conditions including long hours, low pay, no freedom of speech or association, unpaid and excessive overtime and demanding production targets, humiliating disciplinary measures and unsafe working conditions.
Apple isn’t Foxconn’s only customer. It makes electronic components and finished products for a number of companies in these guides including Dell, HP, Microsoft and Samsung. Apple now undertakes annual audits which are verified by the Fair Labor Association, and whilst there have been some improvements, there is still a long way to go.Foxconn’s Longhua facility in Shenzen is often referred to as Foxconn City. It covers 3 square kms, has 15 factories and employs over 200,000 workers. Many of them work up to 12 hours a day for 6 days each week.