Jun 28, 2013

How much does the use of “conflict minerals” in manufacturing hardware matter to most consumers?

While getting my daily serving of red pandas and cats on buzzfeed, I ran across an article about protesters unhappy with Nintendo because they felt the company was doing too little to ensure “conflict minerals” (raw material from exploitive/violent places like mines in Eastern Congo). Obviously some people care deeply about this, and perhaps everyone should give it more thought, but it made me wonder, does the average person really care about what goes into the products they purchase? Would you choose a product based on the company policy about conflict minerals?

My guess is that most people have never heard of it, and probably wouldn't care even if they did. Sad, but true.

The reality is that there is a cost to someone for everything that is dug out of the earth, smelted, burned, refined, etc. It is also reality that there is a constant balancing of the scale as to what steps we are willing to take to minimize those costs. For some, emission controls on coal burning power-plants is too much of an expense, for others exploitive labor is another way of saying “those people” will work hard for low wages. So while conflict minerals are a valid concern, there are many other concerns as well, and many of those affect a greater number of people directly. It may not be just, but I do not see a strong swell of consciousness among the general population when it comes to conflict minerals. I am glad there are people that care, and care passionately, but frankly they are a small percentage of consumers, 


To be fair to Nintendo, the company does have guidelines that prohibit use of conflict minerals for companies that manufacture their products. I have no idea whether the contract manufacturers actually follow those guidelines, but they do exist. As a Japanese company, Nintendo operates under different rules and transparency requirements that American companies, so it may also be difficult to directly compare the effectiveness of their anti-conflict mineral policy

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