Most toys are made in China. Sadly, making the dreams of children come true is still synonymous with misery and exploitation for workers. These are the findings of our survey of four Chinese toy factories.
In these factories, worker often come from their remote homes and live away from their children, their families and friends. The minimum wages they are paid are insufficient to cover even basic living costs and workers resort to overtime. During the peak season they work eleven-hour shifts, six days a week, making during summer and fall the toys for the holiday season. That is not all: they lack basic safety equipment and imperil their health and life working dangerous jobs while exhausted. The worse comes when workers handle toxic chemicals such as benzenes, which despite being lightly nicknamed “banana oil” are responsible for poisoning, leukemia and deaths.
Most workers sleep in teams of eight in rundown factory dormitories. These unsafe living quarters lack basic hygiene and hot water is not a given. There are no resources or procedures to file complaints about worker’s right violations, let alone any independent worker union to try and improve working conditions.
This is not a new situation. In the mid-1990s already, two devastating factory fires brought for everyone to see the precarious working conditions prevalent in Chinese toy factories. The toy industry, under massive criticism and pressure from consumers, NGOs and the media, implemented some measures to tackle the issues, but with limited effect as is visible today.
The International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) has adopted a code of conduct called the Ethical Toy Program. This “Code of Business Practices” for the whole industry defines minimum social norms for all manufacturers (including in China) who supply large multinational corporations such as Mattel, Disney or Hasbro. But impacts are scant as shown by numerous studies and investigations carried in Chinese factories by local NGOs such as China Labor Watch and Sacom .
Report 2019 shows precarious conditions
From June to October 2019 China Labor Watch undertook a large survey in four factories that supply Hasbro, Disney and Mattel, as well as German makers such as Simba Dickie, Schleich and Ravensburger. Yet again, serious violations of both Chinese labor laws and international norms established by the International Labour Organization were observed and documented. Among the most serious violations:
- Excessive overtime (up to 175 hours per month) and breaks below minimum duration.
- Minimum wages that are below living costs
- Insufficient protective equipment on site: shortage of masks and gloves and defective quality, absence of training for handling of toxic chemical materials and operation of industrial machinery
- Living condition below decency standards: overcrowded and unsanitary dormitories and sanitary facilities
- Insufficient social insurance and claim calculations based on understated wages
- Lack of independent worker organizations and formal complaint mechanisms.