Televisions

We investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental records of 12 television manufacturers.

We also give our Best Buy recommendations and look at EU energy efficiency labels, the use of conflict minerals, toxic chemicals and tax avoidance.

About 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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What to buy

What to look for when buying a TV:

  • Is it second-hand? New models rely on the extraction and use of resources associated with many human rights and environmental issues. Opt for a low-energy second-hand model.

  • Does it use less energy? TVs are only responsible for about 4% of our domestic electricity use, but it is still worth looking for one with low energy use (rather than just a good energy label rating).

  • Does the brand score well for its toxics policy? All electronics contain potentially dangerous toxic chemicals. We expect companies to have a policy that commits to phasing out the worst chemicals.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying a television:

  • Do you need one? Using an existing device and a streaming service will give you the biggest savings in terms of energy, resources and human costs.

  • Is it funding conflict? Conflict minerals are associated with a number of issues including poor workers’ rights, pollution and the funding of armed conflicts. Avoid companies that score a worst for their conflict mineral rating.

  • Is the company likely to be avoiding tax? The signs of possible tax avoidance are widespread among the companies rated in this guide. All but one company received our worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

The Bigger Picture - Ethical issues behind your TV screen

The average Briton spends almost ten years of their life watching TV, and over 95% of households own a television set.

TVs have become more energy efficient with time, so watching them now burns through less electricity. But like all electronics, they require significant resources to manufacture and have a serious impact on the communities involved.

Table highlights

Toxic chemicals

Many of the elements and compounds used in electronic devices are known to be toxic both to human health and the natural environment.

These include polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants, used in plastic parts, and phthalates, which are often used as a softener for PVC. These can release harmful by-products, including some carcinogens, particularly during disposal when burning releases chemicals directly into the air.

Ethical Consumer rates electronics companies on their commitments to phasing out these chemicals. No company in this guide received our best rating for toxic chemicals:

Worst: Cello, LG, Hisense, Dixons Carphone (Logik), Hitachi, Sharp, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sainsbury (Bush)

Middle: Philips, Sony, Samsung

Tax avoidance

The companies in this guide also did not do well in terms of likely use of tax avoidance strategies. In fact, all but one received our worst rating. Cello received a best.

Energy costs

When making purchasing decisions, we often focus on the amount of energy a product uses once bought. This is especially true for goods like TVs that have energy labels showing the efficiency and annual energy consumption through use.

But the most recent research we could find (from 2010) suggests that manufacturing a TV emits 300 kg CO2e.

By comparison, watching an average 40” TV emits around 52kg CO2e each year in the UK with our current electricity grid mix. That means it would take almost six years for use to equal manufacturing.

Production may have improved since 2010, but it is still likely that manufacturing is a substantial proportion of the lifetime carbon emissions of a TV.

This is without even mentioning the other environmental impacts of production: the huge amount of natural resources that are used, including 30 different minerals and lots of petrochemical-based plastics, the reliance on toxic chemicals, and the many issues with disposal…

Energy efficiency

Televisions are responsible for 4% of total electricity use in the home, and electricity use is itself only a fraction of home energy consumption overall, much more of which is heating. Still, energy

efficiency is always worth considering if you are going to buy a TV (whether second-hand or new).

Televisions are becoming more energy-efficient, helped in part by the introduction of the EU energy labelling scheme for televisions in 2010. TVs are rated A+++ to D.

With energy labels, it is tempting to read the headline energy efficiency class, the A or A+ rating, and then look no further. But the rating does not always correlate to how much energy your TV will actually use.

The overall energy use is affected by the size and features of the TV as well as its energy efficiency. As you might expect, the larger the screen the more energy required to power it.

Usefully, the EU energy label also shows the in-use power consumption in watts and the annual power consumption in kWh based on 4 hours’ usage per day.

It is this that is the important figure. The label also tells consumers whether the TV has a power button, enabling you to switch off the TV completely rather than leave it in ‘standby’ mode, which continues to use a small amount of energy.

If you want to make a choice based on energy consumption, the independent energy efficiency website www.sust-it.net lists over 300 televisions in terms of their in-use and standby running costs per day and per year, and users can sort by screen size and type. The Energy Saving Trust’s comparison site, www.toptenuk.org, shows the best performers for energy efficiency within different size brackets only.

The resolution race

As TVs become more energy-efficient, manufacturers are also racing to make them higher-res – undoing some of the good work when it comes to in-use energy consumption.

In recent years, manufacturers have moved from HD to Ultra-HD models. As a general rule, the higher resolution the TV (the more pixels used), the greater the energy consumption. 4K TVs – which have images 4000 pixels wide – consumed an average of 33% more energy than their HD predecessors at the point at which they were launched.

This year, manufacturers started offering 8K models – meaning they have again doubled the number of pixels on offer and again hiked the energy required.

Which screen?

There are several different screen types.

LEDs are the most energy-efficient screen, using roughly 20-30% less energy on average than an LCD of the same size. Plasmas are by far the least efficient, using almost twice as much power as an LCD and almost 3 times as much as an LED of the same size. For example:

    Power Consumption watts/hour  
Screen Size LED LCD Plasma
30 inches 50 60 150
50 inches 100 150 300

Is it ever worth replacing your TV for a more energy-efficient model?

Even just from a carbon perspective, the answer is no. Televisions have become more energy-efficient over time.

But you’d have to wait 135 years if you replaced an average efficiency 40” TV from 2016 with an average efficiency 40” TV from 2019 before the energy-saving in use was more than the manufacturing carbon cost. (300 kg CO2e), based on the current carbon footprint of UK electricity (0.28307 kg CO2e per kWh).

Repairing TVs and getting TVs second-hand

Repairing TVs

Given the substantial energy and resource costs, as well as labour rights issues, involved in producing a new television, repair is a good thing to consider if your TV seems to be on its last legs.

Lots of small businesses offer repairs, as well as Currys, which give a 12-month repair guarantee for the fault repaired on your television.

Second-hand TVs

Second-hand is by far the best option you can go for if buying a replacement.

There are lots of second-hand TVs for sale that are only a year or so old, so you might be able to make an in-use energy saving and avoid the impacts of a new TV.

See our guide to buying second-hand technology.

E-waste and disposal

Each year, discarded TVs add to the huge amount of e-waste we generate: 50 million tonnes annually. The complexity of electronic equipment makes disposal complicated. Yet, only 20% of this mountain is reported as properly collected and recycled.

If not recycled properly, TVs join other electronic equipment often shipped to the global south, particularly Africa and Asia.

There, they will be sold on or sorted in informal recycling sites, where they are smashed and casings burnt, releasing toxic chemicals, before precious parts are sorted by hand. Workers on these sites face serious health issues as a result.

Some local authorities collect small electrical items as part of their kerbside collection. Otherwise you can recycle at some retailers and at Household Waste Recycling Centres. Recycle Now can be used to find your local recycling spots accepting TVs.

image: Ghanain man carrying electrical cables to reclaim wire
A bundle of electronic cables and other electrical components from second-hand electrical goods that are imported to Ghana to be ‘recycled’. They are burned to melt off the plastic and reclaim the copper wiring.

Living TV-less

Despite more and more of us also watching on our laptops, smartphones and other devices, TV ownership is again on the rise. Considering the costs of a new television, living TV-less is an option well worth considering.

In recent years, linking a laptop, tablet, smartphone or desktop PC to a monitor or projector and using a streaming service such as BBC iPlayer or Netflix has become a popular option. If this means forgoing yet another device, then it is a good way to reduce ecological impact. (If it means every family member owning several alternative devices, however, this obviously will not be the case.)

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Human rights

The electronics industry is notorious for its poor treatment of the communities and workers in its supply chains, from the minerals funding armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the sweatshops relying on exploitative student labour.

Television manufacturers have faced much less scrutiny over their practices than some other electronics like computers and mobile phones. However, they are linked to many of the same exploitative conditions.

The conflicts in your TV

Almost 30 different minerals are used in a TV. The extraction of these damages the land. Industrial mining permanently scars the Earth’s surface, leaving behind toxic wastewater and soil. Mining areas are rarely rehabilitated.

Five minerals in particular have been linked to serious human rights violations: cobalt (see our ethical shopping guide to batteries), and what are known as the four conflict minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (known as 3TG).

For years, paramilitary groups have fought for control of small-scale artisan mines in the DRC, where extraction of ‘3TG’ minerals takes place. Forced and child labour are common, and the money raised funds further violence, exploitation and corruption.

Workers in the DRC have, however, urged companies not to simply leave the region, as many depend on mining for their income. Instead, companies should work to ensure that the minerals aren’t coming from mines controlled by armed groups.

We rate all electronics manufacturers on their conflict mineral policies, and they scored as follows:

Best: LG, Philips, Sony

Middle: Hitachi, Toshiba

Worst: Cello, Dixons Carphone (Logik), Hisense, Sharp, Panasonic, Samsung, Sainsbury’s (Bush) Cello, Hisense, Dixons Carphone (Logik) and Sainsbury’s (Bush) didn’t appear to have a conflict mineral policy at all.)

Sweatshop labour

Electronics companies have also long been known to rely on sweatshops, often located in countries such as China and Mexico.

China

Electronics factories in China have been linked to low wages, excessive working hours, forced overtime and insufficient breaks, whilst even the limited labour laws that do exist are frequently violated.

Workers’ rights organisations have repeatedly raised concerns about the use of student ‘interns’, some as young as 16. The practice is commonplace and legal in China, but companies often break laws preventing students from working overtime or over night. Universities and teachers are often paid by companies to recruit students – who are sometimes told that they will be unable to graduate if the internship is not completed.

Mexico

Workers in factories on Mexico’s border with the USA, where televisions are often assembled, have also faced decades of poor conditions. They face extremely low wages and unsafe working. The average wage is just 50 cents to 1 dollar an hour.

But until recently, the workers were unable to strike or negotiate better agreements: companies often selected the unions that would represent their workers, which received ‘protection money’ from management rather than negotiating for labourers. Nine out of ten collective-bargaining contracts for the factories were agreed without the consent and sometimes even without the knowledge of the company’s workers.

In April, they won the legal right for the first time to bargain collectively with employers through independent labour unions, without fear of retaliation or harassment. A former senator from Mexico City tweeted about the change in law: “Decades of struggles, murders, harassment, and jailings are the precedent for this historic conquest.”

Most of these Mexican-manufactured TVs are destined for the American market but they are sold by the same companies supplying our own. None of the companies included in this guide received our Best rating for Supply Chain Management. Cello, Hisense, Dixons Carphone (Logik), Philips, Sharp, Sony and Samsung all received our worst.

NAFTA trade deal suppressed Mexican workers

In 1994, the USA, Canada and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) trade deal. This ensured a huge growth in ‘maquilas’ – factories, often located on the Mexican border, that are largely duty- and tarifffree to allow cheap imports and exports between the countries.

US and Canadian companies turned to these to cut labour costs: Mexican workers are paid a fraction of the wage and until recently have held no union rights. Maquilas grew to employ 30% of Mexico’s labour force over the next decade and a half.

Real wages have fallen in Mexico since NAFTA was introduced, despite its supporters promising improved working conditions. Nowadays they are 40% lower in real terms than manufacturing wages in China.

Defendants of NAFTA pointed to its labour dispute process, and in the first decade after it was introduced about two-dozen complaints of workers’ rights violations were filed. The vast majority were in Mexico, and included allegations of retaliation against workers who tried to unionise, denial of collective bargaining rights, forced pregnancy testing, mistreatment of migrant workers, and life-threatening health and safety conditions. However, none led to any sanctions.

USMCA – the new NAFTA being negotiated between the US, Canada and Mexico – may be an improvement.

Mexico has introduced protections for unions and extended rights to migrant workers. It also, theoretically, includes a stronger system for filing labour complaints. Under USMCA, the United States could file labour complaints through the regular dispute resolution system – but only if it involves labour violations that are harming US trade

image: rosa moreno mexico handless standing behind an LG TV
Rosa Moreno was a factory worker in a Maquiladora, a plant in Reynosa, Mexico. Her hands were cut off by a metal stamping press while making backs for LG TVs. Mexican Labor Law limits LG’s liability to two years of back wages or $4500 US for her permanent disability. But she refused this payment. Even though it is not clear that there is a way to obtain a better settlement through the court system under NAFTA, she holds out.
She gets by on the Mexican government’s equivalent of Social Security disability, about $230 dollars a month. There was no union. Some church groups help her out a bit with food and some money.

Company Profiles

Samsung is a South Korean multinational conglomerate. It has repeatedly faced allegations of labour rights abuses, including the use of child labour and serious health and safety issues in its supply chains.

In 2017, a report found that in two Vietnamese Samsung factories female workers were forced to stand throughout their shifts while pregnant and commonly faced miscarriages. Samsung also invests in companies involved in the manufacture and sale of cluster munitions.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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