Labor Rights Violations in Walmart and Home Deport’s Supplier Factory

Cuori is located in Zhejiang, and is a factory that manufactures products for their own brand, in addition to various international brands. According to information from the factory, there are around 3000 workers, and they manufacture kitchen appliances. Over the period that students worked at Cuori, brands that had products manufactured at the factory include Hamilton Beach, ALASKA, Cusinart, Tefal, E’noca, Russell Hobbs and George Foreman. Many of these brands are sold at Walmart and Home Depot.

On November 22, China Labor Watch contacted Walmart and Home depot regarding labor rights violations at Cuori. Walmart responded, saying that they were currently undergoing an investigation. Home depot stated that the factory has been asked to pay workers for their wages in arrears. However, a follow-up investigation by CLW reveals that there are still hundreds of student workers who have not received their wages in full. We also received 23 letters from students, and we have translated 8 of them, which are included in the full report. The original letters are included in the Chinese report. We also have contacts of 15 students, who are willing to accept interviews.
Li Qiang-Executive Director of China Labor Watch said, “The cost of Walmart and Home Depot’s low prices is exploited laborers working under extremely stressful and exhausting conditions. The enforcement of Walmart and Home Depot’s ethical sourcing standards at Cuori is a total failure.”
In their respective CSR standards, Walmart and Home Depot promise that they will respect labor and treat every worker that manufactures for them fairly. They should be responsible for the exploited workers and students at Cuori, which has been audited and authorized to manufacture their products by Home Depot and Walmart.

(Students told us that because the working conditions were terrible at Cuori, labor agencies would hold students’ IDs for more than one week to prevent students from leaving the factory. The factory also threatened students that if they left halfway, their wages would be deducted 500 RMB, forcing students to work there under unimaginable inhuman conditions. According to International Labor Organization’s definition, this is clearly forced labor.)

Summary of Cuori’s Violations:
1. Illegal deductions. Labor agencies used a variety of methods to make students pay hundreds of yuan in deposits.
2. Illegally detaining student’s IDs.
3. Signing blank contracts. Labor agencies stated there was a lack of time, and subsequently forced students to sign blank contracts.
4. Failed to buy social insurance as stipulated by law. Force students to sign a statement to give up the purchase of social insurance.
5. Fire safety loopholes. Students discovered that the boxes that were supposed to contain fire extinguishers were used to hold employees’ cups.
6. Excessive overtime. Workers and students worked at least 12 hours a day, and sometimes put in up to 15 hours.
7. Forced overtime. Workers who refused to work overtime would be recorded as being absent from work.
8. Continuous work. According to China’s labor law, employees should have at least one day off each week. However, in Cuori, workers and students could only rest for one or two days each month.
9. As stipulated by China’s labor law, overtime work should be paid according to a certain rate (1.5 times to 3 times the base wage), but in Cuori, overtime was paid the same rate as regular work.
10. Lack of occupational safety protection. The workshop was very hot and dusty, but workers did not receive any protection. Many workers had contact with volatile chemicals such as silicone oil and alcohol, but they did not have any protection either.
11. Inspection fraud. Cuori required employees to use alcohol to clean its products when there was an audit or inspection. However, usually, silicone oil was used, which was cheaper but more harmful to workers.
12. Did not provide job and occupational safety training to workers.
13. Did not provide paystubs to students.
14.Verbal abuse. Grassroots management personnel regularly cursed at students.
15. Constrained resignation. Management personnel would procrastinate to prevent students from resigning.
16. Terrible living conditions. The dormitories were dirty, and a student said that her bed was on the verge of collapsing.
17. Terrible working conditions. The workshop was very hot, and there were no air conditioners. A worker died of heart disease that was triggered by heat stroke.
18. Wage arrears. In addition to the illegal deductions of students, senior employees also stated that Cuori would hold their wages for one month.

19. Lack of protection for juvenile workers.

In October 2016, China Labor Watch received complaints from college students who worked at a cookware factory as employees over the summer vacation. CLW was informed that students were cheated by the company and had worked under terrible working conditions. After students had finished up work over the summer, wages were in arrears. Since then, we followed this issue closely, and gained a further understanding of the working conditions of students.
Before the summer vacation, many students would look for summer vacation jobs, and some college students in Henan Province and Hubei Province had heard of Cuori through labor agencies. Labor agencies promised working conditions which appeared to be acceptable, and these included working no more than ten hours per day, paying 10 RMB for each hour, double pay for overtime work, and free food and accommodation. Students were promised that they would be working in Shenzhen. They paid a deposit and were prepared to begin work. However, many students said that the day before they left, the labor agencies said that they weren’t able to go to Shenzhen to work, and told them that they would instead, go to Zhejiang to work at Cuori. Students felt that they had been cheated, however, to earn some money, they agreed to the conditions. They then went to Cuori to work.
When students were onboard the bus to Cuori, the labor agency told students that wages would be paid at a rate of 9 RMB a hour, and there was no overtime pay. Factories would not provide free food, and instead, would pay workers an 8 RMB food allowance every day. The labor agencies then used various means to make students pay 450 RMB in deposits. Students then felt that something was wrong, but as they had already boarded the bus and paid the deposit, they decided to just keep quiet. The labor agency also made students sign blank work contracts. Before students were able to thoroughly read the terms of the contract, they were made to sign it. In addition, students had to sign a statement giving up the purchase of social insurance.
The working conditions at Cuori couldn’t be worse. Cuori didn’t treat students as employees, but rather as commodities that would be thrown away after two months. For this reason, Cuori increased the working hours of students. Labor agencies initially promised that students would work no more than 10 hours a day, but at Cuori, they worked at least 12 hours a day, and on some days, they even worked for 15 hours. Students only had two days of rest a month. Overtime was forced. Students who asked for leave, even sick leave, would be threatened with wage deductions. Students did not have any breaks other than during meals. They worked continuously, just like machines. For Cuori, students were just a disposable workforce, so they did not provide any occupational safety equipment. Students had regular contact with various chemicals , which could potentially lead to chronic poisoning, but they were not provided with masks and glasses, the most basic protection.
Temperatures at the workshops were very high, however, no air conditioners were installed. Students and full-time employees were sweating all the time. One employee even died of a heart attack triggered by heat stroke. However, for Cuori, students were already commoditized. Students were exploited, and Cuori cared little about the mental and physical health of students. Working in such an environment, managers were also rude and disrespectful. They often cursed workers, even girls. Also, since students were disposable commodities, Cuori failed to provide good accommodation to students. Students lived in a compact room that accommodated eight people. It was overcrowded, and people had no privacy in the dormitory. A student reported to us that every time she went to bed, she had to ask her roommate to hold the bed, because otherwise, the bed would collapse. One girl’s room had no lock, and despite having reported the dormitory to factory management several times, they were not provided with a lock.

Many students could not tolerate the working conditions at Cuori and left half way. But most chose to stay because they wanted to earn some money and to also pay their school fees. However, much to their surprise, more labor violations were awaiting them. Through not calculating overtime, over reporting absence, and various other ways, Cuori and labor agencies illegally deducted an average of 1000 RMB from students’ wages in August. This is almost half of the students’ total wages. When students contacted Cuori and the labor agencies, both were slow in addressing the issue and neither wanted to bear the responsibility. Students needed to call many times before someone answered the phone, and when someone finally spoke with students, he or she was always rude, impatient, and arrogant. Until now, two months have passed and students have yet to receive their full payment.
In addition to Cuori’s own brand, the products of other brands manufactured at Cuori are also being sold at Walmart and Home Depot. For example, the sandwich maker of Hamilton Beach in our picture is exactly the same as the ones on Walmart and Home Depot’s website (see pictures below)

Brands: Hamilton Beach, ALASKA, Cuisinart, Tefal, E’noca, Russell Hobbs, George Foreman (all of the following photos are taken by students working at Cuori over the summer) 

A student during work,
and  a student’s arm after working at Cuori
Attendance record indicates that students have on average 4.5 hours of overtime each day, with total work time amounts to 12.5 hours per day
 Note: 3000 of employees at Cuori is an estimate, based on our interviews with students.
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