Toymakers angered by claims of labor abuse

By Chen Hong and Li Wenfang (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-08-30 07:43

SHENZHEN: Toy manufacturers have dismissed recent criticism of "brutal working conditions" leveled by a US-based workers' rights group.

"The foreign organization does not understand how difficult it is for us to find and keep skilled workers because of stiff competition.

"We have tried every means to improve the living and working environment of workers," Mark Yi, Hong Kong owner of a toy factory in the Chenghai District of Shantou, Guangdong Province, said.

"My company now offers at least 30 to 50 percent higher salaries than it did three or four years ago, but we simply do not have enough workers during peak seasons."

China Labor Watch said on August 21, that following several months of investigation, it found "brutal conditions" and labor violations at eight Chinese factories that produce toys for big multinationals, including Walt Disney, Bandai and Hasbro.

"Wages are low, benefits are nonexistent, work environments are dangerous and living conditions are humiliating," it said.

Cai Fang, director of the population and labor institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said it was not right to make such a judgment.

"Workers' wages are based on market demand and the country's economic development. Making a comparison between countries at different development stages, like China and the United States, does not lead to a reasonable assessment," Cai told China Daily.

"We cannot neglect the fact that many Chinese cities have set a minimum income level for workers and that level has been improved year by year."

Workers are totally free to choose their employment, Cai said.

"If they are not satisfied with their wages, working or the living conditions, they are free to seek other employment," he said.

Zhang Shuhua, a senior researcher with the CASS Guangzhou, called on international buyers not to squeeze the profits of toy manufacturers too much.

"Profits are already very low. Chinese toy manufacturers are forced to lower their costs on raw materials," Zhang said.

Ronald Ng of Global Sources, a US company that hosts events in China for Chinese suppliers and foreign buyers, said the profit margin of most toy companies was not more than 10 percent.

"In fact, 10 percent means a very good performance," he said.

The Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions said it was difficult to increase workers' wages substantially given the low-profit margins, and price bargaining by overseas buyers.

However, the working environment and welfare of workers in the province has improved, the union said.

Today the industry is governed by better supervision, a tightening of work safety regulations and adherence to workers' rights, the union said.

Guangdong is China's largest toy export market. Exports last year totaled $14 billion.

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