A Chinese factory that makes Disney’s best-selling Cars toys, as well as toys for Walmart and Mattel, uses child labor and forces its workers to work three times the amount of overtime required by law. In May, a 45-year-old female employee, Hu Nianzhen, jumped from a factory building to her death after allegedly being shouted at by managers, the Guardian reports.
The harsh conditions in which toys are made in a factory called Sturdy Products were revealed with the help of human rights group Sacom (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior); the group also helped to expose abuses in Apple’s Foxconn plant in China this year; Foxconn manufactures iPads, iPhones, iPods and Mac computers. Workers were interviewed away from the Sturdy Products factory grounds and an investigator also worked in the plant for over a month and discovered:
- The employment of a 14-year-old. Staff also reported the presence of other child workers, according to the investigator.
- Routine excessive overtime. Employees produced a “voluntary” document they said they had to sign agreeing to work beyond the maximum overtime legal limit of 36 hours a month, along with wage slips that suggested they were averaging 120 hours of overtime a month.
- A harsh working environment in which workers complained of mistreatment by management. One worker injured on the production line was shouted at and ordered back to work despite needing medical treatment.
- Concerns about the chemicals in use and poor ventilation. Employees claimed three workers had fallen ill. They said they had to hide pots of adhesive and thinners during audits of the factory by its client companies.
- They also claimed that they were paid by the factory to give misleading answers during audits and that they were fined for failing to hit targets. The calculation of wages for different workers was described by Sacom as arbitrary.
Sturdy Products is located in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. Among the toys it makes are: Thomas the Tank Engine toys, Matchbox cars, Cars toys, Toy Story toys, Barbie and Fisher Price products, Scrabble and Hot Wheels sets.
On learning of the allegations of abusive practices at the Sturdy Products factory, Walmart said it had launched an investigation. Disney said that it “will continue to evaluate this situation based upon the information available to us.” Mattel said that it had carried out its own investigation but said that Hu’s suicide was “isolated event and local authorities had found nothing suspicious about the circumstances.”
The International Council of Toy Industries’ Care Foundation has accused Sacom of making “sensationalist, media-oriented declarations” that were “carping and filled with incorrect information.” Many workers in Chinese toy factories, says the Foundation, are “better off now than they were before and that this is due in considerable part to the ICTI Care Process.”
Perhaps the workers are “better off now,” but it’s possible that the conditions they previously worked under were even worse than those now.
The “Made in China” label tends to be associated with cheap products of poor quality. But it’s time to think about “Made in China” as meaning “made with human rights violations.” If you knew — if your children knew — that their smiling, shiny plastic cars were made by workers as young as 14 years old and under inhumane conditions, would you still buy the toys? If you do buy the toys, would you tell your kids where they come from?
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Photo by Da Mong Man