To build the components that make up a computing device requires a plethora of raw materials.
Among these are a number of metal elements that are commonly sourced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the mining trade has, for many years, been used to fund brutal conflicts, notably in the Eastern regions of the country, as well as in neighbouring states.
To find out more information about this, check out our feature on technology and conflict minerals.
Ethical Consumer expected all laptop, PC and smartphone manufacturers to have an adequate policy addressing conflict minerals regardless of whether they were bound to do so by law.
To get our best rating, these companies were required to list specific examples of how they had carried out the five steps mentioned in our feature, rather than simply referring to them.
Toxic chemicals rating
|Micropro (iameco), Apple, Huawei
||Acer, Lenovo, HP, Dell, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Samsung
||VeryPC, ASUS, Fujitsu, MSI, Toshiba
Among the dozens of elements and compounds used in the production of electronic devices are numerous substances known to be toxic to human health and the natural environment.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are two substances often used in the plastic parts of electronic devices. Both substances are known to produce harmful by-products, such as highly toxic and carcinogenic dioxins, which can be released at various stages of a product’s lifecycle.
The danger becomes acute after the disposal of a device, when plastics are often burned in incinerators or by workers in informal recycling operations, releasing dioxins directly into the air.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals often used as a softener in PVC. Over time, they leak out of plastic materials into the surrounding environment and have been linked to a wide range of health problems affecting the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive systems.
In the European Union, the RoHS Directive restricts the use of toxic substances in electronics, including a number of BFRs and, as of 2019, four phthalates. However, the restrictions do not extend to all chemicals in these groups.
Ethical Consumer rates electronics companies on their level of commitment to completely phasing out PVC, BFRs and phthalates. The three PC brands that received our best rating for the use of toxic chemicals – iameco, Apple and Huawei – had committed to removing all PVC and BFRs from their entire product range. The companies that received our worst rating had either committed to reducing rather than eliminating these substances or had no public policy.
Are there any regulations on toxic chemicals?
TCO Certified is a sustainability label for IT products, which takes into account a broad range of social and environmental factors in the lifecycle of a product.
For a product to be awarded the TCO-Certified label, it must meet numerous criteria relating to both the design and manufacture including criteria on worker’s rights, conflict minerals, hazardous chemicals, user health and safety, durability, and recyclability.
Of the companies featured in these guides, Lenovo, HP, Dell and Fujitsu offered TCO-Certified PC models (including laptops, hybrids and desktop PCs).
On our score table, TCO-Certified products are awarded a Product Sustainability positive mark. To find out if a specific model has the label, we recommend using the Product Finder on the TCO Certified website.