Hong Kong, 9 January 2012

In the time of globalization, the international toy brands aim to maximize their revenue and minimize their responsibilities by contracting out the production to the manufacturers in China and other developing countries. As the Asian largest toys fair, the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair is held to facilitate the exploitation of the brands and the retailers. While the buyers are interested in good quality products with cheap price, labour rights are always sacrificed. Although the brands, like Disney and Mattel, claim they have their respective code of conduct and will only source from the factories which participate in the certification programme of the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI), rampant labour rights violations are widespread. These prove the codes of brands and the certification system by ICTI are bogus. As such, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) has to voice out the grievances of the workers in the Toys Fair.

When consumers buy toys, they cannot imagine the toy workers in China, who make over 70% of the world’s toys, are toiling in coastal sweatshops in Mainland China. Since 2005, SACOM has been monitoring the working conditions in toy industry in China. Unfortunately, there is no significant improvement in working conditions in the industry. 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 & Spencer and Walmart. The 3 factories have been certified by ICTI CARE Foundation. Disappointingly, labour rights violations remain blatant. For example, workers have overtime work up to 140 hours a month in peak season; the wages are paid one month in arrears; no copy of labour contract; negligence in occupational health and safety; a lack of social insurance; denial of the right to freedom of association, etc. Yet, these are not barriers for the factories to receive a certificate from ICTI CARE. Apparently, ICTI CARE Process is a shield of labour rights violations. In response to the structural problems in the toy industries, ICTI CARE only puts the blame on the factories and never criticizes the brands which turn a blind eye to the problems at their suppliers.

Despite of the failure of the certification system, better audit is not a solution to the exploitations of the toy workers. Statistics from the Ministry of Commerce of China indicate that the average unit price of the export toys was USD 0.65 in 2010. The unit price further diminished to USD 0.52 in the first 7 months in 2011. The labour cost is just a small part of it. Therefore, the hardship of workers can only be alleviated if the brands, like Disney and Mattel, commit to raise the unit price at their suppliers. Equally important, workers should have the right to form genuine unions through democratic elections. In addition, the brands should increase transparency by releasing reports to show the level of compliance of labour rights at their suppliers, and provide remedies to victims when violations are found.