If you own a number of gadgets and gizmos from major companies such as Apple, Sony and Microsoft, it's in all likelihood been manufactured by Foxconn, based primarily in China. The reason we can buy technology at affordable prices isn't just because of cheaper parts and research, but due to low-paid labour in Chinese manufacturing plants, as well as similar facilities in other countries predominantly in the far-east. It's an uncomfortable fact of life, but that's the way it is.
Foxconn, meanwhile, has generated unsavoury headlines due to worker riots and suicides at a number of its plants. Apple and Microsoft have recently faced fall-out due to these incidents occurring at facilities producing their products, and it seems as if Nintendo is the next in line. According to reports on Chinese website games.qq.com, it's been discovered that Foxconn employed under-age interns (aged 14 to 16) at a facility, and that the product being produced was none other than Wii U. As reported by Kotaku, the children were threatened with expulsion from school if they didn't work, and this "overtime" could run for an excessive amount of time.
"I did transport work, helping them move goods," said 14 year-old Xiao Wang (alias). "Right now, the night shift is 7:40 PM until the morning... you know, til what time in the morning is uncertain. Whenever the work is done is when you get off your shift. If you don't finish the work, he (the production line foreman) won't let you end your shift. Usually, you can get off by 7 AM. My arms would hurt from the work."
Foxconn hasn't denied that this occurred, admitting to Bloomberg that the under-age workers had worked on a specific site for around three weeks, and that it had since been stopped.
Any Foxconn employee found, through our investigation, to be responsible for these violations will have their employment immediately terminated. We recognize that full responsibility for these violations rests with our company and we have apologized to each of the students for our role in this action.
This incident is rather damning in light of Foxconn's recent track record, as we alluded to at the start of this article, with frequent reports of poor working conditions and worker unrest. This is also damaging for Nintendo, however, just as similar revelations have been difficult for its rivals. They may not be Nintendo facilities, but Foxconn is contracted by the company to manufacture its products, meaning that a share of responsibility does rest at the source. We have no doubt that Nintendo will issue a statement to address this, if indeed the reports of this occurring in a Wii U facility are accurate.
The problem for Nintendo, and practically every other technology company, is that consumers demand cheap hardware while being — rightly — appalled when worker's rights are neglected. If Nintendo doesn't use a company like Foxconn its games consoles will cost its customers a lot more, and we suspect that would turn out to be a disastrous business decision.
Perhaps we should pay more for technology, or the solution may be for companies such as Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft to work together and demand higher standards of manufacturing companies. Where do you stand? Should companies like Foxconn be pressured further, potentially with little benefit, or should businesses like Nintendo use more moral manufacturing companies and tell customers to pay more? Let us know what you think in the comments below.