On Twitter this morning I saw my fellow game developer friends passing around a story from Kotaku about conflict minerals in the Congo being used in gaming consoles, like XBox 360 and Playstation 3 for example. Conflict minerals is a catch phrase similar to conflict diamonds that attempts to describe the violence and blood shed over the extraction and processing of valuable minerals from the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Only this time, instead of those minerals being diamonds they are instead tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold minerals.
Brian Crecente received a response from Microsoft saying that, “A conflict mineral free supply chain is a priority for us in our supply chain management policies and practices.”
Nintendo responded to earlier pressure from another group, Raise Hope for Congo, and completely dodged the issue saying, “Nintendo does not purchase any metals as raw materials. 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.”
The problem is that while these statements sound mostly nice and hopeful, they are bullshit. Why? Because the problem is not a conflict over the minerals but a conflict between the laws that set forth the financial responsibilities of corporations and their social responsibilities towards people and the earth.
In the US, by law it is illegal for corporations to do anything that would hurt their ability to maximize profits. Shareholders can sue the company if they think the company is spending too much money on being socially responsible and thus cutting into profits. Corporations often have “social campaigns” to green their products or give funds to cancer, etc. But that is just a distraction to the real atrocities they commit by employing slave labor or funding wars.
Their goal is to extract human and earth resources for as cheap as possible and they are required by law to do so. You can read or see The Corporation for more info. If you don’t have time to watch the 2.5hr film, watch the extra features radio interview with the Majority Report. That segment does a great job of summarizing how the market forces work to compel corporations to act in ways that abuse both people and planet.
If we want to stop corporations from using minerals extracted from conflict zones which funds the perpetuation of violence and killings, then those laws that compel them to behave in such ways must be changed.
That’s how the system works and if being a game designer has taught me anything it’s that any system can be changed.
© 2010, Reid Bryant Kimball. All rights reserved.