Last month, publicly-traded US companies (including gaming hardware companies) filed reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission detailing the origins of minerals used in their products that are mined in abundance in conflict zones. Though not obligated to file in the US, Nintendo has offered its report as a part of its 2018 CSR publication, and unfortunately, it hasn't improved all that much since last year.
Conflict minerals are mined in high concentrations in certain conflict regions of Africa. The most common are gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum, also known as 3TG. The "conflict" part of the moniker comes from the groups using slave labor to mine them, and then selling them to fund armed conflict and continued human rights abuses.
Those minerals are necessary to produce many products we use daily, including various technologies and gaming hardware. Because customers have no way of knowing whether or not their Toad amiibo perpetuated slave labor, it falls on companies to be transparent about their supply lines. This also means putting pressure on their suppliers, who in turn must perform due diligence ensuring the smelters or refiners (SORs) they receive minerals from are conflict-free. Typically, this is done via a yearly survey sent by the company to suppliers, who then ideally report back on whether or not their SORs have been certified conflict-free by the Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI) or a similar group. However, some companies experience poor survey return rates and, sadly, fail to crack down year after year.
We covered conflict minerals filings from major companies last month such as Apple, Sony, Microsoft, and others. The results ranged from Apple's stellar record of ethical sourcing and reporting to Sony's depressing falloff and vague, ineffectual gestures at addressing the problem. Though we reached out to Nintendo at the time and received a reiteration of the official policy, Nintendo's CSR report with a more detailed accounting of conflict minerals surveys was not available until the end of July.
Nintendo had a rough start to its conflict minerals reporting back in 2014, when it could only certify that 47% of its SORs weren't committing human rights violations. The number improved drastically in the 2015 report, with 72% of Nintendo's suppliers certified conflict-free. The 2016 report's miniscule increase to 74% certified was a sad inch forward, but Nintendo's commitment to a 100% survey return rate from its suppliers seemed a hopeful sign that the company was committed to improving matters.
Unfortunately, improvement in the 2017 report was slight. Though survey response was once again at 100%, Nintendo only edged up to see 76% of its SORs conflict-free. Of 339 SORs, 320 were on the RMI standard list of SORs, and 256 of those were certified or in the process of being certified. Though an improvement by the numbers, it still puts the company worse off than Microsoft in terms of certification percentage, though it's still better than Sony's 80-89% (exact number unknown) survey return rate.
Sadly, it doesn't seem that Nintendo is all that concerned with improving the numbers further. As part of the US-filed reports, companies are required to identify concerns in getting SORs certified and lay out action steps for fixing them. Nintendo, under no such requirements, only provided the following line to indicate what its plan for addressing potential slave labor in its production line might be:
"We assessed the results and conducted direct interviews with high-risk production partners to accurately understand the situation and aim for mutual understanding."