ICTI Care: A Glamorized Public Relations Tool for the Global Toy Industry

“The mission of the ICTI CARE Process is to enable the worldwide children’s products industry to ensure that its products are manufactured in an environment of the highest standards of safety and humane conditions.” This statement was printed on a recent flyer advertising one of ICTI Care’s programs.

Founded in 2004, ICTI Care works with global toy brands, providing services related to ethical supply chains including factory audits, training sessions and a worker helpline. Most major multinational corporations in the toy industry, such as Mattel, Walmart and Disney have joined the program and trust ICTI Care with the evaluation of their suppliers. This means that factories around the world can receive orders from these brands only after being certified by ICTI Care. “Certifications means no critical or major non-compliances for buyers to resolve,” the organization explains on its website.

But the reality is far from what ICTI advertises. In the summer of 2017, China Labor Watch conducted investigations into four ICTI-certified factories in Guangdong province, including Shaoguan Early Light, Dongguan Changan Mattel, Dongguan Qualidux (Guangda),and Shenzhen Winson (Taiqiang). We found that extremely low wages, excessive overtime, insufficient labor protection measures and appalling dormitory conditions are still prevalent in these factories.

At all four factories, workers work overtime for an average of 80 hours every month, sometimes clocking in more than 140 overtime hours. Workers are usually forced to work overtime, and without overtime pay, the average basic wage is only around 250 dollars. Other than Changan Mattel, none of the remaining three factories purchase social insurance for their workers as required by law.

Workers exposed to toxic chemicals are normally not provided with adequate protective equipment. At Early Light, workers were only provided with a mask without receiving any information about protective measures. At Qualidux, only work hats were provided.

At Early Light and Winson, piles of products blocked pathways and emergency exits. Fire extinguishers in the dormitory area of Qualidux were last checked in 2016, and have been expired for over a year.

Similar rights infringements and legal violations abound. It is striking that such problems can continue to exist at factories that have gone through the expensive audit programs designed by ICTI Care, whose effectiveness and significance may need to be questioned.

Even more disturbing, at Early Light – one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world – two workers jumped from the factory building during our investigation. One of the workers, Yang Zongfang, was a 38-year-old man from Hunan. He has been working at the factory’s Alloy Cutting Department for ten years now. On August 29, 2017, he jumped from the fourth floor of a factory building and passed away at the scene. According to colleagues and relatives of the victim, because he was fired for letting other workers use his own factory ID card, Yang decided to end his life.

The following day, a second worker attempted suicide. On August 30, 2017, Lin Jin Hua, a 34-year old local of Shaoguan jumped from a building and was in a coma for three months. He regained consciousness around the start of November. Currently, Lin himself is still having difficulty speaking coherently and his family have not received enough information to know the specific reasons for his attempted suicide. The factory paid for some of Lin’s medical costs incurred at the hospital prior to November.

China Labor Watch advised the families of the two workers to contact the ICTI Care worker helpline. However, when we released our investigation report and got in touch ICTI Care about the issue, they indicated that they were unaware of the incidents. This inevitably raises doubts about the effectiveness of its supervision and feedback systems. If a professional, full-time ethical supply chain organization for the global toy industry has no knowledge of such major incidents at a factory, and needs to rely on our short-term investigations to find out about existing problems, then it may be necessary for ICTI Care to reconsider and reform its own work.

ICTI Care evaluates factories through their audit program, also known as ICP. Recent financial reports of the group suggests that this program is its primary source of income and expenditure, ranging from around 2.5 to 3.5 million dollars. Yet infringements continue to prevail despite substantial spending. Its audit program has also been alleged of corruption and bribery. In June 2016, the Guangdong Toy Association released a statement claiming that a factory owner confessed, “Right now in Dongguan, the annual audits have 3 prices. $12,000 USD can buy you a usable fake certificate; $20,000 USD can guarantee you that your factory will receive orders, but no certificate would be provided; and if you pay $27,000 USD then you can get an authentic certificate.”

ICTI Care also claims to receive workers’ feedback through its worker helpline. The official website states that the helpline has addressed over 13,000 calls from its launch in 2010 up to the end of 2016, that is, only 3-5 calls daily. Also, the helpline time operates from 11am to 9pm, a period of time when most workers are at work and wouldn’t be able to easily find the time to call.

In light of this, ICTI Care’s information channels – either the helpline or its factory inspections – are far from effective. Needless to say, an ICTI Care certificate is certainly not equal to the protection of workers’ rights and interests.

Moreover, this year, ICTI Care heavily advertised one of its programs called Family-Friendly Factory Spaces. The program helps factories host and take care of employees’ children during the summer holidays so that they can spend time together with their parents. According to its website, the program began in 2016, and has since been launched in 16 factories serving over 500 children.

In China, there are more than 60 million left-behind children, that is, children who remain in their hometown whilst their parents migrated to other cities for work. The total number of Chinese toy workers is as high as 660,000. Thus, 500 children is a very small portion of this group. Similarly, the program only lasts for several months in the summer, and is unlikely to bring about any sustainable, long-term changes. Ultimately, it is hard to guarantee the quality of such temporary child care providers, which may lead to safety issues at these spaces.

More importantly, there have been no improvements to one of the most fundamental factors contributing to the phenomenon of left-behind children – low wages and long hours for workers.

Yet ICTI Care chooses to extensively advertise and publicize this very program that’s a mere facade, supposedly as a demonstration of the promising results of its work. By doing so, it also avoids taking action on the most significant and fundamental issue – increasing workers’ wages and reducing overtime hours.

While ICTI Care describes itself as an “independent not-for-profit organization”, many prominent positions on its governing board are in fact held by representatives of various brand companies. In its specific operations, the ICTI certification system requires supplier factories to pay for their designated audits, essentially transferring “corporate social responsibility” onto the shoulders of factories and workers. As such, ICTI Care is merely an organization that serves the needs of corporations. Thus, we have reasons to question whether it really can, as its slogan says, “100% commit to promoting safe and fair working conditions throughout the toy industry supply chain” and prioritize “the safety and well-being of workers.”

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