The Dark Side of the Toy World

On August 11, 2017, China Labor Watch dispatched investigators to four toy factories in China, including Shaoguan Early Light, Dongguan Changan Mattel, Dongguan Qualidux (Guangda), Shenzhen Winson (Taiqiang). These factories primarily supply for Walmart, Disney, Mattel, Hasbro, Target, Big Lots, Costco, Bandai, Infantino, Zoli, Combi, TOMY, Hama, Lanvin, and other companies. Many of these brand companies have promised to uphold the rights of factory workers, establishing codes of conduct. Yet our findings suggest that they continue to blatantly violate the rights and interests of workers who manufacture their products.

China Labor Watch has been investigating working conditions in toy factories for over 18 years. We witness mistreatments and tragedies constantly occurring in the industry. In order to manufacture toys for children around the world, Chinese workers must distant themselves from their parents and children, leave behind their loved ones to go and work in a place entirely unfamiliar to them. Every day workers toil for 12 hours, and if they do not work overtime, can only earn 250 USD a month, leading to workers desperately working overtime to barely maintain their livelihood. After working at the four factories and numerous interviews with around 400 workers, our investigators have discovered the following violations of Chinese labor law and worker mistreatments:

Excessive overtime hours remain an issue across all four factories. Chinese labor law stipulates that laborers shall work no more than eight hours a day, and no more than 44 hours a week. Where the employer wishes to extend working hours, total extension cannot exceed 36 hours a month. All four factories had workers putting in over 80 overtime hours a month, with some clocking in around 140 overtime hours.

Workers exposed to toxic chemicals are normally not provided with adequate protective equipment. At Early Light, workers were not informed of any protective measures, and are only provided with a mask. At Qualidux, only work hats are provided.

Dormitory conditions are substandard. Eight or more workers are squeezed into a small dorm room, and ten or more workers share a bathroom. In some dormitories, workers have to sleep in stifling heat during the summer, and the bathrooms are malodorous, with litter everywhere.

Emergency exits are also frequently obstructed in manufacturing areas and living quarters. At Early Light and Winson, piles of products are scattered everywhere, blocking 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.

Finally, like most factories in China, all four factories lacked an active labor union. Where there was a labor union, workers were usually unsure of the functions of the union, and no regular meetings were held.

Summary of Rights Violations 2017

 Dongguan  ChangAn MattelShaoguan Early LightShenzhen Winson PrecisionDonguan Qualidax Plastic Products
Hiring discrimination* x  
Pre-job physical examination not provided to all workersx xx
Overtime is not voluntary*xx  
Excessive overtime work*xxxx
Factory mistreats workers x x
Factory does not explain the labor contract to workers x x
Factory does not uphold the labor contract* x x
Factory does not provide 24 hours of pre-job safety training *xxxx
Factory does not provide workers with protective equipment* x x
Factory lacks sufficient occupational health and safety measures* x x
Poor living conditionsxxxx
Fire hazards present in factory workshops* xxx
Failure to purchase social insurance in accordance with the law* xxx
Lack of well-functioning unionsxxxx
Lack of effective complaint channelsxxxx
Lack of transparency regarding actual working conditions x x
Factory does not notify workers of emergency measures to take during emergencies* x x
Worker must obtain approval for resignation x  

NOTE: “*”  represents a violation of Chinese labor law

In previous years, we have carried out various investigations into three of the four factories – Changan Mattel, Dongguan Qualidux (Guangda), Winson (Taiqiang) and have been able to see improvements in certain aspects at these factories. For instance, workers previously had a schedule of 6.7 hours a day and 6 days a week, which would allow factories to reduce the overtime pay of a regular schedule of 5 days a week and 8 hours a day. This has since changed at all three factories, and with work done on weekends calculated as overtime, workers work the same amount with an increase to their monthly wages at around 100 RMB ($15.00 USD). Moreover, ChangAn Mattel and Winson now provide better insurance coverage for workers, purchasing insurance across all five legally required categories including work injury, unemployment, maternity, medical and pension.

However, Qualidux no longer provides any safety equipment besides work hats, whereas it workers in certain departments were provided with masks and gloves on a weekly basis in 2013.

Thus, despite limited improvements, instances of worker mistreatment and labor rights violations continue to be pervasive.

Workers even jump to their death

Yang Zongfang. 38 years old. Shaoyang, Hunan resident. Worked at the Guangdong Early Light Toy Factory for 10 years in the B5-1 alloy die cutting department. On August 29, 2017, he jumped from the top of the factory’s dormitory building.

Lin Jinhua, 34 years old. Worked at the Guangdong Early Light Toy Factory. On August 30, 2017, he jumped from a building and was in a coma at the ICU of Shaoguan City’s Yuebei Hospital. He regained consciousness around the start of November.

These are two tragic cases that have occurred at the Guangdong Early Light Toy Factory. According to colleagues and families, Yang committed suicide after he was fired for lending his factory ID card to other workers and violating a factory regulation. He had worked at the Early Light Toy Factory for 10 years.

Currently, the information Lin’s relatives have received does not clearly specify the reason for his attempted suicide. Lin Jinhua has regained consciousness, however is having trouble speaking, and in a confused state of mind. The factory paid for some of Lin’s medical costs incurred at the hospital, prior to November.

Instances of workers jumping to their death is not only limited to the Early Light Toy Factory case. As we were investigating the Shenzhen Winson (Taiqiang) Toy Factory in 2011, a 45 year old female worker, Hu Nianzhen, was told by a manager that she was too old and worked too slowly. The manager yelled at her and asked her to leave the production line, which led the 45 year old female worker to decide to end her life by jumping off the building. After Hu Nianzhen passed away, her relatives were also severely beaten by the factory and had to be hospitalized. CLW has been working to obtain the family’s requested compensation on behalf of Hu Nianzhen, but so far they have yet to receive a fair compensation.     

The names and stories of these workers are quickly forgotten, if ever known by the public.

Yet our children’s toys continue to be produced in the midst of such tragedies. In this sense, our children’s joyful worlds are built on top of the sufferings of these Chinese workers and their families.

Ultimately, what we hope for is greater compliance to international labor standards across the toy industry. With brands pushing for lower production costs, higher work intensity and quality products, what we are witnessing in the toy industry is a race to the bottom. This scenario creates breeding grounds for worker rights violations, as factories find various means to slash production costs, and working conditions continue to deteriorate.

Supplier(s)CompanyHeadquartersCEOTotal CompensationCompany’s Net IncomeFiscal Year
Early LightHasbroUSABrian Goldner10,542,242551,380,000FY16
Early LightLi & FungHong KongSpencer Fung2,546,000258,260,000FY16
Early LightBig LotsUSADavid Campisi9,799,527152,828,000FY16
Early LightCostcoUSAWalter Craig Jelinek6,503,2762,679,000,000FY17
Early LightWalmartUSACarl Douglas McMillon22,352,14313,643,000,000FY17
Early LightDisneyUSARobert Iger43,882,3969,391,000,000FY16
Early LightTargetUSABrian Cornell11,281,3692,737,000,000FY16
Chang’an Mattel, Early Light, Winson, QualiduxMattelUSAChristopher Sinclair9,225,193318,022,000FY16
Early Light, QualiduxBandaiJapanMasaru Kawaguchi 387,778,000FY17
QualiduxTomyJapanKantaro Tomiyama 47,170,000FY17

The factories we investigated manufacture for the brand companies listed in the table above. The table contains information on the CEO’s total compensation and company’s net income.

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