Row Over Olympic Toy Factory

Chinese workers work long hours for little pay, poor food, report charges.

2012.02.09
A Chinese customer inspects mascots for the 2012 London Olympics at a shop in Beijing, Aug. 21, 2011.
AFP

Allegations by a Hong Kong rights group that toys promoting London's 2012 Olympics were made in a factory with scant concern for workers' rights have prompted a probe into pay and conditions there, as well as a sharp denial from the factory management.

Workers at the Yangcheng Rainbow Arts and Crafts Co. in the eastern province of Jiangsu have no labor contract, and are denied maternity leave and a basic salary, according to a report last month from the Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM).

The group said it had investigated the factory, which makes the Wenlock, Mandeville, and Pride-the-Lion mascots in Dafeng city, and which also supplies Disney, over several months in 2011.

It accused the factory, which has passed previous international inspections, of forcing workers to lie to auditors about their true pay and working conditions during inspections and of forcing them to work long hours for variable pay, with scant regard for health and safety aspects of the job.

The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has said it will generate at least £86 million (U.S. $136 million) from sales of “London 2012” merchandise.

LOCOG's labor guidelines state that workers should receive at least the minimum wage as specified in their national legal standards and have a contract defining their terms of employment and payment, SACOM said.

They also state that punitive fines are prohibited and that working hours should not be excessive.

Claims denied

A manager who answered the phone at the factory's production department on Wednesday denied the claims made in the report.

Asked if workers were required to work excessive overtime, he replied: "This is not the case. They had a normal rest day on Sunday."

He said the workers were asked to work overtime "sometimes."

"This has had a huge impact on us; how could it not?" the manager, who declined to be named, said.

"Before this, it was production as normal," he said. "Now, the chairman and everyone are in a meeting. They are in charge here, so it's not up to me to ask too many questions."

Yancheng Rainbow's chairman Gu Feng has also publicly denied the charges made by SACOM, which were also reported in London's The Sun newspaper. LOCOG has said it has asked for an investigation of the claims by an independent monitor.

Long hours, poor food

But former Yangcheng Rainbow worker Zhu Shengrong said workers at the factory typically worked from 7.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m, with no provision for a rest day.

"One thing is that the working hours are quite long, and the workers are expected to do overtime without getting overtime rates of pay," Zhu said. "They are expected to work all through Saturdays and Sundays without a break."

He said the food at the factory was also inadequate during his time there.

"They give you some food at lunch time and supper time," he said. "Sometimes they give you a bit of soup; but the food is very substandard."

"If you insist on a rest, then they don't use you. If you don't do what they want, then they don't pay you," he said.

"Sometimes I only made a few hundred yuan a month; at other times it was a bit more than that."

Call for spot checks

SACOM called on the London organizing committee and the International Olympics Committee to publish full lists of suppliers and conduct spot checks on companies providing Olympics-branded goods.

"The rampant labour rights violations in the Rainbow Factory demonstrate that, at present, the sustainable and ethical sourcing codes are nothing more than pieces of paper," the group said.

It called on the IOC to adopt a code of conduct for the suppliers which should include the concept of a living wage, freedom of association, and the right to remedy.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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