Nintendo is again being chastised by activists for not ensuring that minerals mined by slave labor in African conflict areas are not used in the manufacture of their electronics. Nintendo is criticized annually for this, but this time the activists have made a Super Mario game to underscore their point.
It's the work of something called Walk Free, which also recorded a podcast featuring Sasha Lezhnev, whose Enough Project is the one constantly rating Nintendo "dead last" among 24 major electronics firms, worldwide, for their efforts in keeping conflict minerals out of their supply chain. Lezhnev also wrote an op-ed on this subject for Kotaku back in 2010.
Walk Free is particularly incensed that Nintendo won't respond to what it says are more than 400,000 signatures on a petition asking the company "to take credible steps to ensure slave-mined minerals are not in their gaming consoles."
The slave labor in question is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where forced labor—including child labor—mines out resources such as tantalite (or coltan), which is used to make capacitors used in electronics products. Walk Free, The Enough Project and others say using conflict minerals supports the brutal military regime in that county and perpetuates the virtual enslavement of others.
Enough Project's latest report [pdf] found only two companies, according to its standards, more than 50 percent toward "responsible sourcing on conflict minerals." Microsoft rated at 40 percent, Sony at 27 percent. Nintendo was the only company on the list with a score of zero.
“While this parody allows gamers to demand that Nintendo articulate credible steps to ensure slavery is not in its supply chain, slavery is not a game,” Walk Free's Debra Rosen said in a statement. “We’re not mocking the problem, we’re poking fun at the absurdity of Nintendo’s lack of response. Nintendo—as the world’s largest maker of video game machines—should be leading other consumer electronics companies in showing the public that they are working to have a supply chain free of slavery."
Nintendo, in early 2010, responded to another advocacy group, noting that the company itself doesn't purchase any metals as raw materials, and that the company requires its suppliers to comply with Nintendo's procurement guidelines "which stipulate suppliers comply with applicable laws, have respect for human rights and conduct their business in an appropriate and fair manner."
Last year, Nintendo said to CNN that it "outsources the manufacture and assembly of all Nintendo products to our production partners and therefore is not directly involved in the sourcing of raw materials that are ultimately used in our products."
I reached out to a Nintendo representative to offer the company a chance to respond here.
This sort of thing is brought up annually, so Nintendo probably shouldn't expect the matter to go away just because they don't comment on it. Forced labor, conflict minerals and African wars are not issues most folks think about every day, but bootstrapping it to the subject of fun things like gadgets and video games certainly helps raise awareness for it, especially the topic lends itself to flash game interpretations.
The game itself, well, it's a rather basic platformer that spoofs Mario and villains found in the series. (Naturally, I died on the first goomba.) Of course, if you want to save your high score, you have to input a name and email address, which gets you on their mailing list. Otherwise to play again, you must reload the page entirely.