Saturday 12 May 2012

Brutal Conditions in Chinese Toy Factories

In August, 2010, China Labor Watch ran an investigation of two factories supplying for Disney.

The “historical issues” remain:

  • Underage and child labor are widespread in the factories. These young workers work as many hours as their adult counterparts;
  • Averagely, weekly working time exceeds 72 hours. The workers are required to work overtime as many as 130 hours a month, while they can usually take one day off each month;
  • The overtime compensation is as low as 97 centers/hour, far below the legal standard;
  • Workers are not provided the minimum social insurance required by law;
  • Long-term exposure to chemical hazards has led to a running nose, dry lips, rashes, among other allergy symptoms. The factory took a stand-by strategy without providing education, adequate labor protection or physical examinations to the workers.

China Labor Watch says the real problem is that the toy companies are looking to pay the lowest price for the Chinese products, and in turn, the factories simply have no choice but to cut cost onto their workers. It is a big business to the U.S market that’s worth 22 billion dollars.

Brutal Conditions Described in Chinese Factories


China makes 80 percent of the toys sold worldwide. Most are made in Guangdong Province, where $12 billion worth of toys are produced every year and 1.5 million workers are employed in more than 6,000 toy factories.

Among the Chinese-made toys found on the shelves of Toys-R-Us are Mickey Mouse Clock Shops ($29.77), Mickey Mouse Marching Bands ($29.77), hand-painted Christmas rocking horses ($9.77), musical snow globes ($14.99), Santa "touch" lamps ($9.88), Santa's elves music boxes ($9.77), 14-piece hand-painted nativity scenes ($22.99), smash-faced dolls ($26.99), Western Stampin' Barbi dolls ($13.99) and Emmet Kelly Circus Trains ($69.99). About the only thing not made in China are the Chinese Checkers ($19.95) which bear a "Made in the U.S.A." sticker. [Source: TJ Edwards, Washington Post]

There around 8,000 companies in China that manufactures toys and they are under strong competitive pressures. Some of the factories have been accused of having poor working conditions, paying workers below the minimum wage of 33 cents an hour, requiring workers to put in long hors and not providing adequate benefits. Only 35 cents from an exported toy retailing for $20 remains in China.

Factories in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta produce many toys, including Barbies, Ninja Turtles, Mickey Mouses, Cabbage Patch dolls, Might Morphin Power Rangers, and Tickle Me Elmo.

Guanyo, a town that is a two hour drive north of Guangzhou, is regarded as the world’s biggest toy manufacturing center. A Mattel factory that makes Hot Wheel cars and other toys covers 300 square feet, operates 20 hours a day and has 3,000 employees working there. Most of the workers are females, who work 10 hours a day, six days a week.

Daoingguan, a city near Shenzhen and Hong Kong, is another candidate for the toy capital of the world Its 4,000 factories are said to produce about half of the toys produced in China. More than 500 toy manufacturers are added every year. Many of the buyers are from overseas.

In November 2007, the American toymaker Tomy, which makes 90 percent of its toys in China, announced it cut production in China by a third because of surging labor costs and move production to other Asian countries, most likely Thailand and Vietnam.

Poor Working Conditions at Chinese Toy Manufacturers

Gethin Chamberlain wrote in the The Guardian: “Big brands such as Disney, Lego and Marks & Spencer pay only a fraction of the shop price of products to the factories that make their toys. Last summer — as factories geared up to cope with demand for the Christmas period — investigators spent three weeks in the industrial cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan. In some cases, they found that employees: worked up to 140 hours overtime a month; - were paid up to a month late; - claimed they were expected to work with dangerous tools and machines without training or safety measures; - had to work in silence and were fined up to £5 for going to the toilet without permission. [Source: Gethin Chamberlain, The Guardian, December 3, 2011]

The human rights group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom) accuses big global brands of failing to pay the factories enough, with workers suffering because factories undercut one another in an attempt to secure contracts. The report also criticises the industry's own regulator for failing to clamp down on rights abuses.

Spokeswoman Debby Chan Sze Wan said: "In the run-up to Christmas, toys are a popular choice as presents for children. They probably bring joy to consumers and the toy companies, but the workers cannot afford toys or books for their beloved children. "The hardship of workers is due to the exploitation in the global supply chain. If the brands do not raise the unit price and change their purchasing practices, no structural change in working conditions in the toy industry is feasible."

Gethin Chamberlain wrote in the The Guardian: Perhaps the most insidious effect of the long hours and poor wages was how it tore families apart, separating mothers and fathers from their children for all but a few days a year. Many workers were too afraid to speak to the investigators from Sacom but two women did agree to talk on condition that their names were changed. [Source: Gethin Chamberlain, The Guardian, December 3, 2011]

Wang Fengping, 27, has two daughters, seven and five. They live a 10-hour train journey away from the On Tai Toys factory. She and her husband earn £200 a month making toys for Disney and others, but cannot afford to bring the children to the city. Instead, the girls are cared for by their grandparents. Wang calls them two or three times a week. The younger one always asks her when she is coming home. "Very soon," Wang always replies.

The reality is that they will meet only once a year, at Chinese new year. She keeps her spirits up by telling her workmates stories of how well the girls are doing at school. Sometimes she sings them songs the girls have learned at school and then sung to her down the phone. "Our family will not die from hunger, but cannot be fed with this wage level," she said.

Ma Hui, 25, works for the Hung Hing Printing Group, making items for M&S, Lego and Disney. She has a two-year-old daughter, whom she had to leave behind when the child was just three months old in the hope that she could earn enough to one day return home to set up her own business and reunite the family. She, too, only sees her child once a year and has hung a picture of her daughter on the dormitory wall next to her bed.

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