Despicable exploitation: examining the ethics of Minion labor

Mirabelle Williams, Entertainment Editor

Violent electrocution, vehicular assault, vicious dogs, and…no compensation? These horrifying working conditions are the unfortunate reality for hundreds of our little friends today. Supervillain Gru has held complete control over the entire Minion population for decades and it is time to uncover the unethical horrors behind his work. 

The Minions’ labor conditions are not only inhumane but unconstitutional. The 13th Amendment to the United States’ Constitution tells us, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 

The Minions, though not human, are still sentient beings subjected to modern forms of slavery, though it is clearly outlined in our country’s policies that this is unlawful. 

Much of the debate over the ethics of Minion labor stems from the idea that Minions are not humans. But it is demonstrated clearly throughout the franchise that the Minions are more sentient than ordinary animals or creatures. 

In Minions: The Rise of Gru, Gru steals an important villain item called the Zodiac Stone, he then hands it to a Minion, Otto, for safekeeping. Otto then trades the stone for a pet rock, which enrages Gru. He proceeds to fire the Minions leaving them homeless and abandoned in the streets. The Minions are then shown to be extremely distressed and sorrowful. 

The exploitation of these conscious beings, both physically and emotionally, for the benefit of Gru and without any regard for their well-being or autonomy, is cruel and merciless. 

The Minions are depicted as being forced to work long hours, perform dangerous tasks, and endure abuse from their employer, Gru, without any compensation or rights. 

For example, in just five short minutes of one film, the Minions are seen operating nail guns, blow torches, and electrical equipment all resulting in various injuries to the workers. Gru witnesses this and makes no attempt to provide medical care or aid. 

This depiction reinforces the harmful idea that it is acceptable to treat beings as disposable materials to be used for personal gain. 

The only consolation that the Minions receive is housing. The Minions, since working for Gru, have resided in his basement and then eventual lair in exchange for their work. 

Unfortunately, as seen when Gru fired the Minions, this safety is not a guarantee. Even if the housing was reliable, just providing a roof over the Minions’ heads is still not sufficient to pay for the work that they do, and to make matters worse, nearly all of the construction to build these dwellings was performed by the Minions themselves. 

The other important factor in the Minions’ abuse is their intellectual capability. The Minions are shown to be intelligent enough to perform specified tasks, yet not to understand the true shortcomings of their employment status. This is comparable to the mental capacity of a young child who would never be allowed to complete the jobs the Minions are required to. 

The Minions do not have the capability to form a labor union or request Gru for adequate pay, and as their employer, he takes advantage of this fact. 

Instead, the Minions look up to him, and Gru only further abuses this position of power by praising them for completing his various dangerous tasks. Even for a super-villain, these actions feel well… despicable.