The Dark Side of the Glittering World: A Report on Exploitation in Toy Factories in China

Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Read this report in Chinese

(November 20,2019) The toy industry’s long-lasting existence has brought joy to children all over the world. However, when we take into account the supply chains that produce these toys, we see Chinese workers being forced to work overtime to make ends meet. Since 2001, China Labor Watch has published a series of toy factory investigation reports, exposing many immoral and illegal practices. Through these reports, we hope to improve workers’ working and living conditions by revealing how these major toy factories exploit their workers shamelessly. Sadly, even though China Labor Watch has been monitoring these major toy factories for a number of years, a lot of issues persist today.

The working conditions of workers in the toy industry have become worse under the trade war. The majority of factory's peak season is usually from June to October, however, the peak season is now only between June and August. During this period, workers are putting in even more work hours, and they only have one day of rest per month. After September, recruitment slowed down and the majority of factories only hired a small number of female workers. It was very difficult for male workers to find work at toy factories. Overtime hours also decreased, however, because of this, workers did not earn enough to sustain their livelihood which forced workers to have no choice but to resign. Factories have also been hiring more temporary workers and dispatch workers, instead of regular workers.

China experienced strong economic growth in the past 30 years, however, only a small number of the country's citizens have become rich. The majority of workers in the manufacturing industry are still earning the minimum wage, and can only rely on working long hours to sustain their basic livelihood. They must also be apart from their hometowns and family. 

In 2019, China Labor Watch investigated five toy factories in Guangdong Province. The five factories are: Wah Tung (He Yuan) Toy Products Ltd. Co., Dongguan Kongxing Industry Co., Ltd., Foshan Nanhai Mattel Precision Diecasting Co., Ltd., Dongguan Wing Fai Foam Products Co., Ltd., and Everfront Plastic and Electronics Manufacturing Co., Ltd. They manufacture for multinational brand companies such as Disney, Hasbro, Mattel, and Lego. Our report focuses on a number of aspects of labor rights, including living wages, excessive overtime, work safety, living conditions and social welfare, worker representation, and female workers’ rights. 

All five factories are located in Guangdong province, where the minimum wage required by law is between 1410 RMB to 1720RMB ($201.4 - $245.7), depending on the specific cities the factories are in. Foshan Mattel is the only factory out of the five to offer a base wage slightly higher than the minimum wage. While the base wages in the other factories are no more than the minimum requirement. Because many factory workers are migrant workers (Nongmingong), they have to make ends meet in the city and also send a portion of their wages to their families back home. As a result, the low wages of these workers affect their living conditions. 

Low wages and excessive overtime usually co-exist. Minimum wages are established by calculating how much one must earn to sustain their livelihood, not by how much is sufficient for the whole family to live a decent life. As a result, workers who need to earn enough money for their families have to rely on overtime wages. From 2001 to 2005, our investigations show that workers’ overtime hours averaged 150 hours per month. While workers at Wah Tung put in 60 hours overtime on average every month this year, and this exceeds the 36 hours as stipulated by law, work hours have decreased drastically since last year. Wah Tung’s workers had the longest overtime on average last year with 175  hours per month. This year,  workers’ overtime hours on average were 109 hours at Everfront, 99 hours at Kongxing, and 110 hours at Foshan Mattel. Workers at Wing Fai are forced to work overtime during peak season, and clocked in the most overtime among the five factories, with 126 hours per month on average. However, even by working intensely, workers can only make 3000 RMB per month ($428.6) at Wah Tung, 3400 RMB to 3800 RMB ($485.7- $542.9) at Kongxing, 3400 RMB to 4000RMB ($485.7- $571.4) at Foshan Mattel, 3500 RMB to 4000 RMB ($500-$571.4) at Wing Fai, and 3600 - 4200 RMB ($600) at Everfront.

Work safety, living conditions and social welfare, and workers’ representatives have been constantly discussed in our previous reports. However, major issues have yet to be addressed. None of the factories provided 24 hours of mandatory safety training for new workers as stated by law. Workers lack safety awareness, and are usually unsure about the toxic chemicals they may come into contact with, and are not provided with the necessary labor protective equipment. 

Living conditions differ widely among the factories. Most dorm rooms house eight to ten workers, and at Wah Tung and Wing Fai, the bathrooms did not have hot water. Many of the factories this year do not voluntarily purchase social insurance for all workers or try to circumvent regulations. For example, workers in Kongxing and Wing Fai were required to apply for social insurance themselves. Factories also have discriminatory regulations, such as not providing social insurance for overaged workers in Wah Tung or temporary workers in Wing Fai. Worker representation has always been a sensitive topic. At Foshan Mattel, Wing Fai and Kongxing, there was no labor union at the factory. Workers at Wah Tung and Everfront were unsure if there was a labor union. As such, workers could only talk to management or administrative departments if there were issues. 

Women make up the majority of the workforce in toy factories. However, they regularly suffer rights abuses, and this year’s report uncovers a number of challenges female workers face. This year’s investigation found that male workers were more likely to be promoted to higher management positions compared to female workers. For workers who were not provided with social insurance, they did not receive the benefits of maternity insurance. Although the “Special Rules on the Labor Protection of Female Employees” mentions that workplaces with a large number of female workers should establish special facilities, the investigator did not come across this at any of the factories. Because of the nature of the work at the factories, many female workers are forced to make a decision to leave their children back in their hometowns to the care of family members or to bring them to the city where their children face various barriers when accessing local services and education. 

Sexual harassment cases were also found in this year’s report. After the #Metoo movement gained momentum in China, a number of women came forward to share their experiences of sexual harassment, yet few female workers in factories have made their voices heard. A study in 2013 by Sunflower Women Workers’ Centre found that 70% of female factory workers had experienced sexual harassment.  A worker at Foshan Mattel mentioned she was followed and had pictures taken by two male workers from the same production line. Most victims do not speak up about sexual harassment, and this is made more difficult when when factories do not put in place measures to tackle the issue or have effective mechanisms in place for workers to complain to. 

China Labor Watch is committed to exposing issues related to Chinese factories. We have been promoting workers’ rights for nearly 20 years. We are deeply saddened by the numerous accounts of workers’ rights that have been infringed by the factories during the years. Workers are the foundations of the manufacturing industry. We hope factories and brand companies can take measures to address the fundamental worker rights issues in their supply chains.