CHINA: To western children, Disney is a fairytale world of talking mice and princesses. To Chinese children, sometimes it means working from 8am to 10pm, handling chemicals without protection, being chastised for failing to hit production targets and eating unhealthy food.
Staff at two factories making Disney toys for Westerners employed children between the ages of 14 and 16 in breach of local labour laws and the entertainment giant’s own code of conduct, according to a report by China Labour Watch, a United States non-governmental organisation.
Adults and children worked 12-hour days in “unacceptable conditions”, said the 25-page document. One factory was making Winnie the Pooh and Piglet toys, the other was making Disney dolls and stamps.
The organisation launched the undercover investigation because problems had been found before at factories producing Disney-branded goods.
In 1996, another non-governmental organisation, the US National Labour Committee, detailed abuses at Haiti suppliers in a report called “The US in Haiti: How to Get Rich on 11c an Hour”.
Last year, China Labour Watch found breaches of working hours, wage and contract laws at a factory in Guangdong producing Disney gifts after a 17-year-old worker had been crushed to death in machinery.
To check working conditions, China Labour Watch randomly selected two plants making Disney-branded merchandise, and sent in undercover investigators and interviewed staff. Working hours were excessively long – up to 330 a month – sometimes working seven days in a row.
Workers were supplied with gloves for handling hazardous chemicals but did not wear them because it made their work rate too slow. As a result, some developed skin rashes, while others had layers of skin “falling off”.
After deductions for accommodation, meals and water, one factory paid about three yuan (50c) an hour.
Disney said it sent investigators into the factories this week. A spokeswoman said: “Clearly, conditions outlined in this report are a breach of our labour standards and are unacceptable.”