According to an undercover investigation conducted by human rights group Sacom (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior), Disney’s best-selling Cars toys are being made in a Mattel factory in China that uses child labor and forces staff to do three times the amount of overtime allowed by law.
It is claimed some of the 6,000 employees have to work an extra 120 hours every month to meet demand from western shops for the latest toys.
The factory, called Sturdy Products, makes toys for the giant Mattel company as well as for the super discount chain Walmart. Among the brands produced in the Shenzhen factory are the Thomas the Tank Engine range, Matchbox cars, Cars, Toy Story, Barbie and Fisher Price products, Scrabble and the Hot Wheels sets.
Sacom, which also exposed abuse in Apple’s Foxconn plant, had interviewed workers away from the factory and had an investigator work undercover in the factory for a month. According to the investigator, there was evidence of the use of child labor, illegal working hours and concerns over the use of poisonous chemicals.
Sacom’s accusations against the factory include:
■ The employment of a 14-year-old. Staff also reported the presence of other child workers, according to the investigator.
■ Routine excessive overtime. Employees produced a “voluntary” document they said they had to sign agreeing to work beyond the maximum overtime legal limit of 36 hours a month, along with wage slips that suggested they were averaging 120 hours of overtime a month.
■ A harsh working environment in which workers complained of mistreatment by management. One worker injured on the production line was shouted at and ordered back to work despite needing medical treatment.
■ Concerns about the chemicals in use and poor ventilation. Employees claimed three workers had fallen ill. They said they had to hide pots of adhesive and thinners during audits of the factory by its client companies.
■ They also claimed that they were paid by the factory to give misleading answers during audits and that they were fined for failing to hit targets. The calculation of wages for different workers was described by Sacom as arbitrary.
Concerns were raised about conditions at Sturdy Products when a 45-year-old female employee, Hu Nianzhen, jumped to her death from a factory building in May after she was allegedly shouted at by managers.
Colleagues subsequently described the environment in the factory as tense and complained about the demanding workload. “A female worker committed suicide,” one said, “because she was always scolded. However, I feel helpless because it is not easy for me to find another job.”
Sacom believes that parents should think twice before buying Disney and Mattel toys. According to a spokeswoman:
“Mattel, Walmart and Disney, the renowned toy companies, always claim they strictly comply with local laws and adhere to their respective code of conduct. The rampant violations at Sturdy Products, including excessive overtime, arbitrary wages, unfair punitive fines, child labour and negligence of occupational health, prove that the pledges are empty statements. There is no effective enforcement mechanism and remedies for workers at all.”
She said the violations exposed the failings of the International Council of Toy Industries, which is supposed to police the industry.
“Consumers could never expect that the lovely toys which bring joy to children are manufactured in such deplorable conditions. They should convey messages to toy companies including Mattel, Walmart and Disney to launch remedial actions to compensate the wronged workers. Without remedies, there is no cost for labour rights violations.”
Sturdy Products’ parent company, Winson, failed to respond to requests to discuss the allegations.
Walmart issued a statement in which it said: “As soon as we learned of the allegations of human rights abuses at the Sturdy Products factory, we immediately launched an investigation. We are also in contact with the International Council of Toy Industries, a worldwide toy industry organisation that is also investigating this issue. We take reports like this very seriously and we will implement a corrective action plan if our investigations confirm any of the findings.
“We remain committed to sourcing merchandise that is produced responsibly by suppliers that adhere to Walmart’s rigorous Standards for Suppliers code of conduct.”
Disney said: “We take these matters impacting our licensees and business partners very seriously and will continue to evaluate this situation based upon the information available to us.”
Mattel declined to comment directly on any of the allegations other than to note that the company was “deeply saddened” by the suicide but that, while it was “very tragic”, it was an isolated event and local authorities had found nothing suspicious about the circumstances.