Two out of three toys come from China
Around 70% of Swiss toys are imported from China; this does not only include plastic and stuffed toys, but also board games and wooden toys. Most branded toys are manufactured in Chinese toy factories that have precarious working conditions. At the workers expense, it is possible for the manufactures to produce an enormous amount of branded products at a cheap price. Therefore, well known firms, such as Mattel, Disney, and Hasbro, hold a great deal of responsibility for the workers poor conditions.
Brands must take responsibility
The business model of corporations promotes the exploitation of workers in China. The buying behavior within the toy industry is extremely seasonal, demand is uncertain, and the products life cycle is short. Alongside this, pressure from competitors as well as pressure to keep prices low, is steadily increasing. Outsourcing production to countries with low salaries, short-term order and temporary contracts lowers the risk for brand manufactures and maximizes their profit.
The Chinese toy factories hand the price cut burden onto their employees. To increase profit margins they provide low wages, poor social welfare, and a dangerous lack of Industrial Safety, whilst costs of production in areas as materials, transport etc. are stagnant. The employees also pay the price in the form of excessive overtime in the high season, short-term employment, forced holidays, and layoffs in the low season. The brands have direct influence over the employees working conditions and therefore they must change their business policies.
Fair working conditions or lower prices?
As long as customers are unaware of the conditions within the toy factories, the companies that exploit them will not have the incentives to change their production methods. The Swiss public is less aware of the working conditions in toy factories than in, for example, clothing factories, where various Fair Trade labels exist. As of yet, no such labels exist for toys.
When Swiss customers were spontaneously asked what three issues influenced their shopping decisions, fair work played a minor roll, with only 8% saying it affected their choices. Quality (51%), educational impact (33%), the wishes of the child (32%), but also the price (25%) all appear to be much more important to the public. This was the conclusion from a representative questionnaire conducted by the GFS Research Institute in January 2015.
Despite this, when the public were asked specifically about the importance of each topic, it became apparent that working conditions are very important to customers. 89% said quality was important or very important, followed by the Children’s Wishes (81%). Next came Fair Working Conditions, for which 71% of those asked said it was important or very important. Price on the other hand only received 49%.
In a non-representative poll amongst Solidar Suisse supporter, working situation was found to be almost as important as the frontrunner „Quality”.
Fair trade may cost more
80% of the Swiss public says that they would be willing to pay more for toys with a Fair-Trade Label. The readiness and the amount depend on the income. However among the less well off 77% said they would be willing to pay extra for good working conditions, 94% of the better-off said the same.
According to the questionnaire, 14% of those asked said that they would be willing to pay half the price more for a teddy that costed 30CHF, putting the acceptable price at 45CHF. 30% said 37.50CHF, 27% said 33CHF and 9% said 31.50CHF. A label that guarantees fair working conditions is the first step; the long term goal is to guarantee humane working conditions in the whole industry.