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Microsoft can be the noble outlier: an open letter to Bill Gates

By Eli Boonin-Vail in Opinion & Politics

Dear Mr. Gates,

My birthday is approaching and, being mostly content regarding worldly possessions, I had been considering, in these past few months, requesting an Xbox 360 as a gift for my birthday. I say "had been" because on January 25th everything changed. I no longer consider requesting an Xbox 360 from my parents or anyone else.

When I first read the Times' article regarding worker conditions at the Foxconn facilities, I was relieved to find that the article pertained mainly to the production of apple products, of which I own but few (like many, I never gave the Zune a fair chance). But, in trying to be a conscious consumer, I found, with relative ease, information which I didn't ever want but which I can now no longer keep secret from myself. Foxconn manufactures Xbox 360s.

I am an avid gamer who enjoys video games thoroughly. I like talking about them, reading about them, and playing them. I consider them to be an art with the responsibility to live up to their potential, and I know that the supreme court agrees with me.  I keep up with news involving game development and innovation, and I've felt, for a while now, that it's about time I have a console for myself.

I do not claim to be an expert on human rights and the lack thereof. I try to be an avid news reader, but knowing all the facts is difficult, especially when I'm just an 18-year-old kid who just wants to come home to a simple pleasure at the end of the day. I do not know if all that I have read regarding Foxconn is true, overstated, or (I shudder to think) understated.

But because of what I am fairly certain I know, I cannot have an Xbox 360, nor either of its other two competitors, for a console.

Mr. Gates, I am not a simpleton. I don't think that my clothes are grown on an organic co-op in Portland or that the money from my cell phone's purchase went to support a struggling village in Darfur. I am fully, and regrettably, aware that the Asus laptop on which I write this letter to you was itself produced in a Foxconn factory. I am a vegetarian because I do not support the meat industry's practices, and I try to be a conscious consumer. Sometimes, distinctions between wants and needs can be blurred in this strange new century. I find myself fully asleep when I had assumed total consciousness.

But I know that I do not need  an Xbox 360. I suppose I would need one to play Xbox 360 games, but all of the pleasure that would come from that seems trivial in light of recent events.

Try as I might, I cannot justify supporting systemic human suffering with my money for my own hedonistic purposes. I wish that your company, Microsoft, would not put me in a position in which I must chose whether to deny myself access to one of my favorite things or endorse the ruining of nameless lives, but by continuing to allow Foxconn to manufacture its products, it has done exactly that.

And what of the developers of video games meant to run on Microsoft's console? It pains me that companies like Valve, which have high esteem in the gaming community, should be manufacturing games that will be played on the products of atrocity. Such companies are composed of exemplary American employees with creative ambitions, as I'm sure you would say of your former associate of 13 years Gabe Newell, who runs Valve. By catering their products to comply with consoles manufactured at Foxconn, these companies have unwillingly become de facto accomplices to the violation of human rights. I know that that last statement holds no significance in any court of law, but it does hold significance to me.

Forgive me if this letter has taken a turn toward the accusatory, as that was never my intention. I am writing to you because it is important to me that you know what a difficult position Microsoft has put me in as a consumer. I know that I am not the only one who feels uncomfortable at the moment.

Many corporations, arguably all of the big ones, manufacture at least a portion of their products at Foxconn. I am a supporter of the free market and I understand that it produces many complexities, but I think that perhaps competition has gone too far when the factories must hoist up netting to prevent their workers from leaping to their deaths. Just because other corporations are capable of covering their eyes and ears to cut corners doesn't mean yours must be. Microsoft can be the noble outlier if you will it.

I am proud to live in a nation that produces humanitarians like you, Mr. Gates,and I do not mean to assert that you are thrifty in your combating of global suffering, but I fear that this issue stains the reputation that I hold for you. I feel a little bit as though I have crossed some line by going straight to the top, but I know not where else to turn. I really want Microsoft to stop this. Please help me.

With all Due Respect,

Eli Boonin-Vail

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