[Hong Kong, 7 January 2013]
Today, the Hong Kong Toys and Game Fair is held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. It is the venue for the brands and manufacturers to seek business opportunities. Yet, the Toys Fair will not care about if the labour practices in the toy factories are fair for the workers or not. From July to November 2012, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) investigated the Dongguan Tianyu Toys Co. Ltd. and the Dongguan Chang An – Mattel Toys 2nd Factory. Labour abuses are widespread in the two factories, although both of them are certified by the International Council of Toy Industries(ICTI) CARE Process, an industrial association which established to ensure decent working conditions at the toy manufacturing factories. Despite the repetitive monitoring by SACOM in the past seven years, working conditions in the factories still fall short from the minimum legal standards. The toy brands like Disney and Mattel are only concerned the quality and unit price of their products when they place orders at the suppliers. Meanwhile, the ICTI CARE turns a blind eye to the abuses in the factories when granting certificates to the brands suppliers. As a result, the rights violations in the toy sector remain a norm. Disney, Mattel and ICTI CARE must be responsible for the dire working conditions of the toy workers!
Toy stories in the factories are not fairy tales. Excessive overtime, low wages, delayed payment, hazardous working environment, denial of pension and so on are the realities in the toy factories. SACOM has investigated Tianyu, which produces Toy Story products, for four times since 2007. The intense attention has not translated to structural reform at the factory. In the peak season, the work shift begins at 8am and ends at 10pm. Dispatched workers are found underpaid. Paint-spraying workers are exposed to chemicals without adequate protection. Production line workers are often hurt by unsafe devices. Worker needs to acquire an “off-duty permit” if he or she has to be excused for a toilet break. Outrageously, Tianyu has been certified by ICTI CARE regardless the above abuses.
At the Mattel factory, workers constantly have 80-100 overtime hours a month which exceed the 36-hour legal limit. Occupational health and safety is disturbing. New workers always got injured by needle or hot glue when they sew hair for the Barbie dolls. Paint-spraying workers are only provided with surgical masks which cannot filter the particles of the paint and the chemicals. Even worse, the paint particles may go into workers’ eyes. The factory is directly owned by Mattel. Mattel has indispensable responsibility to ensure decent working conditions in its own production facilities. Even though Mattel can have full control over the labour practices at the factory, the working conditions are equally bad compare to other Mattel suppliers. Apparently, it is a matter of commitment. For the details of the two toy factories, please refer to the Appendix.
Tianyu and Mattel factory are not the exceptional cases which reveal the systematic problems of the ICTI CARE certification programme. In 2011-2012, SACOM investigated seven other ICTI-certified toy factories and rampant labour rights violations were found. It is evident that the ICTI CARE does not care about labour rights but resembles shield of the brands when deplorable working conditions at the brands suppliers are uncovered.
Once again, SACOM demands the international toy brands, including Disney and Mattel, to strictly comply with the labour standards and their respective code of conduct. Outsourcing the monitoring work to ICTI CARE is not a solution but intensifying the labour rights violations in their supply chain. The brands must carry out selective factory inspections to crosscheck the labour practices of their suppliers. More importantly, the brands must increase the unit price when they place orders at the factories to enable the manufacturers to raise the labour standards. Last but not least, the workers are in the best position to scrutinize the rights abuses in their workplaces. The brands must facilitate dialogue between employer and employees on an equal footing through democratic unions or similar structure.