Video game company Nintendo is known for its many path-breaking innovations. But after the recent case of anti-slavery group Walk Free asking Nintendo to ensure its suppliers source minerals responsibly; questions of sustainability plague the game makers.
Nintendo is the poster child of disruptive innovation. Disruption experts like Anthony Scott like to use the Wii as an example of new market disruption, explaining how “instead of focusing on sharper graphics, crisper sound, or more complicated interfaces, Nintendo is expanding the market by making video games simpler and more accessible.” Hell, there’s even a Harvard business case study entitled “Nintendo’s Disruptive Strategy: Implications for the Video Game Industry.”
Why am I bringing this up? Because when it comes to conflict minerals, Nintendo is no innovator, and actually seems to be lagging behind most other electronic companies. That’s why the company was targeted by the anti-slavery group Walk Free in a campaign asking Nintendo to ensure its suppliers source minerals responsibly.
So why is such an innovative company so behind when it comes to conflict minerals? And, no less important, can acting responsibly on conflict minerals be a disruptive force? Can it disrupt the disruptor?
Nintendo’s conflict minerals practices are nothing new. The main issue seems to be the company’s lack of engagement with organizations working to eradicate conflict minerals like the Enough Project. In 2010 the organization reported that “Nintendo… has been entirely unresponsive to NGO engagement efforts.” Instead of engaging with activists, Enough Project complained, Nintendo had an auto-response email to their inquiries:
“…As a remote purchaser that buys finished components made from many materials, Nintendo requires its suppliers to comply with its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Procurement Guidelines, which stipulate suppliers comply with applicable laws, have respect for human rights and conduct their business in an appropriate and fair manner.”
Two years later nothing seems to have changed much – in a report Enough Project issued to assess consumer electronics companies on their progress toward responsible and conflict-free supply chains, Nintendo was the only company to receive zero points and was ranked last. “Nintendo is, I believe, the only company that has basically refused to acknowledge the issue or demonstrate they are making any sort of effort on it,” Sasha Lezhnev, senior policy analyst at Enough Project told CNN.
After reading this report, a high-school activist in California started a Change.org petition, calling Nintendo to follow the lead of other electronic companies and clean up its supply chain. Her petition, Enough Project reported, inspired the Australian-based anti-slavery group Walk Free to create its own petition, asking Nintendo to “take the first step toward ensuring their products are free of conflict minerals mined with slavery by auditing their supply chain according to industry standards and making this information public.”
430,558 people have emailed Nintendo following this petition and Nintendo seems to be taking notice. A company spokesperson told Polygon, a technology news blog, last September that in addition to having its CSR Procurement Guidelines that all suppliers have to adhere to, the company “obtained individual confirmation from each production partner that they agree not to use conflict minerals.”
While this response reflected some progress, Enough Project’s Lezhnev explains that it’s still far from meeting even the bare minimum. “Guidelines are not supply chain investigations, audits, requirements to source from conflict-free smelters, or a plan to help certification. Nintendo should join the electronics industry audit program for conflict-free smelters, and require its suppliers to use only conflict-free smelters.”
Walk Free was also dissatisfied with Nintendo’s progress and last month it moved its campaign to the next level, releasing a video game parody of Super Mario Bros and an interactive video game in a call to Nintendo to audit their supply chain according to industry standards and make this information public.
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