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Report: Poor Conditions, Low Wages in Chinese Toy Factories

A model dressed as a doll stands in a box during a protest in Zurich, Switzerland, Nov. 15, 2016, by non-profit organization Solidar Suisse, in support of better conditions for toy factory workers in China.
A model dressed as a doll stands in a box during a protest in Zurich, Switzerland, Nov. 15, 2016, by non-profit organization Solidar Suisse, in support of better conditions for toy factory workers in China.
Report: Poor Conditions, Low Wages in Chinese Toy Factories
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China Labor Watch (CLW) is an activist group based in New York. The group studies labor conditions in China’s toy industry.

In a recent report, the group wrote: “The world of toys is a heaven for children, but (it) may be a world of misery for toy factory workers.”

China Labor Watch released the report this month. It tells about working conditions in four toy factories in southern China’s Guangdong Province.

Investigators say the workers are paid wages of $300 or less per month for 174 hours of work. They say the workers make toys such as Barbie, Thomas the Tank Engine and Hot Wheels. These products are sold by Mattel, Hasbro, Disney, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and other large American companies.

China Labor Watch says the employees often work in dangerous conditions and are not well-trained.

The group says, “the average working hours in these four factories are 11 hours a day, with more than 50 overtime hours a month.” Overtime is time worked in addition to regular working hours. The group said overtime totals were as high as 130 hours in some factories.

The group said its information came from people who worked at the factories. These workers were secretly gathering information for the group at what researchers call “relatively well-managed” factories.

Chinese laws say employees may not work more than 8 hours a day. The laws permit work hours to be extended in some cases, but employers must be sure the workers do not become tired.

The report says employees sometimes worked 11 hours in a day with only a 40-to 60-minute lunch break. It said this is a clear “violation of the right of workers to have adequate rest.”

The report says factory managers regularly asked workers to sign “voluntary overtime agreements.” These agreements permit the factory to violate labor laws and regulations without fear they will be punished.

Wages too low to live on

Because the pay is so poor, almost all of the employees volunteer to work additional hours.

Worker Li Jintao told VOA: “the wages are too low. My monthly salary is $360, but after deductions for social security, I make only a little more than $292 per month.” Workers pay a part of their wages into a social security fund, which is used to support older people when they cannot work anymore.

Chinese laws require companies that have foreign investors to pay social security taxes for their workers. But the CLW report says none of the factories closely followed the laws. It said one factory did not pay into the social insurance or the housing fund for the workers. Another factory paid only a part of the money to some workers. The report said some factories even forced the workers to agree to give up their right to receive social insurance and housing funds.

Li left his home village at the age of 14 to work in the city. He says his monthly salary includes payment for two to three hours of overtime every day.

The 2016 minimum wage in the cities of Dongguan and Foshan is $223 per month, while the minimum wage in Shenzhen is $300 per month. The four factories examined by China Labor Watch are in those cities.

Workers at the factories earn about five percent more than the minimum wage. But Li says that is still not enough. He plans to leave his job and return to his family home.

No safety training

The report said the four factories did not give safety training to workers before they began their job. And it said they failed to give the workers safety equipment.

The report said almost all of the workers live and eat in the factories where they work. Some of the workers complained about poor-quality food. They said their sleeping areas are old and dirty and often have uncovered electrical wires.

Like many toy exporters in China, the factories China Labor Watch investigated have been examined by the International Toy Association. They are part of a program called ICTI Care, a 10-year-old program that says its goal is to protect toy factory workers.

Employers: “Conditions better than ever”

Mark Robinson is a spokesman for ICTI Care. He said the project does most of its work in China. He said it has examined more than 1,200 toy factories in the country. The project also operates in Vietnam, India and other countries. Robinson said it represents 66 million workers.

He says conditions in the factories are better than they have ever been. He adds that Chinese factories that are part of the program are increasing wages.

But the China Labor Watch report said the ICTI standards violate China’s own labor rules. Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch, told VOA that ICTI is “an association backed by Mattel, Disney and Hasbro, which (permits) factory workers to work 72 hours a week, and even 78 hours while the factory has to fill an order.”

CLW sees no improvement

Li began investigating southern China’s toy factories as an undercover laborer in 1999. He said there have been small improvements but the “overall environment for the toy industry has not improved.”

Li said when he was working undercover, “we worked more than 10 hours a day, and it was like a prison. Now, workers still work more than 10 hours a day.”

China Labor Watch researchers say companies that operate the factories can raise wages and improve conditions and still be profitable. But they say most companies choose not to do so.

Disney, Mattel, and Wal-Mart did not answer VOA’s requests to give a reaction to the report.

Disney released a statement. It said, “these issues have been investigated and resolved. Disney will continue to encourage and rely on factory owners, business associates and governments to promote safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces where Disney-brand products are made.”

I’m Anna Mateo.

And I'm Jonathan Evans.

Correspondent Xiao Yu of VOA’s Mandarin service reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

misery – n. extreme suffering or unhappiness

assembly line – n. a line of machines, equipment, workers, etc., in a factory that builds a product by passing work from one station to the next until the product is finished

adequate – adj. enough for some need or requirement; good enough; of a quality that is good or acceptable

deduction – n. something (such as an amount of money) that is or can be subtracted from a total

social security fund – n. a fund created to pay workers when they are too old to work or are injured and cannot work

undercover – adj. done or working in a secret way in order to catch criminals or collect information

adjust – v. to change in order to work or do better in a new situation

brand – n. a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name