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Media giant Walt Disney has been forced to hire a team of external auditors to investigate fresh claims that its contractors have been operating “sweatshop” conditions in factories making children’s books in China.

Disney said it had hired not-for-profit group Verité to investigate the allegations, levelled through the National Labor Committee, the American human rights lobby group,

Last night, the committee published a report by the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, a new group dedicated to protecting the rights of Chinese workers.

In the report, Recovering Mickey’s Conscience, operators of Disney factories in China are accused of flouting workers’ rights, with poor pay and unbearable working conditions.

“In China, young women and men are forced to work 10 to 13 hours a day producing Disney’s children’s books six and seven days a week, working a gruelling 60 to 90 hours a week. The workers are paid just 33 to 41 cents an hour, trapping them in misery,” the committee said.

“It is common for the workers to be cheated of their overtime pay. In some factories, women are denied their legal maternity rights. Eight to 12 workers are housed in primitive dorm rooms sleeping on double level bunk beds and fed horrible food at the factory canteen.

“Workers often faint from exhaustion and the unbearably stifling heat in the factories. Workers have no health insurance, no pension, no rights. They have no right to freedom of association or to organise.”

Factories named in the report include the Nord Race factory in the southern city of Dongguan, which makes Disney stationary, and the Hung Hing print works in Shenzhen.

Nord Race is accused of issuing fake time slips and concealing the originals. Nord Race has already denied the allegations, saying it fully complies with Chinese labour laws.

As it pledged to investigate the claims, Disney said: “The Walt Disney company takes claims such as those raised today by the National Labor Committee very seriously. We have a strong international labor standards (ILS) code of conduct for manufacturers and conduct regular social compliance audits of the independently run factories that produce Disney branded merchandise.

“The Walt Disney Company has contacted Verité, a non-profit social auditing and training firm, to conduct an investigation of the claims regarding the Hung Hing and Nord Race factories.”

This is not the first time that allegations have emerged about Disney factories in China, some of which date back more than five years. The media giant said previous investigations had not uncovered human rights violations of the severity of those outlined by the National Labor Committee.

“Disney and its various licensees, which have retained the services of the Hung Hing and Nord Race facilities to produce Disney branded products, have conducted approximately 20 ILS audits at these factories since 1998. These audits reflect instances of non-compliance followed by remediation.

“However, these audits at no time revealed the severity of the violations reported by the NLC today.”