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That Time Nintendo Used Prison Labor to Make Game Boys

That Time Nintendo Used Prison Labor to Make Game Boys

nintendo prison labor

Oh, boy. This one is a doozy. You see, the focus on this article will be on Nintendo, but many major companies are guilty of using prison labor for cheap means in order to manufacture more of a product, particularly during a rush time like Christmas for holiday shopping.

Nintendo is definitely guilty of this, and it is possible that the Game Boy you own may have been put together via prison labor. This is that time Nintendo used prison labor to build Game Boys.

nintendo prison labor

What is prison labor, you may ask? Well, to put it simply, it is the use of prisoners to provide service for a company or entity for criminally cheap rates.

“But isn’t that really similar to slave labor?”, I hear you ask.

Well, yes and no. Penal labor in the United States is explicitly allowed by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

It is because of this loophole in the constitution that corporations have been taking advantage of this cheap labor for decades, and many of your favorites may be part of the problem. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Sprint, Verizon, Victoria’s Secret, Fidelity, American Airlines, and J.C. Penny among others have all partaken in prison labor, some of which continue to do so.

Nintendo is also one of these major companies, and reports from 2002 called out Starbucks and Nintendo particularly who admitted at the time that they were using such labor.

Despite these reports from 2002, Nintendo fans were left mostly in the dark about this information… that is until 2020 when people had a lot of extra time on their hands and started digging deep on the web. Reddit threads started popping up and petitions were made, and people were baffled that Nintendo would take part in something so politically charged and slave-like.

According to former inmate Steven Strauss, he and other inmates were responsible for helping Nintendo with their overflow to get ready for the holiday seasons in the late 1990s. They mostly were asked to package Game Boys and games, but there are reports that Nintendo had Game Boys put together by prisoners as well. Thankfully, and I use that term very loosely, Nintendo did pay the inmates minimum wage at the time, which was $6.72 per hour, quite a bit higher than the standard $0.35 to $1.10 per hour at that time.

Another really sketchy part of this story is that Nintendo released a statement in 2020 in response to a thread on their site condemning the use of prison labor, and that statement carried over until quite recently, where it now redirects to the main page of their Customer Support.

Don’t believe me? Here is the link to the thread containing the statement from Nintendo:

Look at the link itself and see what happens when you click on it. You can even see in the screenshot above that the preview is still up on Google, but we cannot even read the entire second sentence. You would think that such a strong statement would be left up by Nintendo to ensure their fans that this is something they genuinely condemn.

The story does not even end there, sadly. Nintendo Life reported last year that Nintendo also took advantage of Chinese forced labor camps. The Chinese camps are where Uyghur, a Turkic minority ethnic group, and other ethnic minorities are forced to work under unethical conditions. These laborers are also subject to intimidation and threats, constant surveillance, a ban on religious practices, political indoctrination, and excessive working hours. Their freedom of movement is also restricted, and there are reports that threats are routinely made against family members if workers do not comply willingly.

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nintendo prison labor

It is easy to be incredibly angry with Nintendo for their involvement with such horrendous practices, but we have to remember that many governments around the world allow for such behavior and need to be held accountable. Many major companies are looking for ways to save a couple bucks, so it is hard to solely blame them.

However, Nintendo is guilty of its own crimes, and they need to be upfront and honest about the atrocities that they participated in. If they are still using prison labor for their financial benefit today, that needs to be called out immediately, but in the meantime, they need to be upfront and honest about their dirty history. Like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) provides for their people, I will provide the steps Nintendo needs to take:

  • Accept that something is wrong in your [company] and that you no longer have control. You must accept complete defeat before rebuilding your [company].
  • Embrace the truth and want to make an honest change.
  • Understand that recovery can’t be done alone, and acknowledge that you need help.

It is okay to admit that you have done something wrong and you have a problem. Nintendo, your fans can’t make this change for you. You have to admit it yourself and change has to happen within. It starts with you!

So from the bottom of my heart, and I do believe I speak for most of the fanbase when I say…


Thank you for stopping by Nintendo Link and enjoying this “That Time” article. What do you think of Nintendo using prison labor to build Game Boys? Are you disgusted? Confused? Let us know what you think in the comments below! Happy gaming, everyone.

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