December 4, 2011
With Christmas three weeks away, an undercover investigation has revealed the bleak realities of life in Chinese toy factories serving a market worth £2.8bn a year in the UK alone.
Big brands such as Disney, Lego and Marks & Spencer pay only a fraction of the shop price of products to the factories that make their toys. Last summer – as factories geared up to cope with demand for the Christmas period – investigators spent three weeks in the industrial cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan. In some cases, they found that employees:
■ worked up to 140 hours overtime a month;
■ were paid up to a month late;
■ claimed they were expected to work with dangerous tools and machines without training or safety measures;
■ had to work in silence and were fined up to £5 for going to the toilet without permission.
Perhaps the most insidious effect of the long hours and poor wages was how it tore families apart, separating mothers and fathers from their children for all but a few days a year. Many workers were too afraid to speak to the investigators from human rights group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom), but two women did agree to talk on condition that their names were changed.