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National News

Retailers Make Progress on Keeping Violent Video Games Out of Hands of Youths, But Still Need to Improve

Christian Brothers Investment Services Joins ICCR in Major Initiative; Target and Best Buy Lauded For Strongest Response in U.S. Retailer Group.

NEW YORK CITY -- Leading U.S. retailers -- particularly Target and Best Buy -- are doing a better job of controlling sales of violent video games to children. But all retailers still need to improve disclosure of their related sales policies and the results of those policies, according to a new report from members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of 275 faith-based institutional investors with combined assets over $110 billion.

ICCR members are in dialogues with some of the largest video game retailers in the country, asking them to adopt and enforce video game sales policies to ensure that Mature (“M”)-rated video games for audiences ages 17 and older, containing graphic violence, strong sexual content and racist themes, are not sold to minors. Behavioral science research shows that playing violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in children and youth.

According to the new ICCR report: “It is evident that retailers are doing well on several fronts: all retailers included in the report have video game policies to restrict access by young teens to M-rated games; all display signage about the ESRB rating system; all conduct employee training programs and ongoing education on the video game rating system for employees; and all have established a system to identify the age of the purchaser at the register. ICCR is pleased with both Target’s and Best Buy’s policies to restrict ads for Mature-rated games in teen publications and on television. Target also places a prominent “M” on games advertised in its store circulars and Best Buy has a robust internal auditing process and compliance program, which are noted improvements.”

In addition to Target and Best Buy, the retailer chart in the ICCR report covers Circuit City, KMart, Sears, Toys “R” Us, GameStop and Wal-Mart.

To view the ICCR report, Retailers and Violent Video Games: Progress Made but Disclosure Needed, and chart comparing the current practices of several major video game retailers, as reported by the retailers during discussions with ICCR members, go to: http://www.iccr.org/issues/violence/retailercomparisonchart120606.pdf.

Julie Tanner, corporate advocacy coordinator at Christian Brothers Investment Services, said: “While we appreciate the productive dialogues that we’ve had with retailers and applaud the steps these companies have taken, retailers need to make even more progress in certain areas. The most important omission by retailers is the lack of information on the implementation of and results of their policies. This information allows socially responsible investors like CBIS to evaluate the reputational risks facing individual retailers, and enables us to track company progress over time.”

Cathy Rowan, corporate responsibility consultant for Trinity Health said: “Reporting is a key component of our analysis because current annual reports do not always note all of the risks to company operations. Comprehensive reporting can build credibility with shareholders when companies detail how they are addressing risks associated with the sale of violent video games to minors, supply results from such things as their internal ‘mystery shopper’ programs, acknowledge controversies, and discuss their challenges.”

The ICCR Report advises retailers to improve their reporting in the < following ways:

* Adherence to policy. ICCR understands that retailer members of the ESRB Retail Council will participate in a ‘mystery shopping’ verification program, coordinated by the ESRB, which will publicly disclose the mystery shop results on an aggregated and anonymous basis. This is an important action. However, shareholders that own stock in each of these companies deserve to see individual results, excluding confidential information. ICCR believes that companies have the capacity to develop such a report without providing proprietary information.

* Long and short term goals for compliance. ICCR recommends that companies set aggressive goals and objectives and track results to ensure progress is being made, with the end goal of 100 percent store compliance.

* Benchmarks or indicators. ICCR suggests that companies create indicators to demonstrate implementation of their policies on violent video games and evaluate the effectiveness of these programs.

* A balanced assessment. The public needs to understand the challenges relating to policy implementation, and what are the areas for improvement. There is no need to only present a rosy picture of policy implementation. ICCR recognizes the challenges in this area and believes that providing a balanced picture builds credibility.

Source: HastingsGroup.com.


 

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