Despite a code of practice agreed by British suppliers and retailers, staff employed by some foreign factories are breathing in toxic fumes and working up to 24 hours at a stretch to meet the Christmas rush. Others have their pay docked for minor indiscretions and some factories still employ child labour, the World Development Movement (WDM) alleges.
In a Chinese factory producing Disney toys, one 17-year-old girl earns just over pounds 1 for an average 11-hour day, seven days a week, the movement says.
Every day Hasbro UK, makers of Sindy and Action Man, spends more on advertising than on the wages of 7,000 Thai toy workers.
Staff making Barbie and Disney characters in Thailand continuously lose the right to maternity, holiday or sick pay because the factory dismisses them after 119 days - a day before their entitlement to benefits is triggered. They are immediately re-employed, without their rights.
A Chinese toy worker would have to work three months to earn the pounds 80 we spend on average on toys for one child at Christmas, says the WDM.
Jessica Woodruffe, the WDM's head of campaigns, said British toy companies require minimum standards of product quality to ensure toys are safe for children. "They could also require minimum standards to ensure factories are safe for workers."
The campaign by the WDM - which is funded by its membership, churches and aid agencies - began more than three years ago after188 workers were killed and 469 injured in a fire at the Kader toy works in Thailand.
Some companies yesterday were commended by the organisation. Sainsbury, the Gap and B&Q were all developing monitoring systems to give safety codes "teeth", Ms Woodruffe said.
David Hawtin, director general of the British Toy and Hobby Association, said the industry was surprised by the organisation's "onslaught". The association had set up a three-person complaints committee in Europe, following assertions by the movement.
Mr Hawtin said that manuals had been issued to factories in southern China where most of the toy production took place. Factories were encouraged to comply with local laws on working hours, pay and a minimum age for employees.
He said that Hong Kong unions were behind yesterday's WDM report. Employees' leaders in the colony had lost their "power base" because toy manufacture had moved to China to take advantage of lower labour costs. Many of the workers were desperately poor, Mr Hawtin said. "They earn more in one month from making toys than they could earn in a year on the farm.
"They work like stinko during the peak season from March to October and they want to work hard. There are always plenty of people wishing to be re-employed."
Lee Hao, a factory manager in Shenzhen city, gave another version to the WDM: "Those peasants are brutes. You have to whip them like donkeys to make them understand."
Chuck Champlin of Disney in California said the movement had given them few specifics. However, he said the company was adamant that manufacturers obey the law in their countries. "We will investigate any allegations of wrong-doing if provided with the details."
Disney has, in fact, cut its links with at least one of the toy companies named by WDM.Reuse content