In Guangdong province, where 70% of China’s toys are exported, migrant workers’ basic salary is around CNY 850-1320 (USD 134-208), actually the same as the statutory local minimum wage. And the minimum wage is barely enough for self-subsistence. Restricted by the meager pay, workers have to leave their children behind in their hometowns where they can only visit once a year during Chinese New Year, and for this family reunion, they cannot afford to buy what they produce as gifts for their children – not a Mattel’s Hot Wheels toy car, not a Disney storybook. The hardship of the workers is a consequence of the squeezing unit price in the global supply chain.

Rampant Labour Rights Violations in ICTI-certified Factories

Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) has been monitoring the working conditions in toy industry in China since 2005 and has sadly seen little real improvement in working conditions of the toy workers. In 2011 summer, SACOM investigated 3 toy factories, namely Dongguan On Tai Toys Co. Ltd., Sturdy Products Factory and Hung Hing Printing Group Ltd., which are suppliers to renowned global companies, including Disney, Mattel, Lego, McDonald’s, Marks and Spencer, and Walmart. All 3 factories have been certified by the ICTI CARE for several years already, however, after all the years of monitoring by the ICTI CARE, they are still violating fundamental labour rights. The ICTI CARE, again, has proved itself to be just a cover-up scheme for big companies’ exploitation of workers in China. The followings are some examples of labour rights abuses in On Tai, Sturdy Products and Hung Hing:

work excessive overtime work up to 140 overtime hours a month, about 4 times the legal limit;

wage always paid in arrears;

denial of a copy of labour contract;

denial of personal protective equipment and training leading to cases of occupational diseases and fatal accidents;

illegal wage payment to workers under medical treatment for occupational diseases;

denial of social insurance benefits;

child workers in summer time;

no fire drill;

denial of workers’ right to freedom of association;

harsh discipline and various arbitrary fines;

unhygienic food where insects are found in the dish; and

dirty dormitory frequented by rats.

ICTI CARE Makes Money by Helping Global Companies to Cover Rights Violations

ICTI CARE alleges that it aims to ensure safe and humane workplace environments for toy factory workers worldwide. Factories which pay various fees to the ICTI CARE and pass its audits are certified as decent factories with good labour practices. The charges are all levied on factories and not a single dime is required from the global brands and retailers which make it compulsory for their supplier factories to enrol in the ICTI CARE.

By making labour monitoring a free service for global brands, ICTI CARE has drawn support of 780 toy brands and companies worldwide, such as Mattel, Hasbro, Lego, Disney, Walmart, Toys R Us, Marks & Spencer, which agrees with the ICTI CARE that all their toy suppliers must be certified by the ICTI CARE. According to the ICTI CARE website, over 2420 factories have enrolled in the ICTI CARE Process in November 2011, representing a workforce of about 1.7 million.

Why so many global toy brands and retailers join ICTI CARE?The reasons are simple:

It is free service. Not a single dime is charged to buying companies. No cost at all for toy brands and retailers.

It is cost-saving. By putting the monitoring work to ICTI CARE, companies save time and efforts, and staff costs, because they do not need to monitor the toy supply chain by themselves.

It is a risk-sharing mechanism. The more companies join, the easier it is for companies to comfort itself that others also have the same problems.

It is a responsibility-shirking mechanism. When labour violations are exposed, brands and retailers can conveniently shirks its responsibility since they passed their labour monitoring work to the ICTI CARE.

It covers up the labour rights violations for companies. The ICTI CARE is designed to be a non-transparent and secret-keeping mechanism. It has no accountability to the public, workers or civil society. It does not release any findings of labour rights violations in any company’s supply chain or in the global industry in general.

It does not aim for structural change. Taking the squeezing purchasing model of the toy companies is a root cause of the labour rights violations. The ICTI CARE has never demanded the toy companies to raise the unit price when placing order.

The full report is available here: Making Toys without Joy.