Toy production in China: International condemnation
By Morten Rønning
The discouraging report from CCSPT, which was presented by NorWatch in November, resulted in similar, negative publicity for the industry in Sweden, Germany, England, Ireland, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. At the same time, parliamentarians in the EU are working to have the problems discussed in the EU Commission.
The author of the report, May Wong, rejects the comments which NorWatch brought from the Norwegian importers as bad excuses.
- I am not surprised to hear excuses of this kind. But I trust our information more than the companies' "own" information. We have first-hand information from the workers themselves.
May Wong does not completely reject Brio's point of view, which is that this is a matter of urgency for the Chinese authorities:
- Brio's point of view is partially wrong. There is no doubt that Chinese authorities should take responsibility for introducing worthy and secure working conditions within the toy industry. On the other hand, ensuring fundamental rights for the workers is also a responsibility of the multinational producers. This is even confirmed in their own production guidelines. In spite of this, most - if not all - the subcontractors violate these guidelines. The big multinational companies do little to make their subcontractors follow the guidelines.
May Wong also rejects some complaints that the report is carried out without contacting the companies.
- We have gathered information from many different sources, but seldom from the producers themselves, as they have always refused to provide us with information.
Already in 1995, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) encouraged a boycott of toys produced in China.
Now the federation has adopted a new statement in which they, based on the CCSPT report, strongly condemn the conditions of the workers within the Chinese toy industry.
- To satisfy the madness, this year's hit in the USA, the "Furbies" (like the Teletubbies last year), are sold for up to 200 US dollars over the Internet. At the same time, a worker in the production in China is paid only 50 dollars a month for working 14 hours a day, six days a week, the ICFTU points out.
The federation primarily addresses the ordinary consumers, asking them to contact the toy stores in writing to demand that the freedom to organise is respected in the factories which produce their toys.
- One of the best ways to secure these workers' rights, is to give them the freedom to organise, which they, according to Chinese law, already have. But this law is meaningless in practice, as long as the only legal trade union, ACFTU, does not protect the workers' rights, ICFTU says.
The Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions (LO) sent a delegation to China in early December, led by president Yngve Hågensen. The delegation discussed the working conditions in the free trade zones with their Chinese counterpart organisation, ACFTU.
According to deputy chairperson of the international department, Karin Beate Theodorsen, the management of ACFTU confirmed the general problems related to this kind of production.
- ACFTU confirmed that it is difficult for them to gain a foothold in this type of factories, and that this is a priority within the ACFTU.
- According to the ACFTU, the Chinese regulations in this field are good enough, but their demands are not being met by the foreign companies, says Theodorsen.
In a radio debate between the LO and the Confederation of Norwegian Commercial and Service Enterprises (HSH) in December, regarding the production conditions in China, Thomas Angell from HSH informed that next year the organisation will focus on human rights and ethical guidelines within their line of business.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
In November The future in our hands (FIOH) asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the blameworthy conditions within the Chinese toy industry with the authorities of the country. In a reply to FIOH the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Knut Vollebæk, says that the Ministry is aware of the criticism that has been voiced against the working conditions. The Minister has asked the Norwegian Embassy in Beijing to investigate the criticism of the CCSPT, and awaits the assessment of the Embassy before possible Norwegian moves are made in this case.
- The fact that such an overwhelming part of the toys produced for the world market are made in China, and probably in many cases under conditions which do not meet the demands of Chinese law, is a matter of concern for Norwegian authorities, says Vollebæk.
"One of the best ways to secure these workers' rights, is to give them the freedom to organise, which they, according to Chinese law, already have. But this law is meaningless in practice, as long as the only legal trade union, ACFTU, does not protect the workers' rights."
ICFTU statement 21. December 1998.
In November FIOH also encouraged TV2 to stop sending the programme "the Teletubbies", as the programme both promoted the mentioned dolls, and as the TV station received a commission on the sales of "spin off" products from the series.
Now the lawyer Theo. Jordahl says, on behalf of TV2, that the TV company does not receive a commission on the sales of these products, in spite of the fact that the company's information department has given this information to the media earlier on. TV2 was offered such a contract from BBC, which has the broadcasting rights of the series, but chose not to participate in the project, writes Jordahl in his reply to NorWatch.
TV2 further refers to documentation from Brio, which is the importer of the Teletubbies into Norway. This documentation refers to the producers' own inspections of the factories, which give a description of the working conditions different from that in the CCSPT report.
Still, TV2 agrees with the statement made by NorWatch in the editorial of newsletter 19/98, that the Western producers' controls may be "motivated by considerations for the Western public opinion".
- Our purchases were based solely on a professional assessment of the production in question. The purchase was also carried out on ordinary commercial terms. If we were to comply with your request, this investment would be lost, and an in our view good programme would not be accessible for the public it was bought for, says Jordahl.
In other words, TV2's children's programme the Teletubbies will be sent as planned.
Norwatch Newsletter 23/98