- Packard Bell92
- Tiny Green PC76
- Tranquil PC76
Advances in the computer industry have revolutionised our work and leisure time, but the never-ending drive for the latest technology has had some alarming consequences. However, there are also numerous ethical issues surrounding technology today. We live in a throw-away culture where products are regularly upgraded – rather than fixed, which has immense environmental and human rights implications. From the sourcing of materials which go into the products, the people working in the factories making them and the ever-growing problem of electronic waste, we all have a responsibility to put pressure on manufacturers to improve these issues. One very easy way to do this is by making an ethical choice using the latest research which is published on The Good Shopping Guide – and the good news is, it often won’t cost any more.
Who makes your computer?
More than one-third of electronic goods are made in poor countries, notably China, Thailand and Mexico. Some of the larger manufacturers have been accused of ignoring labour regulations by preventing workers from forming associations and enforcing compulsory overtime in their factories.
The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (www.cafod.org.uk) runs a campaign highlighting abuses in this sector, and has been a catalyst in the introduction of codes of conduct in the industry. Despite this progress, the current guidelines still contain significant omissions, and do not insist on a working week of less than sixty hours or cover the right of all workers to associate.
Before buying a new computer, be sure to investigate working conditions at the company. Check the table below to find out about the most ethically-produced machines.
The escalating problem of electrical waste has been exacerbated by the seemingly built-in obsolescence of many machines, and the enormous demand for replacements has led to unsatisfactory working conditions in factories world-wide.
A report by the United Nations University (UNU) reveals that the amount of “e-waste” generated globally is increasing by two million tons a year and will reach 50 megatons by 2018 – with Britons among the planet’s biggest generators of e-waste. Britain ranks fifth in the world in the weight of material discarded per inhabitant, with each Briton generating 23.5kg each year. Landfill disposal or incineration is entirely inappropriate for computers, which contain dangerous chemicals including mercury and hexavalent chromium.
An EU directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment came into European law in August 2005, based on the principle of ‘extended producer responsibility’. This requires manufacturers to provide consumers with information and resources about how to recycle old electronic equipment for free, and contribute to any related recycling costs. You can also visit the Recycle More website to find the closest recycling banks to you.
Upgrading and reconditioning
Another potential answer relates to the reconditioning old machines. As an alternative to disposal, an attractive possibility is to arrange for the computer’s re-use. Ageing machines can be reconditioned and then re-sold to another user. This process has the advantage of conserving the raw materials and energy used in manufacturing. The refurbishment of computers can also provide a social benefit, enabling less wealthy institutions and individuals to purchase the equipment at a lower price. Several charities arrange for unwanted computers to be sent to schools or developing countries after reconditioning.
Even if the computer as a whole is too old to be passed on, the individual parts may nevertheless be suitable for re-use. The Waste Online website has a comprehensive list of contact details for refurbishment schemes across the UK.
Another possibility to consider is upgrading an existing machine rather than buying a new model. Upgrading the computer memory, for example, can often prove a simple and cost-effective way to reduce waiting times and increase the file handling capacity of a PC.
Upgrades and re-use can help to alleviate the environmental pressures created by the increasingly rapid manufacture of new machines. At the moment only 26 per cent of waste IT equipment is recycled, so any diversion of waste from landfill can really make a difference.
Our latest research below, shows a number of lesser-known brands offering real ethical alternatives. We recommend iameco, Aleutia, Broadleaf, Tiny Green PC and Tranquil PC – each of these brands have excellent environmental credentials, both in the product build themselves through to the day-to-day running of the machines.
Of the better-know brands, both Acer and Asus score very well overall.
Ethical Computers Rankings Detailed Table
Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.
We have created ethical rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Acer, Packard Bell, iameco, Linx, Aleutia, Asus, Broadleaf PC, Tiny Green PC, Tranquil PC, Archos, Dell, Toshiba, Zoostorm, Alienware, Microsoft Surface, Huawei, Lenovo, Sony, Apple, HP, Kindle Fire and Samsung.
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LAST UPDATED: 2016