Following over a century of protests, committee action, and local state amendments, child labor was regulated by the United States government in 1938 with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. For the first time in American history, minimum wages and ages, maximum hours, and the prohibition of “oppressive child labor,” became the law of the land. Amendments have only been added in the years since, assuring that most of us, staunch activists or stolid inactivists, rarely if ever think about the issue.
The same can’t said in China. Labor laws exist, granted, but regulation is sadly fickle at best. When electronic manufacturing giant Foxconn came out yesterday in admittance of underage hiring and rigorous, some say torturous child intern work practices, it wasn’t just unsurprising – it epitomized a downside of labor outsourcing that casts an awkward juxtaposition on so many consumer products enjoyed by millions worldwide.
One such product is the Nintendo Wii U.
Foxconn’s corporate partners run the technology gamut – Microsoft, Sony and Apple manufacture a variety of products through the Chinese firm as well – but the revelation that its interns were being exploited explicitly to meet the surging demand for Nintendo’s upcoming console placed questions about accountability squarely on The House That Mario Built’s back. No doubt aware of the mounting public pressure, it wasn’t long before Nintendo authored a response today to IGN, which is given below in full:
“Nintendo is in communication with Foxconn and is investigating the matter. We take our responsibilities as a global company very seriously and are committed to an ethical policy on sourcing, manufacture and labor. In order to ensure the continued fulfillment of our social responsibility throughout our supply chain, we established the Nintendo CSR Procurement Guidelines in July 2008.
We require that all production partners, including Foxconn, comply with these Guidelines, which are based on relevant laws, international standards and guidelines. If we were to find that any of our production partners did not meet our guidelines, we would require them to modify their practices according to Nintendo’s policy. For more information about Nintendo’s Corporate Social Responsibility report, please visit http://www.nintendo.co.jp/csr/en/index.html.”
In their grim statement to Reuters yesterday, Foxconn did emphasize that the transgressions were direct opposition with company policy, and that “immediate steps” were being taken to conciliate the interns. So considering the value Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Dell, Intel, HP, or any of the manufacturer’s associates are sure to receive from building their products at an outsourced location – value, likely, that makes the difference here between paying $3-500 for a console and, say, $1,000 – it’s hard to recommend one specific course of action. What becomes justified once the injustices become public?
Ranters, as our Ben Kendrick noted in Game Rant’s coverage yesterday, it’s disquieting, to say the least, that a company so predicated around kid-friendliness is so caught up in a scandal that’s anything but. What should Nintendo do now, even with Foxconn claiming to be addressing the situation?
Follow me on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.
Wii U launches on November 18.