Santa’s Workshop: Inside China’s Slave Labour Toy Factories


Full title: ‘Inside China’s Slave Labour Toy Factories’

  • Year of release: 2004
  • Type of example: 30 minute documentary
  • Producers: Lotta Ekelund and Kristina Bjurling
  • Production company: Fair Trade Center and LottaFilm
  • Research: SwedWatch
  • Availability: Free online (Youtube and Google Videos)
  • Page reference:


Santa’s Workshop is a film by Lotta Ekelund and Kristina Bjurling. Produced by Fair Trade Center and LottaFilm. Research[ed] by SwedWatch (CosmoLearning 2010 link) [as] the Swedwatch aim is that Swedish-related companies take into account the people and the environment when running their activities in developing and low-wage countries (Risberg link).

We spend more than 25 billion euros on toys in Europe. Customers say that they usually look for „sweet and happy” toys. But who produces them? (One World in Schools link). In May 2004 a study was carried out on the ground at Guangdong in China where a large part of the toy manufacturing takes place. In February 2004 Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, HKCIC, carried out an inquiry of nine companies who supply toys to the Swedish market (Bjurling 2005 pg.4 link).

Santa’s Workshop takes you to the real world of China’s toy factories. Low labour costs attract more and more companies to China (LOTTAFilm 2004 link). A report […] about the rapid transfer of manufacturing to China (Bjurling 2005 pg.4 link). Today more than 75% of our toys are made in China. But this industry takes its toll on the workers and on the environment (aBoyCalledJaro 2008 link).

Migrant workers at the assembly line (Bjurling 2005 pg.4 link) […] tell us about long working hours, low wages and dangerous work places. Those who protest or try to organize trade unions risk imprisonment (LOTTAFilm 2004 link). And that is a violation of Chinese laws as well as of the Ethical Code kept by many European companies (one world in schools link). The employees are often not aware of their rights and the working conditions that should be in force (Bjurling 2005 pg. 6 link). Companies concerned are Coop, Top Toy (BR-toys and Toys R Us), Brio, Disney, Wal-mart, Mattel, ICA and Åhléns (Bjurling 2005 pg. 4 link).

[A] video on how China’s worker’s are being exploited, worked to the bone, and how they pay the price of Western Business’ competing against one another (Tinkie 2008 link). The Swedisch buyers blame bad conditions on the Chinese suppliers (LOTTAFilm 2004 link). They claim however that in a gradually growing competition they have no other option, but to push their production costs down all the time (One World in Schools link). Purchasing companies are not willing to share the costs of their ethical demands. The suppliers are under great pressure due to low prices and the demand for shorter delivery times (Bjurling 2005 pg.6 link). A report […] about the consumer and the shareholder, about you and me (Bjurling 2005 pg.4 link).


In 2004 SwedWatch conducted extensive research into the toy industry in Guangdong and reported about poor working conditions in many of the factories producing toys for the Swedish market. The research resulted in the publication of the report “Easy to Manage” and the film “Santa’s workshop”. SwedWatch’s documentation…generated extensive media attention and triggered a response from the Swedish companies involved (Bjurling, 2009)

SwedWatch has researched the toy industry for the past year. The focus in this report is on Scandinavian corporations that sell the toys and the suppliers that produce the toys in South China, and the social and environmental implications of this trade. (Bjurling, 2004 link)

SwedWatch has used several methods in order to discover as much information as possible about the current situation at toy manufacturers producing for the Swedish market. The most important part has been an elaborated and in-depth cooperation project with an experienced social compliance consultant with a local presence in the Guangdong province (Bjurling, 2009)

The Fair Trade Center, a Swedish non-governmental organization, produced the documentary Santa’s Worskshop…  While it proves to be full of harsh criticism of the Chinese factory system…and exposes the difficult realities in the daily lives of desperate laborers, the producers’ aim is to make the audience think then react.  Is the blame to be found in the government, the factory owner’s, the laborers, the foreign corporate buyers who shop for outrageous deals, or in the hands of the average consumer who buys these products?  What if anything can be done?  (VLC, No date, link)

The case study of SwedWatch is founded on both second hand information from researchers, NGOs and trade unions as well as from first-hand information from concerned people at companies, workplaces and organisations. Kristina Bjurling at SwedWatch and Lotta Ekelund at LottaFilm visited Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Dongguan between May 17 and 30 in 2004.Throughout the visit Lotta Ekelund captured material for the film Santa’s Workshop. During the progress of work, we have had the ambition of letting all parties air their views. The toy industry consists of many stakeholders and intermediaries. SwedWatch has chosen to focus on the companies who market their own brand names towards the consumers. As a result of the consumer pressure, these companies, which are in close connection to the customers, have a strong motivating force for making changes and the middlemen of the industry are believed to be influenced by the actions of the leading companies of the business. (Bjurling, 2004 link)

In February 2004 Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, HKCIC, carried out an inquiry of nine companies who supply toys to the Swedish market. The inquiry was performed on demand of SwedWatch and Fair Trade Center. HKCIC carried out interviews with workers outside the suppliersí factories. The interviews with the workers show that the working conditions often are severe. Working hours of 14 hours per day, seven days a week, all days in the month are not unusual during the peak season. To that is added a dangerous working environment, a non-existent health and safety education, and low wages. This means that the suppliers of the Nordic companies are violating the Chinese legislation, the ILO conventions as well as their own codes of conduct. Companies concerned are Coop, Top Toy (BR-toys and Toys R Us), Brio, Disney, Wal-mart, Mattel, ICA. (Bjurling, 2004 link)

Mandarin is only used in the front and occasionally in the video, with subtitles. The video is narrated in English. (Costa, 2011 link)

The documentary features secret interviews and filming within China’s factories as well as a Christian organisation that is one of the few fighting for the rights of workers. As one of the Swedish commercial agents summarises at the end, the problem they have found is that if they do increase prices of toys to enable workers to get a fairer wage, consumers stop buying the products (Costa, 2011 link)

The filmmakers go to Hong Kong (where they are at least legally allowed to film) where they find that many toy manufacturers have left and gone to China where factories pay workers menial wages for working 12 hour days. Union activity is banned and as one of the factory managers says, 90% of the workers are women because they are “easier to manage”. Salaries are so low, that workers can hardly survive in the outside world. In the end, most of them live within the confines of the factory walls in virtual prison cell accommodation or even sleep on the factory floor itself. Added to this is the chronic environmental pollution that the factories cause by pumping sewage into local rivers. (Costa, 2011 link)

Another difficulty specific of China is the immediate danger for workers to talk to foreigners. SwedWatch did in no way want to risk the employment or reputation of any of the workers. Therefore we chose not to make any direct interviews with the workers, neither inside nor outside the plant. Instead, HKCIC, having long experience from similar missions among migrant workers in southern China, carried out interviews where the workers have had the possibility to be anonymous. We did however on one occasion have the opportunity of meeting a group of anonymous migrant workers at the office of an NGO in Shenzhen. (Bjurling, 2004 link)

I wonder however if Swedish consumers are truly aware of some of the conditions the toys they are buying for their kids are produced in. The question is, if they were, would it make any difference? After all, it is only by pressure from consumers at the end of the day that will bring any kind of change. Are we all so desperate to save a few euros or dollars that we don’t care how goods are produced? I’d like to believe that most people do care and Santa’s Workshop is a good starting point for considering this moral dilemma in more depth. This brave and disturbing documentary deserves to be seen widely. (Costa, 2011 link)

The Scandinavian film makers do a good job of showing both sides of the equation, the factory workers who are forced by their bosses to lie about the misery of their conditions and the multinationals who often don’t realize what their bargaining is doing. (Anon, 2010 link)


These workers are forced to work overtime or else they would not get their monthly wages. In one case, one of them voice out that she has to work 7 days a week with no break and from 6 in the morning till midnight. During the peak where manufacturing contracts flood the factory, they are forced to work till dawn. Imagine that, 6am till to around 3am or 4am, and then you start work at 6am again (Anon, 2010 link)

What is obvious to me, is that the WTO needs to have regulations to protect workers health and safety and what is also obvious is that the WTO will never make strong regulations for workers unless we watch films like these to understand what is going on (Anon, 2010 link)

I believe that this should be an enlightenment of our greed as consumers, at the cost of those who suffer for our selfish indulgences in today’s western society (Princesspatricia, 2011 link)

The health conditions of toy manufacturing companies in China is appalling, and this is not limited to the toy sector but throughout all manufacturing plants. Toys that we buy are not cheap, but it sure is cheap to manufacture them in China. That leaves a huge gap, expensive toys that are cheaply produced, so guess who’s profiting? What’s worse about this issue is that the companies that order these toys are not aware of the conditions of the factories. Or rather, they assume all is well and can’t be bothered to step in until they’re exposed (Anon, 2009 link).

This is a fantastic short film that provides a point of view on toys. We should all think about, the cost of our goodies. It could be compared with meat eaters visiting a slaughterhouse…just leaves a bad feeling for a long time. (Jlwilliamsjnr, 2010 link)

I think of all the crap that’s sold at stores like Wall-Mart. No one who shops there would pay more to help their fellow Humans. (I don’t shop there) Nor will Toy manufacturers do anything until we vote with our wallets. Talk to your Churches. Show this video. (Bradford54, 2007 link)

Dear consumer – wake up next time you buy a radio or another product for 5$. Somebody has been robbed down the road in order for you to buy your low price products…(podapoul, 2011 link).

It’s fascinating to watch the blame being pushed around. It’s the worker’s fault, no, it’s the factories’ fault, no, it’s the client’s fault and last but not least, it’s the customer’s fault. The head in the sand attitude is quite remarkable (marathonmilk, 2011 link).

Very disturbing, feel very sad for those people. Not only are they brainwashed and conditioned to think they deserve no better. Their water and food that is ‘provided’ is probably ‘spiked’ with chemicals/drugs to keep them anesthesied.

Interesting…..the Land of the Free/ United States is allowing poisons in our water and food also….the purpose – heck who really knows—- (CC, 2011 link)

I worked in this area of China for 3 years for an American Company Who supplied Chemicals in the Electronic manufacturing sector. All of this is true. Additionally, for electronics at least two sets of books are kept. One for the company and another to be seem by visiting customers (showing unparalleled process control and reliability) “The book of Lies”. Every time you make a purchase and it says “Made in China” You contribute to what you just saw here (tetonpwb, 2008 link)

Now, the conditions that these people find themselves working in is a black eye on the jovial world of childrens toys, everyone knows about it, but no one seems to make a stand. As mentioned in this documentary, its the consumers who refuse to pay the extra cost. Now, this is not to say the owners of Western toy companies who decide on production in the east due to the cheap labor costs are innocent, oh far from it. With only a single exception, they all come across as completely abysmal humans. This is a worldwide problem that can’t be solved by one little thing, but requires a collection of little things all happening at once. These need to be the creation of unions for the workers themselves, more humane conditions provided by their factory owners, more humane deals made regarding the production of the toys by the western toy shops, and more consideration on the behalf of the buyer. This is a subject that everyone knows about, but not many people seem to truly know in detail. The comments in this documentary about the overtime situation in particular were vile, and the fat cats just don’t seem to be able to grasp the link between poor wage and increased need for overtime. It is easy to turn a blind eye to this subject, but something really, truly needs to be done. Think before you buy, please. (Anon, 2011 link)

I think the central government is trying to solve this problems but since the rest of the government is deeply corrupted this problem can never be solved. As a chinese I really hate to see this and I feel very sad to these poor workers, what i hated the most about the Chinese society nowadays is that in China the laws are very flexible, therefore rich people have great powers to do whatever they want. (pleasebefair, 2011 link)

Great Documentary, it completely changes the way you look at toys and other products made in China. (Richard, 2009 link)

11Bottom line, if you are not checking the labels to make sure it’s not from china, then you are part of the problem. Boycott products made in china, it’s a matter of national pride. (VacuumTruck, 2008 link)

Allowing Capitalism into developing countries has NOT made their lives better. Not by a long shot. Not in Mexico, or Haiti, or Taiwan, and China (which is held up as the great success) the ‘people’ are still the poorest “in the world”. At least when they could grow their own food, live with extended family, the waterways were not poisoned and there was humanity in their lives. (Today more than 100 million chinese live on less than $1 a day and their cost of living has gone up 700%). Our “Western world Businesses” did that to them – the only solution? Get Out! (Jo McKay, 2011 link)

Don’t take my keyboard… oh shit my mouse.. oh fuck monitor!!! wtf PC too?? wth! is everything made in China? damn! U shouldn’t have said that… sigh =/ (baluchsaab, 2008 link)

Boycott everything made in China! Oh… wait. (By mac02, 2008 link)

I’m having a hard time caring here. (Western-Horseman, 2008 link)

It’s sad seeing the worn-out workers crashed out at their work stations – but as one guy mentioned, if we stop buying their stuff they face an even worse time…catch 22. (thecleaner001, 2008 link)

It’s not quite the whole story as I regularly deal with Chinese suppliers myself so do have an insiders view. Actually many of these Chinese workers will work in a factory for a couple of years and are willing to endure what from a western viewpoint is appalling conditions to earn enough to buy a house or small business in their home village. You have to remember China doesn’t have the same welfare system so if you don’t work no one is going to feed, cloth or house you and your family.(hkpho0ey, 2011 link)

First some kids should be able to work. In America children CANT work. I worked at a factory in America and it was not uncommon to work 60 days 12 hours a day. Officially they cant make you do that but insinuate trouble if not. If they made more money in China they would still work overtime. Americans work overtime while making 12 dollars an hour, many times willingly (You never have enough money). (Lionstail, 2008 link)

I am Chinese and there is nothing in our work ethic that says we could work 14+ hour workdays and they are choosing it because they have no choice not because they want to. It’s a simple matter of if the worker’s wages were better they could fulfill their family obligations as well as have a decent life. It’s not the physical environment they work in that’s oppressive, it’s the social one that states they cannot speak out for fear of being fired, and this is the only job they can find. These people don’t even have the option to simply farm for themselves because the land and water are all owned by the country. It’s extremely admirable these people are leaving their homes to suffer torturous conditions like this and anyone who isn’t moved and ashamed by this film is a disgusting human being. We, the customers are ultimately responsible, every dollar you spend is a vote for the continuation of what’s going on in china. The managers have no incentive to change other than their own moral compasses which are obviously broken. The documentary makers are showing the plight of these poor workers, i don’t see anything that shows them saying that workers are doing anything wrong, it’s obvious what their dilemma is. They might as well be indentured servants. (K_K_D, 2011 link)

Don’t worry too much, there are plenty of employers that would have us working in the same conditions if they could. (trizzo, 2008 link)

Jobs and work condition in America is something we need to worry about, Asian are aggressive rat racer, they have their style of work let’s leave them alone (poidsfi, 2009 link)

Parents want to make their kids happy so they’ll forgo ethics for the joy in their childs face unless the parents are socially aware type folks but the average citizen just wants to save a few dollars. (godstomper, 2008 link)

I work in manufacturing in Asia and I can say that it is not fair to place the blame entirely on the factories. The buyers place extremely stringent controls on price and payment terms so that factories are sure to find ways to make the price. My factory loses out to China all the time because of being a few percentage points above their target price or demanding payment terms that are very unreasonable in countries such as Thailand where there is little or no bank financing support. The fact is, the market demands lower prices so blame yourselves. Our factory practices within the law and wages are higher than minimum in Thailand. Some factories cheat but in the end, labour is short and they lose. The buyers DO NOT CARE, all they want is low price. That is it. (Michael Kelly, 2011 link)

Spirit is good, but not practical. Neither will the majority of toy buyers watch this video nor will those children stop demanding for them. (Azmul, 2011 link)

I’ve seen worse working conditions right here in the US. I can also tell that they have taken much of the interviews out of context. They know nothing about Asian culture, yet they try to twist it around like it’s some sort of evil. These women go there and work as many hours as they can, spending as little as possible, and sending almost everything they earn home to their parents. Unlike Americans, Asians dedicate their lives to supporting their parents. Trust me, I’m married to an Asian and this is what I’ve learned about my wife’s culture. Although I may not agree with her culture, I still have to respect it. This is called cultural relativism and according to it, the makers of this documentary are being both immoral and unethical because they are judging other cultures by comparing them to and expecting them to conform to their own cultural values and beliefs. These people are nothing more than bigots. They need to stop dictating what they perceive should be appropriate in other cultures. (Alesteir Crowley, 2011 link)

This doc just makes the china look bad. If these people didnt work they’ll be in poverty like Africa these chinese workers should be very happy that they have jobs and earning money otherwise they’ll be the vilages working in the farms with less the half wage of what they get from the factories. If they’re not happy they can go back to their rice farms its simple humans are never happy with anything. (01bad2dbone, 2011 link)

Sad but how can someone so far away solve it. Like someone mentioned – if you don’t buy they are out of work. If you do buy – these are accepted practices. I try not to buy now things from china when I can. I avoid the dollar stores because that’s where all of their stuff seems to come from. It’s not just factories that exploit them. You can get programming from some countries for as low as $2 an hour. As an american I simply can’t compete with that. There are 189 hours in a week. I would have to work day and night with no sleep and only make $378 before taxes. I have a weekly budget of $120 just for food and pet supplies. That does not count elec, gas, water, internet, phone, rent, car, student loan for college etc. and I carry no health insurance so that all has to be paid cash. Back trouble so bad I couldn’t move once and it cost me 250 to take an ambulance and over 600 just to be seen in emergency care and they had no resolution other than “if it stays bad, you may need surgery”. I still managed to hobble off to school the next painful week doped up on over the counter meds because the bills keep coming half paralyzed or not so I had to get the classes done. Don’t think americans won’t work hard for something. It hurts my feelings when someone uses outsourced programming in my country just because they are cheaper 😦 When someone wants the cheapest they just can’t come to americans – we have too many costs to live in america to be that cheap. Just remember when you buy cheap there’s a reason eh. I tend to now favor expensive things. They don’t seem to break as often and while it means I pay more out, I imagine that it’s because a worker was paid enough to live and not tortured by work. (Dodgy, 2010 link)

What can people do to help? If we don’t buy the toys, they lose. If we do buy the toys, they lose. I hate how the guy in the suit says “it makes no sense to give them more money for less work”, but I bet he gets more money for less work. Wealthy people are so greedy! You would think that human nature would take care of each other. They can still be wealthy & give a bit more to their workers. (Leann, 2010 link)

A real eye opener for me. Even more reason i have now to hate the things the governments allow to happen to there own people. (Bar, 2010 link)

I think it’s awful how the chinese have to work very long hours, with very little pay. You really can take granted for what people are doing for work now a days in other countries, you don’t really realized what’s going on, it’s sad really. I also think it’s an impeccable documentry, it makes you realize how easy you have it. Unlike those who suffer from poverty… (colleen, 2010 link)

Nothing less than Hell on Earth. (Matt, 2010 link)

Parents and people, young and old, need to unite and draw a line and take a firm stance to stop making toy factory slavery profitable. (PRlog, 2009 link) 


This Christmas, few people probably gave any thoughts to where the toys they bought have come from. If they saw Santa’s Workshop however, they may have thought twice before filling their kid’s Christmas stockings. (Source: Celia Costa 2011 link)

Christmas is almost upon us, but if you still have some last minute shopping to do, take a look at the video below before you hit the shops. If you consider yourself a caring person who would not knowingly cause suffering to another, then please DON’T BUY TOYS MADE IN CHINA. (Source: Vegan Prime 2010 link)

The sad part is..people will watch this and say “awww thats so sad”and still go out tomorrow and buy toys made in for me I buy local no big company brands. (Source: Marie 1w 2010 link)

I sent a mass email of this to friends and posted it on Facebook. I will never eat at McDonald’s again…and will make sure to check all the labels on toys that I buy. If I have to pay a higher price to make someone else’s life better then so be it. Could you imagine being a child working in one of the factories making toys for other kids half way around the world…and the wage you are paid could not even buy you the meal that toy comes with!! Just typing this is making me tear up again… since then I have tried to make sure my clothing comes from my country as well. It is hard sometimes but if everyone did it….things would eventually change….(Source: Kiamoko 2010 link)

We are pleased to update you on the situation after the research made more than 1 year ago…We are continuing to encourage and help the suppliers of TOP-TOY branded products on improving the ethical and working conditions for the workers (Source: Goerup 2005 link)

It (Santa’s Workshop) has also been shown frequently in schools, universities and by trade unions, consumer organisations and other NGO’s in many countries, mainly in Europe. (Lottafilm 2004 link)

The study in hand is a follow-up report, produced by SwedWatch in cooperation with its member organisation Fair Trade Center and the Swedish Consumers’ Association. Five years after the first report was published, it aims to investigate if the companies who purchase these toys have succeeded in complying with their own CSR standards.

Some major improvements have taken place since the last study in 2004 and this shows that this business needs to be monitored and reviewed. The picture is still far from the cosy living room where the gifts are opened…The most promising improvement since 2004 is that most employees are provided with labour contracts, which are a legal requirement in China, and workers seem to be more aware of their rights. (Source: Bjurling 2009 link)

Swedwatch published the report “Reviewing Santa’s workshop” in 2009. One of the demands was that the toy business ensures that employees in toy factories in China become aware of their rights and have the opportunity to complain if these are violated. The 2011 follow-up has been conducted through a round table meeting, where the companies had the opportunity to address the actions taken after the recommendations in the report 2009. Besides the toy companies the toy industries association ICTI CARE and the Hong Kong based NGO SACOM have had important roles in the discussion. A round table meeting was organized by Swedwatch and took place in Stockholm in February 2011…The follow-up shows that the companies have acted upon the criticism. (Source: Swedwatch 2011 link)

The most promising improvement since 2004 is that most employees are provided with labour contracts, which are a legal requirement in China, and workers seem to be more aware of their rights. (Source: Bjurling 2009 link)

There continues to be a growing movement to take labor abuses and slavery out of the supply chain of the products we use. Last month, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger passed SB 657, which calls for all businesses that sell products in California and make over $100 million globally to discloses what they are voluntarily doing to ensure that their products are slavery free. In July, a measure to reveal the existence of conflict minerals in the supply chain of U.S. products was bundled into the Wall Street Reform Act. And last week, launched a petition in response to the news that children’s clothing manufacturer Gymboree has refused to ensure that Uzbek child labor is taken out of their cotton supply chain. (Source: Keehn 2010 link)

The trade union movement in Hong Kong points to the importance of the employees’ participation in the enforcement of the code of conduct, if the companies are indeed serious about improving the conditions for the migrant workers in Guangdong. An increasing number of studies point out that the companies should elaborate a follow-up of the ethical demands by actively engaging and educating the factory workers. (Hollander 2011 link)

For the last few years, the companies have started to put demands on their suppliers and have in many cases also developed a method to try and tackle insufficient working conditions. Some improvements of the working environment in the factories can be palpable. During the last decade, the Chinese factories have become safer and healthier workplaces, which to a large extent is because western companies have begun to introduce demands in this field. Despite this, the guest workers continue to be completely unaware of their right, which creates a breeding ground for exploitation. They are often exposed to long working days, low wages, an unhealthy working environment and they find it hard to influence their work situation. Perhaps the most important issue that HKCIC inquiry shows is that seven out of nine suppliers are said to be systematically cheating during the purchasers’ inspections of their codes of conduct. The majority of employers order employees to give purchasers the ìright answerî. Two of the factories even pay their workers to do this…The fact that double bookkeeping has become relatively common as a method to avoid the purchasers’ inspections has been confirmed by the American organisation VeritÈ. If you really want the workers’ rights to be respected, you need to make sure that there is a possibility for this. You need to put pressure on the factory managers and let the workers vote for their own representatives, said Han Dong Fang, the head and the founder of China Labour Bulletin, CLB. There is only one way. To introduce an even stronger membership in the union and make the workers become more and more active. In that way the workers can play an important role in the organisation. If they can get more power and get stronger from below, they can increase pressure upwards. The higher official trade representatives will then be forced to listen to their members, explained Han Dong Fang. (Swedwatch 2011 link)

Since 2009, ICTI (= International Council of Toy Industries ) … has introduced a new policy … (This) allows factories to, for an interim period, run more overtime than is stated in legislation. Factories must promise to reduce working hours to 66 hours a week …The discussion of more overtime in the toy industry than accepted by PRC law comes from a second review of Santa’s Workshop. Among the reasons why it is of interest is the actors involved: There are the Swedish organisations behind the report – among them Fair Trade Center (FTC) & SwedWatch. There are Swedish toy companies with high profiles on human rights questions. They source a lot of their production from Guandong. An important actor is also ICTI which was mentioned in the quote…The header “Santa’s Workshop “comes from a film and a report on Chinese toy manufacturing from 2004. In the second review –from 2011–SwedWatch continues on the excessive overtime issue: Swedwatch’s comments: doing as ICTI CARE has done, not complying with Chinese working hour legislation and allowing working hours in excess o f 6 hours a week until June 2012, is not a reasonable measure. Especially considering the fact that ICTI CARE has not included employee representatives in its decision-making bodies. In other words it is the employers who have unilaterally stated a policy that it is OK for employees to work far longer than permitted by law…It may be so that widespread cheating with double records of working hours etc. is a major problem, but this can never be used as an argument for diluting the law…In 2009 Fair Trade Center published the report Strategies for strengthening human rights in the Chinese Workplace– for Companies, Trade unions and NGOs. The reason for the report is given in the intro: “For over ten years Fair Trade Center (FTC) has worked to promote sustainable trade. FTCisa Swedish…NGO that review show Swedish companies that trade with or operate in, low-wage countries, take responsibility …(M)uchhas happened. In 1996 no Swedish company had a policy or code of conduct that took responsibility for the working conditions in its supply chain in any thorough way. By 2009 it is, in principle, the custom for companies to have an ethical policy for conditions in their supply chain. The question is no longer whether …but how. At the same time a long series of studies and analyses indicate that very little has changed … as regards issues such as union freedom, discrimination, empowerment and pay.” The problems are specially great when it comes to” companies who operate in – or who buy from suppliers that operate in – China or Vietnam, where free unions are forbidden”. However, when reading the second revision of Santa’s Workshop it isn’t farfetched to interpret it as if the pace of change has increased. “Several(of the companies discussed in the two revisions) have strengthened the competence of the people auditing their social requirements and have expanded their presence on the Chinese market. … ICA has introduced new routines aimed at checking previously unknown sub-contractors …But the developments are indeed ambiguous: “The demand for democratically elected labour representatives at factory level… Guangdong Province has issued information that employees will be allowed to participate in negotiations on agreements concerning salaries and other working conditions from February 2011. … The background to this initiative is the increasing number of open labour market conflicts and the argument from the politicians is that a more ordered form of negotiations between employees and employers is necessary. Employers in Guangdong are, however, openly critical of this proposal and they warn that in the end Guangdong will no longer be able to compete with lower salaries and they fear that this will cause factory closures in the…region” (Hollander 2011 link)


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By georgestapleton

One comment on “Santa’s Workshop: Inside China’s Slave Labour Toy Factories

  1. Fascinating… You seem to have struggled with the format and the sources for the descriptions part, the Inspirations / etc. part warms up a bit, but the page really gets interesting in the Discussions and Impacts sections, where the quotations are richest and the big issues raised by the film really come through strongly. What seems most interesting in these discussions is the effect of possible boycotting on the one hand (shopping as the answer) and/or of making and showing a documentary film (exposure meaning pressure) as a means to improve the working conditions of people who make our toys. For reading, search Google Scholar for a paper called ‘Beyond the boycott’ by Jo Little (in the journal Cultural Studies, I think). This also comes across in the academic reading in the Mange Tout example in Grocery on These are really important issues for us to get our heads around. There’s plenty of food for thought in the film and the discussions it provokes, so this page – although needing a lot of editing and reworking for publication on – should make a positive contribution to the module and its discussions… Thanks.

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