LETTERS : High price of toys

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From Mr Eddy Lauriissen Sir: Your article "Toy shops take on the giants" (19 December) draws attention to the ways in which the big giants in the toy trade - particularly Toys 'R' Us, Woolworths and Argos - have virtually taken over the toy industry in the UK.

Over 45 per cent of all toys are now made under contract, mostly in sweatshops in the developing world, predominately in Asia. If you go into any toy shop, you will see by the label that most goods are now made in China, in Thailand or in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Mexico or Brazil. As producers compete for contracts, they are forced to cut corners on working conditions and health-and-safety for workers who operate in sweatshop conditions on less than $2 a day.

In China, where 20,000 workers died in industrial accidents in 1993, Chinese officials say that companies are completely ignoring safety standards; and in Thailand, in a factory that produced toys for several large companies mentioned in your article, the world's worst-ever factory fire occurred in 1993, killing 188 people and injuring 469.

The contracts that toy retailers draw up with the manufacturers are so specific that they stipulate how many stiches each teddy bear's leg should have. Toy companies should face up to their responsibilities and include in future contracts specifications for minimum standards of health-and-safety and workers' rights.

Only in this way will parents be reassured that the toys they give to their children as a symbol of happiness are not made in dangerous and exploitative conditions.

Yours sincerely, EDDY LAURIISSEN Assistant General Secretary International Confederation of Free Trade Unions Brussels 19 December