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K'NEX Links International Council of Toy Industries to Sweatshop Sesame Street Toys Made at the Abusive Kai Da Factory in China

August 11, 2008  |  Share


August 11, 2008

In July, K'NEX admitted to having a nine year "partnership" with the Kai Da / Hoida Factory in Shenzhen.  (Kai Da is the English pronunciation from Mandarin while Hoida is the translation from Cantonese).

On August 1,2008, K'NEX President, Michael Araten, responding to an inquiry by the business and human rights resource center wrote: "We contract with the Hoida factory in Shenzhen to manufacture and assemble products.  Hoida (Kai Da) is ICTI certified (International Council of Toy Industries) and has participated in the ICTI care program since its inception in 2003."

This means that the Kai Da / Hoida factory has been monitored by both K'NEX and the International Council of Toy Industries in at least the last five or six years (2003-2008).

Obviously, their monitoring efforts failed. In an implicit acknowledgement that there were serious problems at the factory, Mr. Araten wrote to the Business and Human Rights Center: "In addition to working with ICTI to ensure that any issues at the factory are rectified, we have retained ICCA (International Center for Corporate Accountability), a recognized NGO, to ensure and monitor ongoing factory compliance."

Beyond this, Mr. Araten would not comment.  He would not elaborate on the violations they had found at the Kai Da factory.  McClatchy newspapers observed (8/8/08) that: "Araten didn't respond to multiple requests for a follow-up interview.

However, other cracks began to appear.  While Mr. Araten was saying that his Chinese partner—Kai Da—has always met safety and labor standards set by the International Council of Toy Industries, a spokesperson for the ICTI said that in October 2007, the Kai Da factory was cited "for inaccurately recording workers' wages and hours." (McClatchy Newspapers, 8/8/08).  This, of course, is a euphemism for forcing workers to toil excessive overtime while cheating them of their wages.

Furthermore, after Sesame Street was briefed on the K'NEX findings—which could not have been good—a spokesperson for Sesame Street said they would conduct unannounced audits.

President Araten claims that "K'NEX only contracts with ICTI certified factories in China."  Given the significant labor rights problems at the Kai Da factory, it would be appropriate for K'NEX to release the names and addresses of their other contractors in China.

The International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI), which is based in New York City, also has an office in Hong Kong, which makes sense given that 75 to 80 percent of the world's toys are made in China by three million mostly young women toiling in 8000 toy factories.

The ICTI Code of Conduct has its weaknesses.  For example, when it is not otherwise prohibited by local labor laws, the ICTI see fit to have impoverished 14 year olds making factory toys for other children in the developed world.  Strikingly, the ICTI which receives funding from the U.S. State Department, also condones the use of prison labor to manufacture toys.   The use of prison labor is only unacceptable if" "the exportation of prison made goods (is) to countries that prohibit or restrict the importation of such goods."  China has a large prison industrial complex.

Also, in countries that do not restrict working hours, the ICTI sets the allowable standard at 66 hours per week.  Such a schedule would put the workers at a factory 80 hours a week, while toiling nine and a half hours a day, seven days a week.

The ICTI code of conduct also validates the international labor organization's core labor rights standards including freedom of association, the right to organize an independent union, and to collectively bargain.  To appease repressive governments, such as in China, the ICTI Code merely states: "all workers are entitled to freely exercise their rights of employee representation as provided by labor law."  China does not allow independent unions, or human, women's, or labor rights non-governmental organizations.

The ICTI code also sets 86 degrees Fahrenheit as an acceptable shop floor temperature, while stating that company dorms must "meet basic needs," with basic, or primitive, being the operative word.  Eight to ten workers typically share each dorm room in China, sleeping on narrow double-level metal bunk beds that line the walls.  The workers drape plastic over their cubicle openings for privacy.  There is no other furniture. Workers use small plastic buckets to wash.

At U.S. Senate hearings in October 25, 2007, Mr. Peter Eio, who was representing the International Council of Toy Industries, had to admit to Senator Byron Dorgan that the ICTI Code and monitoring is still a work in progress and has a long way to go before the American people can trust that an ICTI certified factory is not, in fact, a sweatshop.     The case in point was an NLC report, "Toys of Misery," which exposed the Xin Yi Plastics factory in China—producing Barbie and other Mattel toys—to be a sweatshop with 95 percent of the workers hired as temps, working 66 to 70 hours a week, while being cheated of 20 percent of the wages legally due them and who could be fired for having an inattentive attitude, falling behind in their production goals, or speaking during work hours.   Workers were routinely cursed and yelled at. 

Toys of Misery report—2007.

Ernie Toy Made in Chinese Sweatshop-July 2008

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