Workers in Misery: An Investigation into Two Toy Factories


The outbreak of COVID-19 at the beginning of the year affected the supply chains of many companies, and workers in China were left with no work as factories were forced to close to prevent the spread of the virus. However, toy sales have increased this year. With parents working from home and also having to look after their children, they have purchased toys for to keep their children entertained. The total revenue for Mattel alone, increased by 10% to $1.6 billion US dollars.

China Labor Watch (CLW) released a report this year into two toy factories: Dongguan Changan Mattel Toys Co., Ltd and Dongguan Dongyao Toy Co., Ltd. Dongguan Changan Mattel is directly owned by Mattel and Dongguan Dongyao manufactures toys for Mattel, Chicco, Tomy and Fisher-Price. Since 2001, We have been advocating for the rights of workers in toy factories, when we released our first toy report. Sadly, after years of research, investigations and correspondence with major toy companies, rights abuses persist. Wages are low, workers continue to put in excessive overtime hours, lacking adequate labor protection and health and safety training, and are subject to verbal abuse. We also found cases of sexual harassment at Changan Mattel this year.

Chinese labor law stipulates that workers are not to put in over 36 hours of overtime a month. However, at Changan Mattel, workers generally put in around 80 overtime hours a month. At Dongguan Dongyao, workers put in the most overtime hours in September, where they were working 92 to 112 overtime hours. Production targets were high, and workers at Changan Mattel were required to produce over 100 products every hour to ensure they met the production target. Sometimes, workers stayed back at work for around 30 minutes, unpaid, just to complete the production target.

Verbal abuse was also common at both factories. At Changan Mattel, if there was little work to do before reaching the production target, the team leader and assistant team leader were required to stay back to finish work. Hence, they were constantly pushing workers to work harder, scolding those who were working slowly. At Dongguan Dongyao, team leaders expressed dissatisfaction at workers who asked not to work overtime, by ignoring them. This puts even more pressure on workers to work overtime.

Last year, we found cases of sexual harassment at Foshan Nanhai Mattel. This year, we found cases sexual harassment at Changan Mattel as well, which reveals that Mattel has done little to address the issue since our last report. We were in correspondence with Mattel shortly after the release of our report last year. When we asked for the company’s sexual harassment policy, we received no response. At Changan Mattel this year, a young female worker had inappropriate remarks made about her chest. The investigator noticed a male worker who would regularly harass female workers in the workshop. He called one of them “dear”, and touched the hands and hair of another worker. The contact information of sex workers was also posted in a Wechat work group.

Both factories also failed to provide workers with a safe working environment. They did not receive the 24 hours of pre-job safety training as stipulated by law. Workers were not provided with adequate protection even though they were in contact with chemicals such as thinners. At Changan Mattel, workers in the spray-painting workshop had paint in their nostrils after work, and were only provided with a surgical mask. For workers at Dongguan Dongyao, workers who were using thinner was not provided with gloves. A worker who was using thinner experienced skin redness, swelling and itching and had to get an injection to relieve her symptoms.

Unions at both factories mostly did not represent the rights of workers and workers didn’t even know they existed. There was a “Home of Mattel” at Changan Mattel that was to resolve workers’ problems. When a worker tried to complain about miscalculation of her wages, the staff at “Home of Mattel” did not assist her. It was only after she threatened to complain to the Human Resources and Social Security Department that the issue with her pay was addressed. At Dongguan Dongyao, workers were told to simply tick that they were “unwilling to join a labor union” on the new employee application form when they were going through the employment process.

Changan Mattel and Dongguan Dongyao did not take adequate measures to prevent the spread of the virus at their factories. At Changan Mattel, applicants were required to test negative for the COVID-19 nucleic acid test before being interviewed, and factory security took workers’ temperatures when they swiped into work. At Dongguan Dongyao, the dining environment was particularly worrying. There was no social distancing as workers shared tables, with their arms touching each other. Some workers used their own tableware to get food from the public rice containers.

For social insurance, Chinese labor law mandates employers to make contributions to workers’ social insurance which covers the five categories of pension, unemployment, maternity, medical, work injury and also a housing provident fund. However, at Changan Mattel, workers only received social insurance after passing the probation period. We are unsure which categories of insurance Donguan Dongyao pays into.

The investigation this year also revealed that more needs to be done for pregnant female workers, especially at Changan Mattel. Although there was maternity leave, female workers expressed that it was difficult to continue working at the factory when they became pregnant. A pregnant female worker had to apply not to work night shifts, and the factory did not take the initiative to switch her to working during the day. She ultimately resigned as it was too exhausting to work at the factory.

Once again, this year’s findings reveal how little major toy brand companies have done to improve working conditions in their factories. Although toy sales increased this year, clearly the profits of these have not been used to increase workers’ wages, provide them with adequate labor protection or ensure that social insurance has been purchased for all workers. We strongly urge brand companies to commit to improving the lives of workers, and to ensure they strictly monitor their supply chain and immediately address rights violations we have uncovered this year.

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