Hard work to make children happy

REPORT | 2 December 2009
Nalletillverkning på en fabrik i Guangdong, Kina. Foto: Kristina Areskog Bjurling.

Working conditions in Chinese toy factories have improved. However, many things remain to be done before the workers can enjoy decent conditions.

Working conditions sometimes translate into 70-hour weeks with inadequate overtime pay, no social participation and lack of security. The audit revealed major differences between Swedish companies’ ethical standards.

A comprehensive survey of conditions in the toy industry showed that many of the Chinese workers who produce wooden toys, dolls and cars for our children are forced to work long hours, sometimes seven days a week. On their wish list are shorter working days, the right to bargain collectively and a salary that is possible to live on. During the months before Christmas, working hours are extra long so that the Swedish stores will receive their deliveries on time.

Swedwatch and the Fair Trade Center carried out an initial review of the Swedish toy industry in 2004. Five years later, four of the Chinese factories were revisited as well as two new factories. Meanwhile, the Fair Trade Center reviewed the work at home and interviewed eight toy companies on their ethical guidelines. Swedish Consumer Association has pursued the matter of opportunities to make informed choices at point of sale in the stores.

“Our review shows that the social requirements and controls imposed have played an important role. In 2004, working up to 90 hours a week was common. The employees lacked labour contracts, health and safety training. In the four factories that Swedwatch revisited things had improved. Now it is important to solve the problems that could not be addressed by corporate standards and controls. The workers must be involved in efforts to improve working conditions, “said Emma Hernborg, project manager at the Fair Trade Center.

Several of the companies audited are still falling short in their purchasing activities. Three of the eight audited companies (Leki, Playfulness and Children’s House) still make no requirements as to how working conditions are where their toys are manufactured. Four of them have no information about their ethical or environmental work on their websites.

Made in collaboration with: Fair Trade Center and Swedish Consumer Association