Staff at the Dor Lok factory in Shenzhen, southern China, start work at 7.30 each morning and during the Christmas rush they often do not finish until 3am. They have to work for almost a week to earn the pounds 18 it costs to buy the Teletubbies toys in big stores in Britain.
The dolls are made via a Hong Kong agent for a firm called Golden Bear Products in Telford, Shropshire. Last year it won the UK Toy of the Year Award from the British Toy and Hobby Association, and three of Golden Bear's Teletubby products - the Laa Laa talking Teletubby, Teletubby beanbags and the Po soft toy - were among the best-selling toys. When The Independent visited the factory, on a grim industrial estate a few miles from the Hong Kong border, we were detained by security guards and held for six hours in a local police station for trying to talk to some of the factory's 1,600 workers.
A researcher from the Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC), a research group in Hong Kong that has produced reports for leading British charities, later returned to Dor Lok on the newspaper's behalf. Workers told him they came to Shenzhen from rural areas where many of their families were poor peasants with almost no income. Although their wages were low, they still send money home.
Huang Da-Quan, a worker in his thirties from Hunan province, said he sometimes sleeps for as little as five hours between shifts, and works seven days a week when the factory is busy. The workplace where he sews the toys is dusty, no masks are provided and a fan ventilating system is inadequate, he said. He earns between pounds 50 and pounds 60 a month.
Huang has moved out of the dormitory rooms that each house as many as 12 factory workers - he said they were too crowded and noisy and left their inhabitants with no privacy at all. He earns the equivalent of 15 pence an hour and slightly more for each hour over his basic 48-hour week, even though Chinese law says overtime should be paid at time and a half.
The AMRC found conditions had changed little at the factory since it made a previous visit last year. Then, an odd-job man named Kwok who shared a dormitory with 11 others told researchers he earned as little as pounds 20 a month after having about pounds 8 deducted for food and board. He also said he had seen workers faint while making the toys and that fines of one hour's pay were deducted for late arrival at the factory.
Golden Bear said it regularly monitored the Dor Lok factory to check that it complied with the British Toy and Hobby Association code of conduct, and that it was happy with the results when it last did so in June. The code prohibits the use of forced, indentured or underage labour. It also calls for "adequate" living quarters and food, and says employees should not work more than 60 hours a week. It also stipulates that each employee should have at least one day off a week.
Golden Bear declined to be interviewed by The Independent but it issued a statement, saying it had used the Dor Lok factory for 20 years to make a range of different toys. Its contract was not with the factory but with an agent in Hong Kong.
"We have been producing Teletubbies there since we first won the licence from the BBC three years ago. Audits are also carried out by major British retailers, all of whom are satisfied that this factory meets their strict standards," it said. The BBC declined to comment.
Workers' names have been changed to protect their identity. Research for yesterday's survey on labelling was by Georgette Ginn, Emma Jones and Gemma Leader.
The campaign urges retailers to ensure that workers employed by their subcontractors do not suffer through low wages and poor conditions. Instead of moving production elsewhere when failings are revealed, we ask them to draw up codes of conduct and to have them independently monitored.
In addition we call for:
All leading retailers to report annually on their social auditing;
A change in the law to make country-of-origin labelling compulsory;
Steps towards an "ethical trade kitemark" indicating standards of pay and conditions.Reuse content