Just because they're dressed as the famous plumber doesn't mean they're fans of Mario.
Nintendo has been one of the best-known worldwide developers of videogames and consoles since the early '80s. Of the major competitors out there, Nintendo is known for being the family-friendly brand, with its all-ages titles and its adorable mascots. It's, effectively, the Disney of the videogame community.
So why were 50 protestors outside of Nintendo World in Rockefeller Center yesterday dressed as Mario and holding signs that read "Slavery Isn’t a Game"?
The protest itself was organized by nonprofit organization Walk Free, which works to combat modern slavery worldwide. Many of the minerals needed for electronics companies to produce their product come from mines in the Eastern Congo. The problem is that the region suffers from major human rights issues. In this case the most notable violations revolve around owners of the mines forcing locals to work against their will. Since the people running the mines are earning a profit by selling the minerals to major corporations, they are able to continue the cycle of slavery.
The reason Walk Free has targeted Nintendo specifically is because, sadly, Nintendo seems to be the worst when it comes to utilizing what have been deemed "conflict minerals." One accusation in August of last year's Enough Project Report states that "Nintendo has made no known effort to trace or audit its supply chain."
So, allegedly, Nintendo is choosing to turn a blind eye to where its raw materials are coming from. In the eyes of human-rights activists, that's a big no-no, and with good reason.
In America, companies are legally obligated to submit to independent audits, the results of which are made public so that there is complete transparency over where raw materials are obtained. Meanwhile, Japanese companies like Nintendo are under no such legal obligation. And while Sony has made inroads to get Japanese companies to voluntarily submit themselves to independent audits, Nintendo has made no attempts to do the same.
As for Nintendo itself, the only response it's given has been to send out the official company policy on Conflict Minerals.
We take our social responsibilities as a global company very seriously and expect our production partners to do the same. We ban the use of conflict minerals and also prohibit our production partners from using any conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo and adjoining countries.
Because Nintendo outsources the manufacture and assembly of all Nintendo products to production partners, in 2008 we provided to all of our production partners the Nintendo Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Procurement Guidelines. We implemented these guidelines based on relevant laws, international standards and guidelines that focus on protecting human rights, ensuring workplace safety, promoting corporate ethics and safeguarding the environment…Each of our lead production partners has a policy banning the use of conflict minerals. Additionally, we investigate the source of materials in our products by requesting that our production partners complete a conflict minerals questionnaire; we also require disclosure of the procedures they use to trace minerals within their supply chain.
Moreover, we personally visit the facilities of our production partners to conduct onsite inspections. The intent of these inspections is to continually enforce our policies and provide feedback to ensure that Nintendo’s CSR Procurement Guidelines are being followed. During these inspections we emphasize Nintendo’s policy that bans the use of conflict minerals; we also require each production partner to share updates on materials sourcing and the conflict minerals issue.
Which is basically like saying, "Don't worry, we totally checked on that slavery thing and it's cool. Nothing to see here!" So you can see why organizations like Walk Free aren't exactly convinced.
The protest was held yesterday in the hope that it would trigger a conversation at Nintendo's annual shareholder's meeting in Kyoto today. Of course, considering that the only person the protestors spoke with was the manager at a retailer, Nintendo World doesn't give us much hope. Especially since, apparently, the letter submitted by the protestors was, ultimately, glued to a Super Mario-style question box.
So the next time Mario jumps up to punch one of those question boxes, he might find slavery instead of a magic mushroom. Yikes.