It’s 7 a.m. Your alarm clock, which is also your phone, buzzes in your ear.
There are three minerals that make that vibration happen, and they’re found in a tiny number of places around the world. Tin, tantalum, tungsten (the three Ts) and gold are known as "blood minerals" because they’re sourced from war-torn areas like the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. When war makes lives seem cheap and mineral deposits make warlords rich—well, guess what happens next.
"Blood minerals" are made possible by companies that pay resource managers who rape and pillage in order to maintain control of these deposits. That’s where Nintendo comes in. Like several thousand electronics companies, Nintendo uses the three Ts and gold to make its products vibrate. But unlike other companies, anti-slavery group Walk Free argues that Nintendo has not implemented measures to make sure the company sources its Ts responsibly.
On June 26, Walk Free delivered a petition to Nintendo offices in advance of the gaming company’s annual investors meeting in Kyoto. Having amassed some 430,000 signatures, Walk Free is now asking Nintendo to address its blood minerals policy. So far, Nintendo has referred Walk Free to its CSR policy.
"There’s nothing substantive in that policy," says Debra Rosen, movement director of Walk Free. "When asked for what steps are taken to audit suppliers they’ve been unresponsive."
A 2012 report from human rights group the Enough Project ranked Nintendo last in a list of 24 leading consumer electronics companies based on how the companies dealt with sourcing conflict minerals. While the Enough Project highlights electronics companies that had taken proactive steps by seeking an external audit from the industry’s Conflict-Free Smelter program, "Nintendo has made no known effort to trace or audit its supply chain," the report states.
Last fall, Nintendo announced that it had made progress in removing conflict minerals from its Wii products. All of the company’s lead production partners had promised they wouldn’t use them. "Each of our lead production partners has a policy banning the use of conflict minerals," the company’s conflict minerals policy states. "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." Nintendo is saying that it leaves the responsibility to its suppliers. Walk Free wants more: That Nintendo audit its supply chain itself to ensure there are no conflict minerals.
In response to a request for comment, Nintendo referred us to their conflict minerals statement and the company’s most recent CSR report. No mention in the latter is made of auditing or inspecting for conflict mineral production.
Regardless of CSR statements, industry-wide audits will soon be required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In 2010, the Dodd Frank Act directed the SEC to come up with rules regarding disclosure of conflict minerals, and in 2012 the Commission ruled that companies would have to file their first reports in May 2014.
In the meantime, several electronics companies have taken concrete steps to address the issue. Intel, for example, is in the process of developing a conflict-free microchip, and HP has been working with Congo to improve clean trade. Intel, along with 16 other electronics companies, also serves on the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA), a working group formed among the State Department, electronics companies, and human rights organizations to address conflict minerals. Apple was the first company to audit the smelters in its supply chain.