Nintendo faces questions over ‘conflict mineral’ policy

Kiyoshi Ota/BLOOMBERG - A boy tries out a Nintendo Co. 3DS handheld game console at the company's showroom in Tokyo on July 28, 2011.

Anti-slavery activists are turning their gaze to the gaming world Wednesday, asking Nintendo to release details on its policies regarding “conflict minerals” in its gaming consoles.

Walk Free, an anti-slavery group, is asking the Japanese gaming company to provide more information on Nintendo’s use of conflict minerals — a term that generally refers to minerals mined in or around the war-torn region of the Democratic Republic of Congo — and how it works with its suppliers to eliminate the presence of these minerals in its products.

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The issue of conflict minerals is one that the U.S. government has tried to address with guidelines in the past. In August 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted rules to encourage companies to look at their mineral sources to make sure they don’t originate from the DRC where the profits could be used to fund conflicts in the area. As The Washington Post reported, companies listed on the U.S. stock markets have until May 31, 2014 to make their first disclosures about whether the minerals they use are “conflict-free.”

But activists say that even companies not affected by those guidelines, such as Nintendo, should follow similar procedures. Deborah Rosen, an organizer with Walk Free said that the group has already asked Nintendo for more details on its policies, including through a massive letter-writing campaign that’s sent hundreds of thousands of letters to the company asking for details about its policies.

Nintendo could not immediately be reached for comment. The company does have its conflict minerals policy posted on its Web site with its Corporate Responsibility Statement, saying that it distributes its policies to all its suppliers and that its lead production partners all have policies “banning the user of conflict minerals.” The company also says on its Web site that it visits facilities to conduct onsite inspections.

The company has also said that it provides its partners with specific directions about its procurement practices and requires production partners to “share updates on materials sourcing and the conflict minerals issue.”

But, Rosen said, Nintendo must go further to fall in line with the rest of consumer electronics industry when it comes to disclosing this kind of information.

“They say they have processes and procedures to evaluate what’s in the supply chain, but they don’t say what that means or what concrete steps they’ve taken to make sure that conflict minerals aren’t in their products,” Rosen said.

Other companies including game competitors Sony and Microsoft as well as consumer tech companies such as Apple, Motorola and HP, Rosen said, take steps such as publicly publishing their policies, mechanisms for dealing with suppliers found using conflict minerals and information on the smelters involved in their supply chains.

The Walk Free campaign, which launches Wednesday, is timed ahead of Nintendo’s annual shareholders meeting on June 27. The campaign involves another letter-writing effort, podcast outlining the conflict mineral issue, plus in-person protests to be staged at Nintendo retailers this weekend. The group has also released a video game of its own as part of the protest. The game, a spoof of Nintendo’s Mario franchise, follows the company’s famous brothers Mario and Luigi as they look for answers in Nintendo’s corporate office. They spend three levels fighting through filing cabinets and water coolers only to find — spoiler alert — that the final boss is in another office.

The game, Rosen said, is meant not to poke fun at the issue of slavery and conflict minerals, but at the “absurdity in [Nintendo’s] lack of a response.”

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