"Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite."
December 11, 2008
Young workers in China who make holiday toys for Disney, Hasbro and RC2—including Bratz dolls—are suffering from a serious infestation of bed bugs in their dorms. Workers report that their bodies are often covered with red welts from the bug bites, which can easily become infected if the wounds are scratched. A leading entomologist at a major university confirmed to the National Labor Committee that it would be very possible for bed bugs to hitch a ride to the U.S., especially if they hid the cardboard toy boxes.
Disney toys are produced at the Daewi factory in Dongguan, China under abusive and illegal sweatshop conditions:
Hasbro and RC2 Toys, including Bratz dolls are made under abusive sweatshop conditions at the Yongsheng factory in the south of China:
"I would imagine that it would be very possible [for bed bugs to find their way into the toy boxes]. Bed bugs are hitchhikers. They like to fit into tight places. They prefer paper, fabric, or wood surfaces. Bed bugs could fit into the many tight crevices found in cardboard boxes...." --Dr. Susan Jones, Professor of Entomology, Ohio State University
Read the Disney/Dawei factory report
Read the Hasbro, RC2/Yongsheng Factory Report
By Charles Kernaghan
Dawei Chengji Toy Factory
Huangniupu Industrial Zone
Yellow River Town
Dongguan City, Guangdong Province
Labor rights violations begin the day the workers enter the factory, when they are forced to sign a blank contract. By law, factory management must sign a contract with each worker which clearly spells out hours, wages, benefits, holidays, insurance, maternity leave, health and safety, and other details. At the Dawei factory, workers are forced to sign blank contracts, empty of all details, which management then fills in after the worker signs. This way, the workers have no idea what their rights are, but management can present a "legal" work contract to the local labor bureau.
When questioned about the work contract, one worker responded: "Don't mention our contract please. The contracts we signed are nothing more than our signatures on blank sheets of paper. The actual contract is filled in only after we sign our names."
Overtime is common year round, but the hours are especially long and grueling during the two peak seasons, which total eight months, from May to August and from November through February.
During the peak seasons, the routine shift is 15 ½ hours a day, from 8:30 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday, with 9 ½ hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. During these peak seasons the workers toil seven days a week, going for months without a single day off. Conservative estimates put the workers at the factory 96 ½ hours a week, while actually toiling 81 hours, including 41 hours of overtime each week, which exceeds China's legal limit by nearly 400 percent!
Peak Season Shift
15 ½ hours a day, Monday to Friday
|8:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m.||Work, 4 hours|
|12:30 p.m. — 2:00 p.m.||Lunch, 1 ½ hours|
|2:00 p.m. — 6:00 p.m.||Work, 4 hours|
|6:00 p.m. — 7:00 p.m.||Supper, 1 hour|
|7:00 p.m. — 12:00 midnight||Overtime, 5 hours|
(The workers also receive a brief break around 4:00 p.m. when they are provided tea and a tiny piece of bread.)
As grueling as the above hours are, there are also frequent 17 ½ to 18 ½-hour shifts from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., which are required ten or more times each month. After working to 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. and sleeping just four hours, the workers must report back to begin their next shift at 8:30 a.m. that same morning.
Before toy shipments have to leave for the U.S., there are also all-night 24-hour, all-night shifts, from 8:30 a.m. straight through to 8:30 a.m. the following morning. This happens once or twice a month. After toiling an all-night shift, the workers do receive the following day off.
When it is particularly busy, workers are also forced to work through much of their lunch and supper breaks, being allowed just 30 minutes for lunch and 15 minutes for supper.
"When overtime runs late into the night, with workers returning to their dorms at 11:00 p.m. or midnight, they just take a quick shower and go to sleep. Workers are too tired to even wash clothes. What is really hard to take is that even on days when we have to work noon and evening overtime [during lunch and supper breaks], we still have to work overtime in the evenings past midnight. Every day we have no time to do anything but work and eat. It is really tiring. That's how I struggled to earn my 1500 RMB ($219.80) last month! I even did a quick calculation. In total I had over 190 hours of overtime." [44 hours-plus of overtime each week].
(Note: Workers usually have only two pairs of pants. The only time workers have to wash clothes is when they return to the dorm after work. Especially during summer, when the workers are often soaked in sweat, they wash clothing three or four times a week. The workers wash their clothes by hand, using a small bucket with detergent. They hang the clothing up in the dorm room to dry.)
"Last month, there was one day where I worked until 2:30 in the
"Sometimes we have to work overtime during noon and evening breaks. We only have ten minutes to eat on these midday overtime days, we only have time to eat two or three bites of food before we have to run back to the work room to start our shifts. We don't have a minute to rest."
(Note: When the workers have to toil overtime during their lunch and supper breaks, meal periods are cut back to just 30 minutes each. The lunch break is from 12:00 noon to 12:30 p.m. instead of until 1:30 p.m. and the supper period is cut back to 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. and not 7:00. Given the two or three minutes it takes to punch their time card out and then in again, the five minute walk to the cafeteria and then back again, and the five minutes cueing up for food in the factory cafeteria, in the end the workers have just ten or so minutes to actually sit down to eat their meals.)
"Work is already tiring, but when you have to work during your break and you're not even getting paid that much, it's just not worth it. Just about no one is willing to work the noon or evening overtime, but overtime is mandatory, and if workers skip it, they will be punished as if they were late for work or skipped work."
Dawei Factory Dorm Toilets
During the peak seasons, to meet production demands factory management also illegally hires a large number of "temporary workers" who do not sign even the phoney work contracts and are not registered with the local government labor bureau. These illegal temporary workers have no rights and are easily cheated on their hours, wages and benefits, and are arbitrarily fired without any severance. When corporate monitors—such as those from Disney—arrive for the scheduled audits, the temporary workers are kept in the dorm and not permitted to come to work.
During the peak season, workers report toiling anywhere from 80 to 84 hours or more a week. Even during the slack season the workers say they put in an average of 14 to 18 ½ hours of overtime each week, in addition to the regular 40-hour workweek. During the slack season, workers will receive Sundays off but will still put in 11 ½ to 12 ½ hour shifts, from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. six days a week. This would put them at the factory 69 to 75 hours a week.
As of April 2008, the legal minimum wage in the Dongguan City area was set at 770 RMB, or $112.83 a month, which comes to 65 cents an hour, hardly an excessive wage. However, management at the Dawei factory refuses to pay the legal minimum wage or proper overtime premium to the vast majority of its employees. Only skilled machinists earn the legal minimum wage of 770 RMB ($112.83) per month. The thousands of other workers are paid below the minimum wage.
Legal Minimum Wage
(770 RMB a Month)
65 cents an hour
$5.19 a day (8 hours)
$26.04 a week (40 hours)
$112.83 a month
$1,353.98 a year
Note: The current exchange rate as of November 20, 2008 is 6.8243 RMB = $1.00 U.S. In China the hourly minimum wage is calculated by dividing the legal monthly wage by the number of regular days worked per month. As there are 104 weekend days per year, that leaves 261 work days (365 — 104 = 261). Dividing 261 work days per year by 12 months = 21.75 regular work days per month. The 770 RMB minimum monthly wage is divided by 21.75 work days to arrive at the daily rate of $35.40 RMB ($5.19).
During their first three months at the factory, new workers are paid just 690 RMB ($101.11) per month—58 cents an hour, which is illegal. Even workers who have been at the toy factory for years still earn just 710 RMB ($104.11), or 60 cents an hour. The thousands of poor workers at the Dawei toy factory are being routinely cheated—in broad daylight and over the course of years—of eight to ten percent of the wages legally due them. This might not seem like a lot of money to many, but for these workers, it means the loss of 4 ½ to six weeks' wages each year.
Wage during the First Three Months
(690 RMB per Month)
58 cents an hour
$4.65 a day (8 hours)
$23.33 a week (40 hours)
$101.11 a month
$1,213.31 a year
Illegal Long-term Wage
(710 RMB per Month)
60 cents an hour
$4.78 a day (8 hours)
$24.01 a week (40 hours)
$104.04 a month
$1,248.48 a year
The cheating gets even worse when it comes to overtime pay. According to Chinese law, the legal workweek is 40 hours, eight hours a day for five days a week. Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be holidays. All overtime must be strictly voluntary and paid at a special premium. Under no circumstances can overtime exceed 36 hours per month, which is the legal limit. Weekday overtime is paid at a 50 percent premium above the minimum wage, or 98 cents an hour. Work on the weekends must be compensated at a 100 percent premium, or $1.30 an hour, while work on national holidays must be paid as triple time, or $1.95 per hour.
Just as they routinely underpay the legal minimum wage, so too does management blatantly ignore China's overtime compensation laws. The overtime rate at the Dawei toy factory is set at just 5 RMB per hour, or 73 cents, no matter whether it is weekday, weekend or holiday overtime, which is, of course, illegal.
Workers smuggled an image of this Disney Princess Toy from the Factory
Legal Overtime Rates
50% premium above minimum wage of 65 cents an hour
($0.65 x 1.5 = $0.98)
100% premium. ($0.65 x 2 = $1.30)
100% premium ($0.65 x 2 = $1.30)
Illegal Overtime Rate at the
Dawei Toy Factory
Weekday, Weekend & Holiday Overtime $0.73/hour
Compensated at just 5 RMB (73 cents) an hour
Again, to many American people the sums involved in underpaying the legal overtime rates may seem insignificant or even petty, but for the poor workers the losses are staggering and grossly unjust, especially given the excessive overtime hours they work.
At most, the toy workers at the Dawei factory report earning 1,265 to 1,500 RMB per month during the peak season ($185.37 to $229.93). (These wages are before any deductions, for example, the average 65 RMB ($9.52) for dorm expenses.) The toy workers are earning nowhere near what they are legally owed.
A conservative estimate has the workers toiling 81 hours a week during the peak season, working 40 regular hours, 25 hours of weekday overtime and another 16 hours of overtime on weekends.
For the regular 40-hour workweek, the legal minimum wage is $26.04. For the 25 hours of weekday overtime (5 hours a day), the workers should earn at least $24.50. (Weekday overtime is paid at 98 cents per hour; $0.98 x 5 hours x 5 days = $24.50.) The eight hours of overtime on both Saturday and Sunday must be paid as double time, at $1.30 per hour, for a total of $20.80. So at a minimum, for the routine 81-hour work week during the peak season, the workers should have earned $71.34 a week. Instead, the workers are paid only between $42.78 to a maximum of $52.92 per week, which means they are being cheated of 26 to 40 percent of the wages legally due them!
What the Dawei Workers are Legally Owed
(For a typical 80-hour workweek)
|40 Regular Hours
(40 hours x $0.65/hour)
|25 Hours Weekday Overtime
(25 hours x $0.98/hour)
|16 Hours Weekend Overtime
(16 Hours at $1.30 per hour)
As we have seen, instead of earning the wage legally due them of $71.34 for an 81-hour workweek, the toy workers are earning just $42.78 to a maximum of $52.92 a week, which is blatantly illegal. Even if we consider just the export peak season, this means the workers are being cheated out of 1 1/3 to a full two months wages each busy season, which represents an enormous loss for these poor workers. Working a grueling 81-hour workweek is bad enough, but to also be cheated the wages legally due them, makes the trap they are in all the worse.
After deductions for room and board, the workers' take home wages drop even further. Food in the factory cafeteria costs at least 180 RMB, or $26.38, a month, while dorm fees average 65 RMB per month, or $9.52, for a total deduction of $35.90. This lowers the workers' take home wage to just $34.50 to $44.64 for an 81 hour workweek. Moreover, the food is barely edible, while eight workers share such crowded primitive dorm room, sleeping on double-level metal bunk beds. The dorm is also infested with bed bugs.
Another way to look at this is that the over 2,500 poor workers at the Dawei Toy Factory—who are working grueling hours while being cheated of their legal wages and housed under deplorable conditions—are in fact subsidizing large multinational companies such as Disney, which is both illegal and immoral. Also, it is not credible that Disney and the other multinational toy companies can remain ignorant of the blatantly illegal conditions at their contract's plant.
Workers Smuggled Pictures of these Disney Princess Toys from the Factory
Just like the phoney blank work contract the workers sign, the workers are also required to sign two wage stubs—one is fake, showing the legal minimum wage of 770 RMB ($112.83) per month, along with the correct overtime premiums, and the other is real, showing the underpayment of wages that the toy workers actually receive. According to the workers, when the supervisors order them to sign the fake pay slips, they often tell the workers: "Don't even bother looking at it, it's fake. This is only for dealing with the Labor Ministry and our clients." After the workers sign the fake document they sign their real wage slips. Their real wage slips do not explain in any detail how many hours they worked or how their wages were calculated.
Most workers are resigned to the factory conditions, as they see no way to improve conditions. One worker put it this way: "What the factory says, goes. There is nothing we can do. As long as they give us over 1,000 RMB [$146.54] a month, then we can take the hardship."
Another worker explained: "Those of us who have left our homes to come out and work are really only doing this for the money, right? So we want to work overtime. The peak season is extremely tiring, but we can earn 1,200-1,500 RMB [$175.84-$219.80] a month. This allows us to save a little. The company takes out 200 to 300 RMB [$29.31-$43.96] for food. I don't have much money. If I smoked or played on the internet, I wouldn't have enough to live on much less save and send money home."
New workers are also charged 20 RMB ($2.93) for work uniforms.
Workers also report producing toys for the Hong Kong Company, Playgo Inc.
Not only are some of the toy workers forced to toil grueling seven day workweeks while being cheated of their legal wages, they also face harsh discipline and punishment.
If a worker reports one minute late to his or her shift, they will be fined 15 cents and another 15 cents for every additional minute they are late. If a worker is just ten minutes late, he or she will be docked 50 RMB ($7.33) which is a little more than 1 1/2 day's wages! A worker who is 30 minutes late to a shift will be docked three days wages, or 60 percent of the weekly base wage!
Anyone absent for a single day will also be docked three days' wages as punishment. A worker who has missed three days will be considered to have 'voluntarily' quit, in which case they will receive none of the base wages, benefits or severance pay due them.
It is not uncommon for workers to be drenched in their own sweat all day, both in the factory and then in their crowded dorms. None of the workers' rooms have air conditioning, despite the long summer months—Guangdong Province in the south of China has a semi-tropical climate—which is very humid with temperatures hovering between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The work rooms are also dark, and no cold drinking water is available. Each assembly department, with around 280 workers, has just three fans.
The warehouse is particularly dark, dusty, overcrowded and unbearably hot, as there is only a single fan. Workers report that often there is no circulation or air flow, and it actually becomes difficult to breathe. The fan just stirs up the dust. In the warehouse, everyone is soaked in their own sweat.
"Often, the work is so busy," one worker related, "that there is not even time to grab a cup of water. The work is exhausting, and the workers' hands are always moving. No breaks are arranged during the work period." The only times workers receive any respite are when the assembly line switches to another toy, at which point the workers may receive, at most, a ten minute break.
Workers at the end of the production line have the worst job, as they are responsible for packing the toys into large shipping boxes and wheeling them to the freight area. "It is an exhausting job," said one of the workers. "Sometimes the boxes can weigh up to 20 to 30 kilograms [44 to 66 pounds]. Employees must continuously load the products [toys] and arrange them correctly. As the day goes on, the workers' hands and arms become sore, and they have trouble lifting anything up, anything at all."
Surprisingly, given the consistent violation of the wage and hour laws, the Dawei Factory does adhere to at least a few of China's labor laws. Women do receive four months' maternity leave with pay. There are 11 paid holidays and even paid vacation days. The factory also covers workers for work injury insurance—for job-related injuries—but does not cover regular health or pension insurance as is also required by law.
At the Dawei toy factory, there are four dorm buildings, with six and even seven floors each, with 20 to 30 rooms per floor. Each dorm room, which houses eight people, has two electric fans, one light, and a small bathroom and shower which can be used by just one person at a time. The workers sleep on primitive double level narrow bunk beds. Management deducts an average of 65 RMB ($9.52) a month from the workers' wages for dorm, water, and electricity fees.
Theft is rampant in the dorms, as management will not even install small cheap metal lockers for the workers to secure their personal belongings. When the workers go to sleep at night, they put their money in one pant pocket and their cell phone in another, then fold up the pants and place them under their pillow. Despite their precautions, one worker was recently robbed of 500 RMB ($73.27), nearly three weeks' base wages, which was his entire month's savings set aside for food and other necessities. Another worker had his cell phone stolen; "If I wanted to buy another phone, I would have to work another two months, and I would have to live extremely frugally."
Workers hang clothes from the posts on their beds
Far worse than even the primitive living conditions, excessive heat, lack of privacy, and common theft, is the fact that the workers' dorms are badly infested with bed bugs. Workers report suffering from the bites which leave red welts all over their skin, and are also itchy. But, scratching the bed bug bites can worsen the wound, leading to inflammation and infection. Management—and by extension Disney and the other companies—are apparently doing nothing to control the spreading infestation of the bed bugs in the worker dorms. As there are no screens on the windows, the workers are also almost constantly pestered by mosquitoes.
For entertainment, the dorms have a TV room open from 6:00 to 10:30 p.m. which can hold 50 to 100 people. There are also pool tables and two or three ping-pong tables.
"Bed bugs are an emerging pest in many communities in the United States and the world. Although bed bugs are not known to transmit disease, they are an important public health issue. Some individuals have strong allergic reactions to bed bug bites and experience severe itching that lasts for hours to days. Scratching may cause the welts to become infected. Some individuals respond with insomnia, anxiety, and various levels of stress related to the bed bug infestation."
-- Dr. Susan Jones, Professor of Entomology, Ohio State University
The factory cafeteria can fit between 300 to 350 workers at a time. Workers have to pay for their own meals: breakfast costs one RMB (15 cents); lunch is 2.5 RMB (37 cents); and dinner is also 2.5 RMB (37 cents). On average, the workers spent around six RMB a day on food or 88 cents, which totals about 180 RMB ($26.38) for the month. As small as this amount of money appears, it still absorbs 25 percent of the workers base monthly wages. For lunch and supper, the workers are served three entrees a day, for example, balsam pear (bitter gourd), water spinach, or eggplant and a leafy vegetable with meat. The workers refer to a "so-called" meat dish, as there is so little meat in it. The servings are also very small, as each entrée is ladled out by cafeteria staff using a little scoop. All the workers agree that there is never enough to eat, leaving them always hungry. Moreover, the workers say that the food is not properly cooked and is "pretty bad." One worker explained: "The food looks boiled or steamed. No spices have been added. The rice is sticky and clumps together. It's disgusting."
The cafeteria food is so bad that many workers choose to eat outside at fast food stalls, despite the fact that the meals cost a little more, around thee to 3 1/2 RMB (44-51 cents) per meal.
The servings are also small, but the food tastes better since the food stands use more oil.
An image of the factory cafeteria where food is described as "disgusting"
One would think that the long hours, grueling work pace and illegally low wages would result in mass flight as workers sought out better factories. However, as this worker explains, in the current economy it is not easy to find a better job and the search process costs a lot of money.
Worker: "We frequently work overtime and it is exhausting. I thought I would leave here, but moving around costs a lot of money, and work is hard to find these days. I don't have much money on me. I cannot leave. There is someone here from my hometown who also wants to go, but if we leave now, then we'll spend all the money that we killed ourselves to earn. When you're looking for work away from home, you have to pay for food and housing. You have to run around to different places looking for work, and there is no guarantee that you will find a better place than this. Even if you find a new job, you still have to spend a lot of money. When you are finally able to earn one or two thousand again, you've already worked for a month or two. Then you discover that you really haven't earned any money back at all. That's why I haven't left."
The Dawei workers use buckets to bathe in the washroom
When asked whether the Dawei factory had a union, a 25-year-old worker from Sichuan Province responded: "You actually believe in unions? No one here believes in them! Whenever the employees here have a problem, nobody fixes it. The labor ministry doesn't care about it. What is the use of having a union? In some places the union and factory management conspire together. The unions you see in the newspapers and in the news are fake."
In fact the majority of the workers spoken to have no idea what a union is and no concept of union organizing to improve conditions.
The government of China prohibits independent unions; nongovernmental human, women's and worker rights organizations and political and religious freedoms. In China, workers have to go it alone, eking out an existence while fending for themselves as best they can. No doubt, the lack of real unions and other independent organizations is among the key reasons multinationals seek to relocate to China
I am a worker at the Dawei Toy Factory. I start work at 7:45 a.m. every day. Usually, all of us skip breakfast. We do excessive physical labor and don't have much opportunity to rest, so we're not willing to give up even a little bit of time in the morning before work. In general, we get up at 7:30 a.m. on the dot. At 7:35 we wash our faces and brush our teeth, and then we are off to work. Our dorm is kind of far from the factory, about 10 minutes by foot. When I arrive at the place I work, I see all those products, and I really don't want to start work.
I work in the packing department. Our job is to fix toys that were not assembled properly or are flawed; for example, some of them were not bundled with directions, some do not have labels attached. These are the kinds of things that we fix.
We open the boxes and make corrections. Then we have to package the corrected goods and put them back up on the work table. It can be hard to put this stuff up there, especially up on top. The stuff piles up over two to 2 1/2 meters [6 1/2 to over eight feet] high. Each box is really heavy, and they are hard to stack up. Some of the weaker workers have trouble adjusting to the work here. Some of the boxes can get up to 30 to 40 kilograms [66 to 88 pounds], and they are really bulky. We frequently need other people's help to stack everything up. When I'm at work, about half the time is spent doing this kind of hard labor.
When the peak season comes, we have to work connected shifts. "Connected shift" means that we are only given a half hour for lunch and a half hour dinner after our morning and afternoon shifts. It takes ten minutes to walk to the cafeteria and back. There is also usually a several minute wait in line. As soon as we finish eating, work starts. There is absolutely no time to rest. Thirty minutes is just not enough time.
The cafeteria food sucks. Our daily work is extremely tiring. We use up a lot of energy every day, and we can eat a lot. But we really cannot eat enough here; the food is too gross, and we go back to our shifts hungry. If we get off at 9:00 p.m., we are usually not too stressed, but very tired. We can wash our clothes and take a shower, then lie on the bed and listen to music. Within a few minutes we are asleep.
More images of the Playgo toys that workers produce in the factory
by Charles Kernaghan
The National Labor Committee believes that neither Hasbro nor RC2 would knowingly allow their toys to be made under such abusive and illegal sweatshop conditions.
It is now up to both companies to explain how their toys ended up at the Yongsheng factory and what immediate and concrete steps they will take to clean up their contractor's plant to bring it into compliance with at least China's minimum labor rights laws.
The research for this report was based solely on worker accounts and interviews, including pictures and documents smuggled out of the factory.
Yongsheng Toy Factory
Weihuije Ling Cun.
Lianping Village, Dalingshan Town
Dongguan City, Guangdong Province
Management contact: Li Haozhen
Workers smuggled images of the Hasbro and RC2 boxes from the factory
The peak toy season at the Yongsheng factory lasts five months, August through December. During this busy period, the routine shift is 13 ¼ hours a day, 7:45 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., seven days a week. At most, workers will receive one or two days off a month. It is common for workers to be at the factory 93 hours a week, while actually toiling 77 hours, including 37 hours of mandatory overtime, which exceeds China's legal limit on permissible overtime by 345 percent! All overtime is compulsory and workers are paid no overtime premium.
(13 ¼ hours, seven days a week)
7:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m
|Work, 4 hours|
11:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Lunch, 1 ¼ hours
1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Work, 4 hours
5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Supper, 1 hour
6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Overtime, 3 hours
Such a schedule puts the workers at the factory 93 hours, while toiling 77 hours a week. Some overtime shifts last to 9:30 p.m. In the spray paint department, the shift is from 8:00 a.m. to 9:15 p.m.
In September 2008, a worker from Assembly Line A reported the following:
"We work every day until 9:00 p.m".We haven't had any days off this month. All our overtime is compulsory, not voluntary. Sometimes it is very tiring, and I have no desire to work overtime at night. But if I don't go, the foreman will cite me for skipping work."
["Skipping work" is punished with the loss of three days' wages.] Our wages are not higher than normal. They are the same as the regular work hour wages. I really don't like working overtime. I'm not willing to do it. We now work 11 hours a day. I'm extremely tired. After I get off work, I either have a pain in my lower back or my back just feels uncomfortable. We get up really early in the morning. There have been many times when I just don't want to go to work. Usually, I lie in bed until just ten minutes before my shift, and then I finally get up, brush my teeth, wash my face and rush to work without breakfast."
Sometimes workers are let out "early" on Sunday night, forced to work an eight-hour shift and not the routine 11 hours they normally toil. In this case, the workers would be toiling 74 hours a week. As mentioned, during the peak season the workers are allowed one or at very most two days off a month.
Under China's labor laws, all overtime must be voluntary and cannot exceed 36 hours a month. At the Yongsheng Toy factory, the workers routinely toil 77 hours a week, including 37 hours of overtime each week, and 160 hours a month, which exceeds China's legal limit by 345 percent!
The slow season at the Yongsheng plant is five months long, from January to June, with July and January being transitional months. If there is work during the slow season, the workers are required to toil six days a week. If the factory is slow, with few orders, the workers are forced to go on unpaid holiday. For example, in May 2008, most workers were forced to take a two-and-a-half-week unpaid vacation. At Yongsheng, the toy workers—illegally—are not paid for national holidays or vacation time. Due to the forced unpaid holidays, during the slow season many workers earn just $16.84 to $20.21 a week, which does not come close to meeting the most basic subsistence-level needs.
Images of some of the toys produced at the factory
First, as already mentioned, at the Yongsheng factory no overtime premium is paid, which is blatantly illegal. The legal minimum wage in Dongguan City is 65 cents an hour, and all overtime must be paid at a premium. Weekday overtime must be paid at a 50 percent premium, or 98 cents an hour, while weekend overtime must be paid as double time, or $1.30 an hour. Holiday overtime is to be paid at a 300 percent premium, or $1.95.
Legal Minimum Wage
(770 RMB per Month)
65 cents an hour
$5.17 a day (8 hours)
$25.94 a week (40 hours)
$112.40 a month
$1,348.81 a year
(Note: The current exchange rate is 6.8505 RMB to $1.00 U.S. The minimum wage in China is calculated using an average 21.75 work days a month: 365 minus 104 weekend days = 261 days. Two hundred sixty-one days divided by 12 months = 21.75 days per month.)
In the assembly department, workers are paid on a piece rate system, not individually, but rather on a team basis. However, when production slows down, management switches to an hourly rate of just 3.17 RMB, which is just 46 cents an hour, and a full 36 percent below the legal minimum of 65 cents. When management switches wages back and forth from piece rate to an hourly wage, the workers have no idea how their wages are calculated.
When asked how his wages were calculated, a young worker from Henan Province who worked in Assembly Department B responded: "I'm not very sure. When I first arrived in the factory, I asked someone at the human resources department. She just told me that the piece rate wages are calculated collectively. I asked her, 'The wages are all divided up among the workers equally?' She told me that they were divided up according to work hours. But, when I asked some of the senior workers how their wages were calculated, they told me that sometimes the wages were piece rate and other times they were hourly wages. In reality, nobody seems to know how the wages are calculated."
The workers sign a pay stub on the 25th of each month, and their wages are transferred into the workers' bank accounts on the 28th. This is also illegal, as one month's wages are always withheld from the workers.
Another worker was also confused: "I'm not even sure how the base wages on my pay stub were calculated. I have no idea where the numbers come from, and I've tried, but I can't figure it out on my own. After that, the pay stub only shows the deductions for the dorm, food, insurance and the net wage."
In the spray paint department, workers are paid on a piece rate basis. In this department, management posts wages tables every other day so the workers can track their piece rates and what they are earning. However, here too, the workers complain that management's totals are often different from their own calculations.
Workers have no choice but to accept whatever wages management gives them.
However management calculates wages, one thing is clear: The workers are being cheated of the wages legally due them. At the very most, during the peak season, the workers report earning 1,313 RMB ($191.66) a month, including the mandatory 37 hours of overtime demanded each week. (The majority of workers earn 1,230 RMB--$179.55—or less. The workers monthly take-home wage is much lower—1080 RMB ($157.65)—after deductions for room, board and in some individual cases pension insurance are taken out.) Including overtime, the workers should have earned at least $300 a month, and not the $191.66 they were paid. This shows the workers being cheated of 36 percent of the wages legally due them.
Highest Peak Season Wages Reported by Workers
(1,313 RMB per month, for toiling 77 hours a week)
|$44.23 per week
$191.66 a month
$2.299.98 a year
Under China's wage laws, these toy workers should have earned at least $69.24 a week, and not the $44.23 a week which they report as their highest wage during the peak season.
For Working a 77-hour Week,
The Workers should have Earned $69.24
|40 regular hours:||$25.94|
|15 hours of weekday overtime:||$14.70|
|(3 hours overtime x 5 days x $0.98 = $14.70)|
|22 hours of weekend overtime:||$28.60|
|(11 hours x 2 days x $1.30 = $28.60)|
This shows the workers being cheated of $25.01 each week, or 36 percent of the wages legally due them. They should have earned $69.24 and not the $44.23 they report being paid. Being cheated of $25.01 in wages each week would surely seem wrong to anyone in the U.S., but perhaps it would not be seen as such an incredible hardship. But for the poor toy workers in China, in just the five month peak season period—when they are toiling long hours cranking out toys for children in the U.S.—they are being cheated of $541.88, which is the equivalent of losing nearly five months regular wages each year!
Even if we allow for Sunday off, which happens only once or at most twice a month, the workers should have earned at least $54.94 for the week and not the $44.23 which is their highest wages. Under this scenario, they are toiling six days a week, 66 hours. Even under the best circumstances, the toy workers are still being cheated of $10.71 each week, or 20 percent (19.5) of the wages legally due them.
Images show grim worker bathrooms (left) and one of the two fans (right) that cool the 24 workers of this room
Images of the Bratz "Beach Bash Party Pool" produced at the factory
No maternity leave: Also blatantly illegal, there is no paid maternity leave at the Yongsheng plant.
Nor are there paid national holidays or paid vacation time as required by law.
However, the factory does pay for work injury insurance for its employees and does have a free factory clinic. (Workers do have to pay a 2 RMB—29 cents—registration fee each time they use the clinic.) If the workers want to be covered under the national pension plan, 83 RMB ($12.12) is deducted from the worker's wages each month. There are no other benefits.
To participate in the national pension insurance program, a worker must be inscribed and pay into the program every month—83 RMB, or $12.12—for a minimum of twenty years. After 20 years, a worker becomes eligible to receive a pension of 360 RMB ($52.55) a month--$631 a year.
The vast majority of migrant workers choose not to pay into the pension program for several reasons. First, workers have very little understanding of how the system works and tend not to stay at the same factory for more than two years. Further, after toiling for several years, older workers are anxious to return home to their villages, but would not have worked long enough to have accessed any of the benefits.
The Assembly Department is divided into two sections. Division A has eight assembly lines (currently just five are in production) with an average of 25 to 35 workers per line. Division B has 10 assembly lines (with six currently in production) with the same 25 to 35 workers. During the long, humid semi-tropical summers, the assembly rooms are extremely hot. The only source of ventilation is fans, and the workers are often soaked in their own sweat.
The spray paint department has 15 assembly lines with 20 people per line. The workers report that conditions are bad. There is a strong, sickening smell of paint. The factory does provide disposable face masks, but they become very hot if they are worn for a while. Generally the workers do not wear the masks.
The toy molding department has 60 machines and is dark, humid and extremely hot.
Throughout the factory, production goals are set excessively high, and workers receive no short tea breaks during their shifts. There are just the lunch and supper breaks.
An 18-year-old toy worker from Hunan Province described his work as "exhausting".
"I wake up at 7:30 a.m. and go to work without breakfast. We work all day and into the night. While we are at work, we have to be moving all the time, and there are no breaks" Sometimes I'll have a pile of products next to me and all I can do is work faster and faster. Sometimes the pile gets so large that there is no space to put anything else. All I can do is work faster and faster. If the pile gets too large, then I'll get scolded. The supervisor sometimes makes an assembly line run faster. When this happens, we just keep going. There is no way we can stop or slow down.
"If you need a break [to use the bathroom], you have to ask the supervisor for a pass. One day, one of the workers on my lines asked the supervisor for the pass several times, and the supervisor just wouldn't give it to him. Even when you ask the supervisor, sometimes one of the workers has already taken the pass. An assembly line has about 30 workers, and only two can leave their workstation at a time. If your relationship with your supervisor is not good, he also may decide not to give the pass to you!"
The Yongsheng factory has three primitive dormitories. Buildings A and B, both five stories, are set aside for male workers. Due to the global economic slowdown, Building B is currently empty, as is the fifth floor of Building A. The women's dorm, Building C, has seven floors.
The dorms are horribly overcrowded. Twenty-four workers share each dorm room, sleeping on narrow triple-level metal bunk beds. Each room measures about 323 square feet, or 17 by 19 feet. There are just two electric lights and two old fans in each room. Nor are there any electric outlets in the dorm rooms for the workers to charge their cell phones.
Incredible as it might sound, there are just two small bathrooms on each floor, with a total of four faucets and ten toilets—squat toilets that resemble holes in the floor—for all 240 workers to share! Each morning, workers have to join long cues waiting their turn to brush their teeth and use the toilet. Each faucet must be shared by 60 people and each toilet by 24 workers.
Management does not provide hot water to the dorms even during the winter months—November, December, January—when temperatures at night drop into the low 40s Fahrenheit, often with a cold rain. Workers complain bitterly that they often fall sick due to the cold showers. When Building B was occupied, it was even worse, as the cold showers were located on the first floor, meaning the workers had to walk up and down several flights of stairs in order to wash.
Not unexpectedly, a worker from Guangxi Province described dorm conditions as "Horrible":
"The dorm is really overcrowded. Each dorm [room] can fit 24 people, but they are only 30 square meters [323 sq. feet]. The dorm here is about the same size as the one in the last factory I worked in, but the last factory only fit ten people into a dorm—no more than 12 at the very most. The dorm rooms themselves are pretty bad. For all these people, there are only two fans and they spin very slowly. Also, there are columns and walls that partially block the breeze coming in from the fans and there is no natural breeze. One of our fans even broke a few days ago. I had to hassle management for a long time before they fixed it. We pretty much have no breeze at all. We're very hot. It seems like we waste our time taking showers because as soon as we have washed all the sweat off, we return to our dorms and are covered with sweat all over again. Nighttime is noisy. I usually cannot sleep until after 12:30 a.m. There are bugs all over the dorm. [He's referring to a serious infestation of bed bugs in the dorms, along with mosquitoes.] When I wake up in the morning, there are often red bumps all over my body where the bugs bit me. Some workers have bites all over their legs.
"Theft has been a serious problem lately. The theft usually happens soon after we get paid. Recently one worker lost his cell phone. He bought it right after getting paid last month. He had it less than one month, and some thief took it from him. I had an MP3 music player stolen yesterday."
An outside observer confirmed that there is a serious, widespread infestation of bed bugs in the Yongsheng dorms, which is a huge and very annoying problem for the toy workers.
Management deducts 30 RMB ($4.38) from the workers' wages each month for dorm fees.
Regarding what entertainment is available to the workers during their time off, a young man from Yunnan Province explained: "There is nothing interesting to do here. There's an internet café nearby. It is really expensive so I only go once in a while. Some workers rent novels and read in the dorms. That's all there is. Life outside of work is pretty disappointing. There's nowhere to go to have a good time."
Crowded worker dorms are infested with bedbugs
The Yongsheng toy workers also describe the cafeteria food as "horrible."
There are two grades of food at the factory. The top grade, served on the first floor of the cafeteria, costs 7 RMB [$1.02] per day, which is overwhelmingly reserved for office workers who can afford the dollar a day food. The vast majority of the workers have to dine on the second floor, paying 4 RMB [58 cents] a day for a lower quality food. There are 20 rows of tables each of which sits eights people. The workers have to buy a magnetic food card which keeps track of what the workers spend each day.
"The food on the first floor is okay, but it is too expensive. The workers have trouble paying for it. We generally have no choice but to eat on the second floor. Food on the second floor is much much worse than on the first floor. When the food is in your mouth, you can hardly bring yourself to swallow it. It's horrible. There is no oil in it. [It was not cooked in oil.] They serve winter mellow every day, but it tastes terrible. All of the vegetables are seasoned with just oil and salt. There is no flavor. The rice gruel served in the morning is just the last night's rice boiled in a little water. We never eat breakfast. Sometimes some of us will get together to eat breakfast outside. There's a restaurant [fast food street stall] nearby that charges 4-5 RMB [58-73 cents] for vegetable dishes. If you pay 5 RMB they'll cook the vegetables with egg. They usually serve leafy greens and other vegetables like gourd, eggplant, and water spinach."
Hasbro label smuggled from the factory
At first glance, it sounds impressive. Could it be that the US toy companies prevailed upon their Chinese contractor to allow the workers to organize?
Unfortunately, the "union" is a company union that does nothing. It's meant for "show and tell" for the US clients.
One worker summed up how the factory workers felt about the company union.
"The factory has a union, but workers have little faith in it. Workers think that the factory and union are just part of the same organization. In reality, if workers have a problem, they usually go directly to the supervisors. Some of them have no idea how to even contact the union. There is a box in the factory where workers can place questions or comments, but no one has seen anyone drop a comment inside. They figure that if you put in a comment or question, it wouldn't help at all."
Foreigners have visited the Yongsheng Factory, but according to the workers, these visitors just say a few things in English—they imagine some polite greetings or other pleasantries—and quickly pass on to other tasks.
1027 Newport Avenue
PO Box 1059
Pawtucket, RI 02862-1059
CEO and President: Brian Goldner
Hasbro earned $4.09 billion in total revenue this year (ending 09-30-2008) and $2.26 billion in gross profit, making it second to only Mattel as the largest toy company in the world.
1111 West 22nd Street
Oak Brook, IL 60523
CEO: Curtis W. Stoelting
RC2 earned $453.91 million in total revenue and $214.32 million in gross profit this year (09-30-2008) making it the fifth largest toy company in the world.