CHINA: U.S. Group Accuses Chinese Toy Factories of Labor Abuses

A workers' rights group in the United States released a report on Tuesday detailing what it called brutal conditions and illegal practices in Chinese toy factories, many of which supply some of the world's biggest brand-name toy makers, including Walt Disney and Hasbro.

China Labor Watch, which is based in New York, said that it had investigated eight Chinese factories over the last year and discovered widespread labor violations, including the hiring of under-age workers, mandatory overtime, unsafe working conditions and managers who engaged in verbal abuse and sexual harassment.

In one instance, the group said, a toy factory in the impoverished Guangxi Province hired 1,000 junior high school students. Chinese law forbids employers to hire children under the age of 16.

"Shortsighted policies drive corporations like Hasbro to turn a blind eye to safety - and to ignore the labor conditions in their supplier factories," the group said in its report.

The report is being issued at a time of growing concern about the quality and safety of Chinese exports, and after a series of large toy recalls involving Chinese-made goods.

The Chinese government, however, has insisted that most Chinese exports are safe and of good quality, and multinational corporations say they have stepped up the monitoring and auditing of Chinese factories.

But some workers' rights groups say tainted and defective products are a result of a factory system that allows big corporations to outsource to contractors here who routinely violate Chinese labor laws and cheat workers to reduce costs and increase profits.

China Labor Watch assigned part of the blame to multinational corporations that focus on keeping costs low.

Hasbro said in a statement that it would conduct a thorough investigation into the issues raised in the report and would "act swiftly and decisively in making any necessary changes."

"Hasbro has an excellent record in the arena of product safety and, in light of the recent news from China, we have increased the intensity of our ongoing safety review efforts when it comes to any of our products manufactured both here and overseas," the statement said.

Disney said in a statement that it and its affiliates take allegations of unfair labor practices seriously, investigate them thoroughly and take remedial action. "We have a firm commitment to the safety and well-being of workers, and fair and just labor standards," a spokeswoman, Alannah Goss, said in an e-mail statement, according to Reuters.

The report by China Labor Watch is only the latest in a series of reports issued by nongovernmental organizations over the last few years detailing worker abuse in Chinese factories.

Last June, a group of trade unions and nongovernmental organizations accused several Chinese companies that make merchandise for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games of using under-age workers and forcing many to work overtime in unsafe conditions.

The Beijing Olympic organizing committee later revoked the license of at least one company that made Olympic merchandise, saying the company had hired some under-age workers and did not have employee contracts.

Many other companies, including Apple and McDonald's, have also been the subject of reports by Chinese journalists and workers' rights groups here that accuse the companies of violating Chinese labor laws. The companies have denied violating the law and said that if they are alerted to violations, they will act.

In response to China Labor Watch's report, the International Council of Toy Industries issued a statement Tuesday saying that it is working with factory management in countries like China to ensure workers are treated fairly. "Our objective is to alleviate working conditions like those described in the report in order to make sure that workers don't bear the brunt of poor factory management practices and keep their jobs," Alan Hassenfeld, a spokesman for the organization, said in the statement.

Many companies, particularly toy companies, have independent auditors who make unannounced visits to factories with contracts from the companies. But critics say auditors are sometimes fooled by factory managers, who are coached in how to deal with them.

AMP Section Name:Labor
  • 116 Human Rights
  • 204 Manufacturing

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