Poverty pay of Barbie doll workers

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The Independent Online
CLARE GARNER

Barbie dolls, every young girl's favourite glamour icon, are made by Chinese workers paid less than pounds 2 a day working in sweat shops, according to a joint international report.

The allegations follow research by the World Development Movement (WDM), the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR), and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) into factories in Asia, where 75 per cent of toys sold in the UK are manufactured.

The findings reveal that factories sub-contracted by leading American toy companies like Mattel, Fisher-Price, Disney, and Hasbro, whose products include Barbie, Sindy, Action Man and Monopoly, often fail to meet basic internationally agreed standards. The average worker does a shift of at least 10 hours, up to seven days a week, for poverty wages.

Mattel, the world's largest toy company, spends $2.76 (pounds 1.80) on advertising each Barbie - more than a worker in China earns in a day - and sells two Barbie dolls somewhere in the world every second. The company this weekend promised to investigate the report's findings.

Ninety per cent of Barbie dolls are made in southern China, in two factories which employ 8,000 workers between them. A worker would have to work 523 years to match the amount Mattel spends on advertising Barbie in one day.

Harriet Lamb, 34, the WDM's campaigns co-ordinator, conducted research in two factories in the Thai capital, Bangkok, where Mattel manufactures items such as Pooh bears dressed in Father Christmas outfits, pink plastic Barbie dolls houses and 101 Dalmatian soft toys. "We would like to see companies bringing the same tight safety controls for workers as they have for the toys themselves," said Ms Lamb.

The exploitation is no secret to the workers, 90 per cent of whom are women. "Barbie doll is more expensive than our wages. We lost a lot of sweat to produce those dolls," one said.

Another worker explained how overtime is compulsory. "We have to do it otherwise we would be dismissed . . . One month, the management gives 60 dolls for one worker to produce, but when we finish the 60 dolls per month they will increase it another 10 to 70 dolls; if we finish 70 dolls they will increase it again."

The combined lobby group is pressurising the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA), which represents 90 per cent of sales in the UK market, to insist that toy companies adopt an independently monitored charter on the safe production of toys. The code would require companies to do spot checks on sub-contractors.

Mattel welcomed the charter. The company has its own code of practice, and claims it only deals with "reputable suppliers". It insists they comply with local labour and safety laws and personnel are under orders to report any violations. A spokeswoman said: "We do take these things seriously. We have been working with the WDM and are keen to push the charter through."

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