An investigation by China Labor Watch found that toy factory workers are often exposed to sweatshop abuses and toxic chemicals without adequate protection.
Toy companies like Hasbro and Disney that do business in China are hiding a dark secret—millions of workers toil in the Chinese factories in their supply chains under cruel, backbreaking conditions, according to an investigative report by China Labor Watch (CLW) released in November. To add insult to injury, these workers are also often exposed to toxic chemicals without adequate safety protocols in place. Seventy-five percent of the world’s toys are produced in China, and 85 percent of US toy purchases came from the country, according to CLW.
Green America is teaming up with CLW to demand that US toy giant Hasbro—
whose products include popular Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney toys—take action to protect workers in its supply chain.
“The poor working conditions in China are caused by the refusal of toy
companies like Hasbro and Mattel to do what’s necessary to ensure workers
are treated according to Chinese law and to ethical standards,” says Kevin
Slaten, CLW’s program coordinator. “Toy brands play factories off one another to reduce production prices and maximize profit margins,” leading to workers getting squeezed at the bottom of the supply chain.
From May to July 2015, CLW investigators worked undercover at five major toy factories in China. Investigators uncovered sweatshop abuses in factories making products for Hasbro, Disney, Mattel, Mattel-owned Fisher-Price, McDonald’s, Jakks Pacific, NSI Toys, Battat, and MGA Entertainment. Some of the toy brands the investigators observed being produced in the factories included Frozen, Monster High, Nerf, Marvel, Star Wars, Wubble Ball, and Lalaloopsy.
“The abuses investigators saw include:
- Low wages: Workers in the five factories CLW investigated make a paltry two cents per toy they produce. CLW estimates that a worker in a Hasbro supplier factory earns only $5,855 annually.
- Forced overtime: Workers toiled in the toy factories for 11 hours a day, six days a week, on average, in violation of Chinese labor laws. In all five factories, employees were forced to work overtime hours, resulting in some only seeing their families once a year.
“If the workers refuse to work overtime on one occasion, they may be punished by never getting overtime,” says Slaten. And because of their poverty-level wages, many wouldn’t be able to make ends meet without overtime hours, he notes.
- Wage theft: Slaten says factories stealing or delaying wages is a common practice. At two of the factories CLW investigated, regularly paid work time was “diverted” to Saturdays, illegally reducing weekend overtime pay.
“Employing up to 11,000 workers, the two companies may be cheating workers out of $1-2 million a year” through this practice, states the report.
- Health and safety risks: “The toy industry deals with a lot of plastics and paints,” says Slaten. “No matter what sort of chemicals are in them, these are poisonous to human health.”
CLW investigators found that laborers often work in poorly ventilated areas with little or no protective equipment.
In addition, the factory buildings themselves are often not safe. At the Winson factory, a longtime supplier for Mattel, a painting workshop inside the factory caught fire due to old, exposed electrical wires while CLW was investigating the factory. Though no workers were hurt in this particular fire, “our investigator found such wires elsewhere in the factory that were still exposed,” says Slaten. “You have to ask, ‘When is the next fire?’”
The report details 50 events that harmed workers in the past 20 years, such as fires or poisonings, all of which occurred because of unsafe factory conditions.
“Green America is joining with CLW to call on Hasbro and other toy makers to clean up their supplier factories and protect workers,” says Elizabeth Jardim, Green America’s consumer advocacy director. “Toy companies won’t change until their customers demand it. Please sign our petition and consider more responsibly made toys for your loved ones this year.”
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