By Morten Rønning and Harald Eraker
A great deal of the toys on the Norwegian market are produced in China. Last year, we imported toys for more than 50 million kroner (1USD = 7,5 NOK). from the country. The total annual turnover of toys amounts to over 1.5 billion kroner. Only during the last ten days before Christmas in 1996, toys for more than 300 million kroner were sold, according to Edwis AS, the largest privately owned toy chain in Norway.
A trip to some of Oslo's larger toy stores, which NorWatch visited recently, confirms the impression that China is the largest producer on the market. At the same time, we could establish that many of the toys mentioned in the CCSPT report are available in Norwegian toy stores.
Below follows the reaction of four of the largest importers, when confronted with the results of the CCSPT report.
Brio: China's responsibility
Brio AS is the importer of the Teletubbies dolls, Chicco, and some Tomy toys. The Dor Lok Toys factory, which produces Teletubbies, is criticized for the highest use of overtime in the report. The workers claim that they do not get more than four hours of sleep each night.
This autumn TV2 started to put out the Teletubbies, a children's programme on weekends. The dolls produced by Dor Lok Toys figure on this programme. The Chicco and Tomy workers also work far more than permitted, according to the CCSPT report.
In the Bingo factory, which produces for Tomy, parts of the dormitory collapsed in August this year. 7 people were killed and 30 were injured.
Chief of purchases Svein Erik Andersen in Brio says to NorWatch that naturally many things can be done to improve the situation of the workers in the Chinese toy factories.
- According to the report, the Chinese work regulations are frequently violated. We regret this, but in our opinion it ought to be a matter of urgency for the Chinese authorities to take remedial measures.
He further says that the Brio Group has joined the "Toy Manufacturers of Europe's Vendor & Subcontractor Code of Conduct". In the company's own "Supplier's Manual for Shipments to Brio", which has been distributed to all suppliers, Brio demands:
- That the supplier confirms that production of toys and parts for toys is in compliance with the guidelines above.
- That the supplier on request makes all information on production facilities, factories, and subcontractors available to Brio.
- That the supplier gives Brio, or others approved by Brio, permission to carry out occasional inspections in compliance with the guidelines.
- That the supplier accepts that any violation of the guidelines, will be considered a breach of contract by Brio, Andersen ends.
"According to the report, the Chinese work regulations are frequently violated. We regret this, but in our opinion it ought to be a matter of urgency for the Chinese authorities to take remedial measures."
Chief of purchases of Brio, Svein Erik Andersen.
Mattel: not true
Mattel Scandinavia imports Barbie, Fisher Price, Tyco, and some Disney toys into Norway. None of the factories that produce these toys, except for Laxo, which produces Mickey Mouse Disney dolls, pays the employees for overtime work. After a strike in March this year, a written regret was demanded from the Laxo workers by the management, according to CCSPT.
Tri-S, which produces for both Fisher Price and Tyco, has up to 16-hour working days, 7 days a week. In this factory 300 workers sleep in a dormitory in the same building as the production is located.
In Norway Mattel Scandinavia has only four salesmen, and NorWatch is referred to the head office in Denmark to have comments on the conditions of production in the Chinese toy industry.
Mats Wester in Denmark is not very eager to make himself familiar with the case. He insists that Mattel is an international company with headquarters in the USA, and that Mattel Scandinavia hence is only a sort of retail company.
Sean Fitzgerald in Mattel Incorporated's Los Angeles headquarter, on the other hand, is proud of what Mattel has achieved within production in China.
- We do not believe that this report reflects the complexity of the changes and the considerable progress we have made.
In Fitzgerald's opinion the report does not agree with Mattel's own inquiries in several important respects, among others wages, working hours, deposit, and the workers' possibilities of raising problems with the management.
- Mattel is the only global production company that carries out independent controls of all its production, says Fitzgerald, who adds that the company works so closely with its subcontractors that they almost regard the two Barbie factories as their own.
He thinks that the group behind the report is doing this primarily to create publicity for its own organisation.
- If they really want to improve working conditions in China, why don't they come directly to us with their surveys?, Fitzgerald from Los Angeles ends.
"We dissociate ourselves completely from the report's criticism that the Bingo factory violates Chinese law and treats the workers badly."
Trevor Roy in Creata Promotion, importer of the Nestl‚ toys into Europe.
Two of the factories in China produce so-called "free toys", i.e. toys that are added to other products to arouse children's interest.
One of them is Keyhinge Toys Ltd., which makes toys for McDonald's. Manager of marketing and communication, Sven Hars in McDonald's Norway, confirms to NorWatch that the toys which are produced by the Keyhinge factory also end up in children's menus in the hamburger chain's 46 family restaurants in this country.
Keyhinge is not the only factory producing toys for McDonald's. The toys which come along with the children's menu boxes are frequently changed. This implies that it is not always toys produced by Keyhinge the children get with their hamburgers.
According to the CCSPT report, Keyhinge violates Chinese law in many respects. A month's salary and ID card is charged as a deposit from the workers, and the workers are not allowed to leave their jobs. The employees work 12-hour days, overtime included, except on Sundays, when they work 6-hour days.
The report also points out one instance of a worker being beat up by a supervisor, and that it is complained of discrimination against workers from certain parts of China. The health hazards in the factory are severely criticized, and the fact that workers have fainted from heat is referred to.
- We will treat this matter seriously. But our examinations show a different picture of the conditions in our China factory, says Sven Hars in McDonald's.
According to McDonald's headquarter in the USA, the Keyhinge factory simply does not violate Chinese law. Sven Hars tells that they engaged the Swiss company SGS to examine Keyhinge half a year ago.
- We have also talked to one of our employees, who recently visited the factory, and we are very much anxious to get up the details of the case. Therefore, I have confidence in what our people report, says Hars.
He believes that SGS's examination of Keyhinge based on the factory's documents, as for example the workers' clock cards, answers for reliability. Hars does not know whether SGS' examinations were carried out without the factory management being announced, but he says that McDonald's carries out both announced and unannounced control visits.
- When I compare our examinations through SGS and the CCSPT report, I find it probable that SGS gives the most accurate information. However, we take the information of the CCSPT report seriously. We in McDonald's Norway have already asked our headquarter in the USA to send SGS to the Keyhinge factory once again to examine the working conditions, says Sven Hars.
"After 4 years of the toy campaign, if we compare this with our earlier reports, not much has changed for toy workers in China, especially their working conditions and wages."
May Wong, Coalition for the Charter on Safe Production of Toys.
Bingo Corporation Ltd. is the factory that produces "free toys" for A/S Nestl‚ Norway. In this context, it applies to the following Nestl‚ products: Smarties chocolate's lids with figures, and figures that come along with the Adventure ice cream cup, which is sold by Drammen's Is.
The CCSPT report points out, among other things, that the workers in the Bingo factory work seven days a week with no holidays, and that the workers are not paid for working overtime. As in most of the other factories, the workers are not allowed to resign, and one month's salary and ID card are charged as deposit. In addition, a balcony of the factory boarding-house recently collapsed, with the result that seven persons were killed and more than 30 were injured.
Sten Madsen in Nestl‚ Norway refers to Nestl‚ Scandinavia, who in turn refers to Creata Promotion in London, for comments on the report's criticism of the Bingo factory.
- We dissociate ourselves completely from the report's criticism that the Bingo factory violates Chinese law and treats the workers badly, says Trevor Roy in Creata Promotion, which via Hong Kong imports the Bingo toys into Europe.
During a longer conversation, he goes through the CCSPT report point by point, and rejects the results of the survey. For example, he denies that the workers cannot leave their jobs voluntarily:
- The employment is terminable by either side giving one week's notice, Roy explains. He says that his rejection of the CCSPT report is based on independent inspections of the Bingo factory.
- This autumn we have an examination going on in the Bingo factory which deals with the whole range of problems within work environment, conditions of appointment, wages, and so on. The examination is carried out by the independent, French company Bureau Veritas (BV), who will present their report in December. But we have looked at some of the results of BV's examinations, and Bingo's activity does not violate Chinese law, says Trevor Roy.
He explains that the objective of BV's examinations, is to have the Bingo factory SA-8000 certified, a "code of conduct" model worked out by CEPAA. CEPAA is a USA based organisation of big companies which produce goods in, among other places, Asia, and who have worked out the SA-8000 concept which deals with health-, environment-, and security matters.
- Bingo is one of our three best factories. If it turns out that for example a worker has worked a few hours more than what is permitted by Chinese law - nobody is perfect - this does not make the report you have sent us more correct. In 99.99% of the cases, the Bingo factory is operating within legal and acceptable boundaries, says Roy.
As for the balcony accident, he confirms that it is now under investigation. But he rejects that the injured workers and the surviving relatives have not been compensated, and that the Bingo factory does not pay for hospitalization and medical treatment.
When asked whether Bureau Veritas' report will be publicized when it is presented in December, he answers that he will have to look into that, and report back to NorWatch later.
LO: Miserable life
Head of the international department of The Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions (LO), Jon Ivar Nålsund, thinks that the CCSPT report describes the "miserable life" of workers in Chinese toy factories.
Nålsund says that LO intends to discuss the contents of the report, but that it is too early to say what can be done.
There are four aspects mentioned in the report which Nålsund finds particularly alarming.
- First of all, I find it untenable that many of the factories operate with seven-day work weeks without holidays. Secondly, there is an excessive use of overtime without additional payment. Thirdly, it seems to be almost impossible to leave one's job as a result of the various kinds of deposits which are demanded by the management. And lastly, I react to the living conditions of some workers, for example in the Tri-S factory where up to 300 workers sleep in the same dormitory, says Nålsund.
He emphasizes that all these things are violations of the Chinese Labour Law. The conditions of the factories dominated by foreigners in the free trade zones which are increasingly established in China, are particularly bad concerning the workers' possibilities of organizing in trade unions. This makes it easier to break the law, says Nålsund.
"Barbie has a retail price of 9.99 dollars in the USA. Of this, only 35 cents (0.035%) covers factory-, salary-, and electricity costs in China."
May Wong, Coalition for the Charter on Safe Production of Toys.
The future in our hands (FIOH) has released a press-statement in which the organisation urges and challenges various actors with regard to the information of the CCSPT report.
Firstly, consumers are encouraged to ask toy retailers to document that the toys are produced under decent working conditions. Secondly, FIOH demands that both Norwegian importers of toys and the federation of hobby- and toy retailers get involved in the matter.
In the press release, Norwegian authorities are asked to discuss the violations of the law with Chinese authorities.
Lastly, FIOH asks TV2 to stop broadcasting the children's programme where the Teletubbies dolls play a leading role.
These are some of the companies which import toys from China:
Brio Norway is the importer of the brand names Teletubbies, Chicco, and Tomy.
The sales this year are as follows (retail value):
Chicco: 12 million kroner
Tomy: 8 million kroner
Teletubbies: Uncertain deliveries.
McDonald's sells 120,000 children's menus every month in Norway. The retail price of each toy is 5.50 kroner.
This implies annual counter sales of approximately 8 million kroner for the toys.
In Norway, Mattel Scandinavia is responsible for the sale of Barbie, Fisher Price, Tyco Toys, and some Disney toys.
The sales so far this year, are as follows (retail value):
Barbie: 50 million kroner
Fisher Price: 40 million kroner
Disney: 10 million kroner
Tyco Toys (all car toys included): 10 million kroner.
Nestlé: Buys toys for 1-2 million kroner from the Bingo factory.
The products are toy lids for Smarties chocolate and toys for the Adventure ice cream cup from Drammen's is.
Norwatch Newsletter 19/98