Disney Factory Faces Probe into Sweatshop Suicide Claims

Human rights campaigners say Chinese factories using children as young as 14 and that workers forced to do overtime

A Sturdy Products’ employee works to fulfill orders, for ranges that include Disney ­merchandise. But a monitoring group claims that workers’ rights are often abused

Disney’s best-selling Cars toys are being made in a factory in China that uses child labor and forces staff to do three times the amount of overtime allowed by law, according to an investigation.

One worker reportedly killed herself after being repeatedly shouted at by bosses. Others cited worries over poisonous chemicals. Disney has now launched its own investigation.

It is claimed some of the 6,000 employees have to work an extra 120 hours every month to meet demand from western shops for the latest toys.

The factory, called Sturdy Products, makes toys for the giant Mattel Company, which last month announced quarterly profits of £48m on the back of strong sales of Barbie dolls and Cars 2 toys. Sturdy Products, in the city of Shenzhen, also makes toys for US superstore chain Wal-Mart. Among the brands produced are the Thomas the Tank Engine range, Matchbox cars, Cars, Toy Story, Barbie and Fisher Price products, Scrabble and the Hot Wheels sets.

The undercover investigation was carried out with the help of human rights group Sacom (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior), which helped to expose abuses in Apple’s Foxconn plant in China this year.

Workers were interviewed away from the factory, and an investigator then spent a month working inside it to gather more information. He found evidence of the use of child labor and illegal working hours, along with concerns over the use of poisonous chemicals.

Sacom’s accusations against the factory include:

■ The employment of a 14-year-old. Staff also reported the presence of other child workers, according to the investigator.

■ Routine excessive overtime. Employees produced a “voluntary” document they said they had to sign agreeing to work beyond the maximum overtime legal limit of 36 hours a month, along with wage slips that suggested they were averaging 120 hours of overtime a month.

■ A harsh working environment in which workers complained of mistreatment by management. One worker injured on the production line was shouted at and ordered back to work despite needing medical treatment.

■ Concerns about the chemicals in use and poor ventilation. Employees claimed three workers had fallen ill. They said they had to hide pots of adhesive and thinners during audits of the factory by its client companies.

■ They also claimed that they were paid by the factory to give misleading answers during audits and that they were fined for failing to hit targets. The calculation of wages for different workers was described by Sacom as arbitrary.

Concerns were raised about conditions at Sturdy Products when a 45-year-old female employee, Hu Nianzhen, jumped to her death from a factory building in May after she was allegedly shouted at by managers.

Colleagues subsequently described the environment in the factory as tense and complained about the demanding workload. “A female worker committed suicide,” one said, “because she was always scolded. However, I feel helpless because it is not easy for me to find another job.”

The allegations are sure to concern many parents whose children are pestering them to buy the extensive range of Cars 2 toys launched to coincide with the movie, which hit UK cinema screens in July. Cars 2 has so far grossed £303m worldwide, overtaking the original movie despite being panned by critics. The poor reviews have not hindered sales of the merchandise, which Disney expects to exceed the £1.7bn spent last year on Toy Story 3 merchandise. Cars 2 toys will compete with Transformers and Smurfs items as the must-have Christmas toys.

But Sacom said that parents should think twice before buying the toys. A spokeswoman said: “Mattel, Wal-Mart and Disney, the renowned toy companies, always claim they strictly comply with local laws and adhere to their respective code of conduct. The rampant violations at Sturdy Products, including excessive overtime, arbitrary wages, unfair punitive fines, child labor and negligence of occupational health, prove that the pledges are empty statements. There is no effective enforcement mechanism and remedies for workers at all.”

She said the violations exposed the failings of the International Council of Toy Industries, which is supposed to police the industry.

“Consumers could never expect that the lovely toys which bring joy to children are manufactured in such deplorable conditions. They should convey messages to toy companies including Mattel, Wal-Mart and Disney to launch remedial actions to compensate the wronged workers. Without remedies, there is no cost for labor rights violations.”

She said the companies should already have been aware of the dangers of dealing with Sturdy Products after a previous investigation in 2007 uncovered similar problems. That investigation also found a six-day working week, with staff working up to 288 hours a month. During peak periods there was a compulsory seven-day week and the company was found to be failing to pay the minimum wage. Investigators said that some employees had attempted to raise awareness of the abuses by setting up their own group to inspire colleagues to fight for their rights.

Sturdy Products’ parent company, Winson, failed to respond to requests to discuss the allegations.

Wal-Mart issued a statement in which it said: “As soon as we learned of the allegations of human rights abuses at the Sturdy Products factory, we immediately launched an investigation. We are also in contact with the International Council of Toy Industries, a worldwide toy industry organization that is also investigating this issue. We take reports like this very seriously and we will implement a corrective action plan if our investigations confirm any of the findings.

“We remain committed to sourcing merchandise that is produced responsibly by suppliers that adhere to Wal-Mart’s rigorous Standards for Suppliers code of conduct.”

Disney said: “We take these matters impacting our licensees and business partners very seriously and will continue to evaluate this situation based upon the information available to us.”

Mattel declined to comment directly on any of the allegations other than to note that the company was “deeply saddened” by the suicide but that, while it was “very tragic”, it was an isolated event and local authorities had found nothing suspicious about the circumstances.

The company said it had carried out a detailed investigation. It said it was committed to working collaboratively through the International Council of Toy Industries’ Care (Caring, Awareness, Responsible, Ethical) process “to achieve continuous improvements in factory working conditions”.

Sacom’s findings brought a rebuke from the International Council of Toy Industries’ Care Foundation. “We are the first to concede that much more work lies ahead of us, but we refuse to accept the sensationalist, media-oriented declarations of any group, especially when they are carping and filled with incorrect information. It is simply counter-productive,” the foundation said.

“The plain truth is that workers in many toy factories in China are better off now than they were before and that this is due in considerable part to the ICTI Care Process.”


Social: Poverty in Shirak Province Hampers Struggle Against Illegal Child Labor

ArmeniaNow  —  Poor social and economic conditions in Shirak – Armenia’s most impoverished region – hamper the struggle against child labor. Government officials, representatives of local authorities and regional administrations say efforts against the human rights reality are not effective since the conditions prompting child labor still remain.

Karine Grigoryan, deputy director of Child Day Care Center in Gyumri, says poverty is the major driving force that prompts children to work.

“Hardship forces children to go out to work, and consequently, in case children don’t get a chance to receive education, then tomorrow they will live in poverty anyway,” she said.

According to National Statistics Service figures, Shirak region had the highest unemployment rates last year.

“There is a family that lives on 18,000 drams ($50) a month. They spend this sum in one week and go hungry the rest of the time. We give allowances for children for their transportation costs, but they buy bread with the money. Then they wait until the end of the month and receive money again. A child from this family used to be a beggar before,” Grigoryan said.

Labour market analysis conducted in Armenia last year, shows adolescents aged 15-19 years composed 1.2 per cent of the workforce. In reality, teen employment rates are often hidden.

Hasmik Sargsyan, head of Little Prince Day Care Social Center, says very often while hiring minors they don’t register them legally.

“Since children themselves don’t have sufficient skills and knowledge, they merely become manual workers and mainly wash cars, work as porters in market, or get 1,000 drams ($2.5) a day for opening and closing of mini bus doors and even get involved in agricultural works. Many of them earned a living to help support their families this way,” she said.

The use of child labor is not uncommon in Central Asia. According to a report published by the Open Society Foundations ( in post-Soviet Uzbekistan, despite the end of collective farming and the renewal of private farms, 1.5 to 2 million schoolchildren are sent by central and local governments for 2–3 months every autumn to the fields to pick cotton under hazardous condition. This results in severe injuries to children and deprives them of their right to education. (Read more here:

Daniel Shahinyan is known all over the Gyumri market. Every day, the teenager with unusually rough hands carries а heavy wheel barrow piled high with various household goods to the market stores.

While talking, Daniel looks away in embarrassment and says he’s 19, but his naive childish eyes give away the truth; he’s younger, perhaps about 15 years old.

“Well, they give me whatever they want, some of them pay 1000 drams, ($2.50) others – 500, ($1.50) but there are people, who don’t give anything. They say they don’t want to pay me and that’s it… What can I say?” says Daniel, shrugging his shoulders while speaking about his work and money he earns.

Daniel has graduated from the Third Specialized (secondary) School in Gyumri and lives with his mother and 14-year-old brother. He says he would never let his younger brother Aram do the same job as he does.

“I do this job and support them. I’m already used to this tough work, so I carry this wheel barrow and suffer. That’s why I won’t let him do the same, because I know what this job is from my own bitter experience,” he said.

Tereza Grigoryan, a senior specialist on social security affairs at Gyumri city hall, says high rates of child labor on illegal and tough conditions are caused by economic hardship which was prompted by the earthquake in 1988 and little has been done to improve the situation since then.
“The pain hasn’t been cured yet. It’s not by chance that we face such problems in our social field, and what’s more, it’s not by accident that Shirak region has the highest child labor rates [in Armenia],” she said.

The state and public sector are trying to offer children working on unequally hard conditions alternative activities in day care centers.

Little Prince Day Care Social Center was established by Caritas, a Vanadzor-based German organization, and now houses 78 children. The center provides basic care for the families of children too.

“At the opening [ceremony] of the center, the ambassador said: ‘Dear officials, we are waiting for your support to open another such center, since you really need day care centers like this, and they need to be funded not only by our government, but by your state as well’,” Hasmik Sargsyan, head of the day care center, recalls.

The state has been planning to set up 25 day care centers since 2005, but so far there are only two such centers, one of them is based in Gyumri, and another one in Yerevan.

“They don’t open such centers, alright… but at least they could provide 10% or 5% joint financing alongside our donors,” she added.

Tamar Chikhinashvili, 13, has been attending Little Prince day care center for 2 years. She comes here every day with her sister after school.

“We stay here till half past five, and so the time that we had to spend at home not knowing what to do, we spend here. I’ve been attending computer classes and studying desk work,” she said.

However, social conditions often win over state and public sector efforts of providing basic care and provision for children in day care centers.

Grigoryan, of the state-funded day care center in Gyumri, says children often choose to go out to work even for a small amount of money.

“The child is forced to do so, notwithstanding the shame. Then they start to feel better, they realize that they help support their families and become independent. We don’t put questions point-blank, and don’t tell them not to work at all, perhaps their families rely on the money they bring home. But at the same time, the work can affect a child’s health, growth and education,” Grigoryan added.
She says child labor is now commonplace.

“When it seems we have already discovered all these children and there aren’t any families of this kind, we suddenly come up against new people. There are different reasons for this – social problems, unemployed parents, or those who are not aware of what their children are doing and simply lack child-rearing skills,” she said.

One hundred and twelve working minors have been registered at Gyumri’s day care center in 2006-2010, with 17 children registered only last year. (These figures are only by the Gyumri Day Care Center, while it is assumed that the number is higher. It is difficult to cite precise figures as children are not registered as workers). Adolescents were mainly involved in construction work, exchange of agricultural products and household goods in villages, seasonal farm work, such as harvesting, weeding, cattle breeding, and also worked as porters in stores, mini bus drivers aides, market sellers.

(This investigation is done with support from the Danish Association for Investigative Journalism /Scoop.)

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Category: News


Afghanistan vows to “set standards” on Child Labor in Mines

By Michelle Nichols


(Reuters) – For around $2 a day some Afghan children as young as 10 work long hours in the country’s coal mines with no safety gear and, until now, no government mining policy to protect them.

While national law allows Afghan children to work up to 35 hours a week from the age of 14, they are not allowed to do hazardous jobs such as mining. But after 30 years of conflict and with many children the sole family breadwinners, aid and rights groups say the laws are flouted and not enforced.

As Afghanistan tries to attract foreign investors to develop an estimated $3 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits, Mines Minister Wahidullah Shahrani has been working to expand and clean up the industry and has drafted a policy officially setting the minimum age for coal mine workers at 18.

“We drafted the first-ever social policy guidelines to make sure that when it comes to the labor force, and when it comes to health and safety, and most importantly on the issue of child labor, we will have some type of standards,” he told Reuters.

“Previously we did not have any official policy at the Ministry of Mines.”

The guidelines are due to be implemented in the next few months and mining inspectors would be employed to ensure the rules are upheld, Shahrani said. But critics have questioned the government’s capacity to manage the mining industry.

Since Shahrani became minister at the start of 2010, he has drawn up the ministry’s first business plan and signed Afghanistan to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a candidate country. He was optimistic that by April 2012 Afghanistan would get full EITI compliant status.

Afghanistan’s rich mineral deposits have been trumpeted as the key to future prosperity, but experts say the bounty is many years, even decades, away and point to massive security and infrastructure challenges for potential investors.

The country however has already awarded a contract to China’s top copper producer, Jiangxi Copper Co, and China Metallurgical Group Corp for the big Aynak mine south of Kabul.

Shahrani is due to award another large contract in November for what the government describes as Asia’s largest untapped iron ore deposit, the Hajigak mine, that straddles the provinces of Bamiyan, Parwan and Maidan Wardak.


About 200 children were recently found working in coal mines in central Bamiyan province, according to separate studies by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and by the Child Protection Action Network, a joint initiative with aid groups including the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, where children make up half the population, and a quarter of children die before the age of five.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission found that children were working in some mines run by the government, which Shahrani acknowledged, although he said there was “not that many.” He blamed 30 years of conflict for pushing impoverished families to allow children to work in mines.

“All those years have been a difficult period for the people,” he said.

The U.S. Geological Survey has found Afghanistan has “moderate to potentially abundant” coal resources, although most of it is relatively deep or currently inaccessible.

It is mainly used for powering small industries — such as cement production, textile manufacturing and food processing — and as a primary source of household fuel, it said.

Child labor in Afghanistan is not restricted to mining.

There are about 1.2 million Afghan children in part- or full-time work, the government says, in a country where war, poverty, widespread unemployment and a preference for large families have created a huge underage labor market.

A 2010 study by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission found that an even larger portion of the country’s 15 million children — up to 40 percent — were likely to be engaged in some sort of paid work.

Abdul Ahad Farzam, head of the commission in Bamiyan, said because many mines were often located in remote areas where children are exposed to the dangers associated with coal mining — cancer and respiratory illnesses caused by the dust and gases, which can also cause underground explosions.

“We are afraid of child abuse because they stay all night and day there together (at the mines),” he said.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Paul Tait and Ed Lane)


Kremlin Boys Still Critical

By Robert Barron, Staff WriterEnid News and Eagle

ENID — Two Kremlin youths caught in a grain auger remain in critical condition Sunday at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon, both 17, were seriously injured Thursday morning when they were pulled into a large grain auger at Zaloudek Grain Co. They were extricated from the auger by emergency responders and flown to OU Medical Center, where they were listed in critical condition Sunday, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

A 911 call was received at about 9:10 a.m. from another worker who was in the same building where the two teens were trapped. The boys were taken from the building at about 10:30 a.m. and flown to the hospital.

Kremlin Fire Chief Derrick Harris said the boys went straight to surgery upon arrival.

The two were caught by their legs while working in the auger, and rescue workers had to cut the auger before Gannon and Zander could be removed.

The incident is under investigation by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. Administration officials said the result could take up to six months to complete. There have been no previous violations at Zaloudek Grain Co.

Through mutual-aid agreements, Kremlin received assistance from Breckinridge, Enid, Hillsdale-Carrier, Hunter and Pond Creek fire departments in the incident. Garfield County Sheriff’s Department also responded, as did Life EMS, said Enid and Garfield County Emergency Management Director Mike Honigsberg.

Honigsberg said two helicopters from Eagle Med also responded


Police Arrest Ex-Maoist Child Soldiers in Nepal


KATHMANDU – At least 40 former Maoist child soldiers, freed last year from camps, were detained Monday during a protest to demand better training to help them reintegrate into civilian life, police said.

They were among more than 4,000 minors who had served in the Maoist army during Nepal’s decade-long civil war and were discharged from UN-supervised camps last year after officials discovered they had been underage combatants.

“We detained the young people because they were blocking vehicles in public places. Around 100 protesters had gathered,” Kathmandu police chief Kedar Rijal told AFP.

Under the discharge scheme, the former child soldiers were supposed to undergo a government training program funded by the United Nations.

The program aimed to provide the young people with a choice of formal schooling, vocational training in such areas as tailoring, education to become health workers and help in setting up small businesses.

But the protesters said the training had left them “only half-skilled”.

“We can’t re-integrate into the society because we still face a stigma. We’re not properly trained for any job. The government must provide us with a long-term solution,” Krishna Prasad Dangal told AFP. “We are only half-skilled,” he said.

Police did not say when they expected to release the young people. The fate of the more than 19,000 older former Maoist fighters, who have been living in camps across the impoverished Himalayan nation since the civil war ended in 2006, is still unclear.

Nepal’s political leaders are split over whether to allow the ex-rebels to join the country’s military. Some Maoists have threatened to take up arms again if they do not like a new constitution which is due to be drafted.


Washington Berry Farms Fined for Hiring Kids 6 and Up

By Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Labor Department has fined three Washington state strawberry farms a total of $73,000 for employing children as young as 6 years old as pickers.

The department’s Portland, Ore., office says Thursday the violations include failing to maintain proof-of-age records and pay minimum wage. A total of nine underage workers were found during a child labor investigation in June at farms in Woodland, Wash., and Ridgefield, Wash.

The department says all three employers removed the underage workers and agreed to attend wage and hour training for the next three years.

Information from: The Daily News,


Woodland Berry Farm Fined for using Child Labor

By Marqise Allen / The Daily News 

Owners of a Woodland berry farm were fined $16,000 for employing two children under the age of eleven by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Columbia Fruit LLC was caught using child labor during a weekend investigation June 25, according to agency officials. This is the company’s first violation discovered by the Department of Labor.

“Agricultural employment is particularly dangerous for children, and the rules of their employment must be followed,” said Jeff Genkos, director of the federal Wage and Hour Division’s Portland District Office.

Representatives from Columbia Fruit did not return phone calls for comment.

Under Washington law, restrictions are placed on employees aged 12 to 15. Genkos said child labor violations are not a common occurrence in Southwest Washington. However, two berry farms in Ridgefield were also cited for using underage workers. One of the children at the farms was 6 years old.

The agency is expected to ramp up weekend investigations and prohibit farms from shipping berries that were picked using child labor to curb future violations.

Repeat offenders can face larger monetary penalties, Genkos said.

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