December 1, 2004  |  Share

Timberland in China

Read the NLC-CLW Joint letter to Timberland

Write to Timberland and Urge them to Respect Workers' Rights in China

This holiday season, when you purchase a pair of Timberland shoes, do you ever imagine child labor, beatings, forced overtime—with routine 14, 15 and 16-hour daily shifts, young women cheated on their wages, no health insurance, no paid maternity leave?  Do you imagine workers poisoned by rotten factory food; workers trapped in fear, knowing that if they dared even to question the illegal hours, wages and other violations they would be fired?

Timberland shoes are made at the Kingmaker Footwear Holdings factory in China.  What follows is a summary of factory conditions, based on a report by China Labor Watch, and what steps Timberland must take to end the systematic abuses.

Kingmaker Footwear Holdings Ltd.
Changle Industrial Zone
Nanlang Town, Zhongshan City
Guangdong Province.
  • Taiwanese-owned;
  • 4,700 employees (80 percent young women, 18 to 30 years old, but there are also child laborers);
  • Timberland accounts for the vast majority of production at the Kingmaker factory  (including children's and adults' shoes, sandals and slippers, model numbers 7233-08; 7233-05; 92301; 92306).

Illegal Factory Conditionswhich must be immediately addressed by Timberland:

1.) Illegal Child Labor:  The workers report that there are several children 14 and 15 years of age illegally employed in each of the various departments.

  • Timberland must not further punish these children by simply firing them.  These children should receive a stipend of one year's salary and paid transportation to return home to their families.  This way, they may have a chance to return to school.

2.) Constant pressure, curses, threats and even beatings:  There is constant pressure on the workers to speed up to meet excessive production goals.  Supervisors yell and harass the workers, calling them "pigs" and cursing their parents.

There are also physical beatings.  Just this December, a 20-year-old woman in the moulding department was severely beaten by a group leader, a man much bigger than she was.  At least one of her ribs was broken and she remains in the hospital.  To date, the company has refused to punish the group leader or even to pay the beaten woman's medical bills.

  • Timberland must conduct a thorough investigation immediately.  If these allegations prove true, the group leader must be fired and the woman must be reinstated to her former position with all back wages, her medical bills should be paid, and she should be given a compensation of at least three months' wages for having been beaten.

3.) Poisoned by Company Food:  In December, 50 workers from the stitching section alone suffered serious food poisoning after eating at the factory cafeteria.  Many workers were hospitalized.  Again, the factory will not even pay the stricken workers' medical bills.  It is believed that rotten bamboo shoots were the source of the poisoning.

In general, the workers report that the cafeteria food is of poor quality, tasteless and frequently unsafe, and that meat is very scarce.  For example, the menu for December 14 was coagulated pigs' blood, bamboo shoots (which were still black, even after cooking), cabbage and a tomato-egg soup—all poorly cooked.

Forty-four percent of the workers' base wage is deducted for room and board expenses.  Dorm conditions are also poor, with 16 workers sharing a single room, sleeping on metal army-like bunk-beds.  Hot water is only available in the dorms after 9:00 p.m..

  • Timberland must seriously attend to these questions of cafeteria food safety, hygiene and quality as well as improving dorm conditions.  Of course, the medical bills for the workers who suffered food poisoning must be paid.  The workers should also be compensated two months' wages for their suffering.

4.) No health insurance and no maternity benefits:  Apparently, in blatant violation of China's labor laws, the Timberland workers receive no health insurance, no paid maternity leave, no sick leave, no pensions, and no annual vacation.

  • Timberland must immediately correct these violations.

5.) Forced Illegal Overtime: Even during the slow season routine 14, 15, and 16-hour shifts are required. The workweek is Monday through Saturday, with a half day on Saturday, and Sunday off.

The standard shift is supposed to be from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., with a half hour break for lunch and an hour for supper. However, everyone must report to their work stations at 7:00 a.m. each morning on order to clean the factory, for which they are not paid. During rush order the workers are required to work though at least one half of their lunch break, which is also unpaid. On Friday evenings the shift often ends at 10:00 p.m. On Saturday the standard shift is 4.5 hours.

Under this schedule workers are at the factory 75.5 hours a week, while they are paid for just 60 hours. So even during the slow season, Timberland workers are being forced to work 20 to 23 hours of overtime a week.  This is clearly illegal under China's labor law, which mandates that there be no more than nine hours of overtime in a week.

During the peak season, which usually begins in April or May and lasts five or six months, the situation is much worse.  The standard shift is now 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., often seven days a week. Workers report getting one day off every other week under this schedule.  At the extreme, workers could be at the factory over 105 hours a week, while being obligated to work 91 or more hours.  This would exceed the legal limits on weekly overtime by over 40 hours!

As part of the scam carried out by factory management, workers are prohibited from punching in on their time cards on Saturdays and Sundays. 

  • It is very clear that excessive and illegal mandatory overtime is routine at the Kingmaker factory, and Timberland must address and correct serious labor law violations immediately.   All overtime should be voluntary and not exceed the legal limits of three hours per day and nine hours per week.  Also, in correcting these overtime violations, there must be no reduction in the already-below-subsistence wages the workers are receiving.

6.) Workers are paid just 55 cents for every pair of Timberland shoes they make:

Workers in the cutting, stitching and moulding departments, based on their actual daily wages and mandatory production goals, calculate that the total direct labor cost involved in making a pair of Timberland shoes is just 55 cents per pair!

Surely it would be very possible for Timberland to double these workers' wages with very little impact on company profit margins.

No worker understands how the factory calculates their wages, but everyone agrees that they are being cheated, and shortchanged on the legal overtime pay due them.  The base wage at the factory is 450 rmb per month, or just 31 cents an hour.

Also, there are many deductions, such as the 196 rmb per month deduction for room and board.  Illegally, one month's back wage is withheld by the factory, which a worker forfeits if they choose to leave.  There are other deductions for a temporary residency permit, and deposits of 60 to 120 rmb withheld for stitching accessories.  There are various fines imposed, for example, a worker requesting a day off will have two or more day's wages docked.

After all the deductions and fines, the actual take-home wage for these Timberland workers, even including overtime work, can be as little as 19 to 24 cents an hour.

  • Timberland must immediately account for and properly pay all overtime hours worked.  The standard practice of requiring work off the clock must be terminated once and for all.  The illegal withholding of one month's back wages from each worker must be ended and those wages paid to them.  The systematic arbitrary fines and punishments and the withholding of deposits for stitching accessories must end.

7.) Timberland willingly participates in this illegal scam and cover-up:  Timberland has a full-time representative at the Kingmaker factory.  How is it that Timberland's representative cannot see the children, the forced overtime, the shortchanging on wages, the beatings, fines, incidents of food poisoning, the seven-day peak season work weeks, and so on?

The Timberland workers have no rights.  They work and live in a state of fear.  Timberland obviously encouraged Kingmaker management to put up a "Suggestion Box" on the shop floor, open to workers' feedback and complaints.  However, every worker will tell you that if they actually dared to raise the issue of being cheated of overtime hours and pay, they would be fired immediately.

  • Timberland must fire its representatives stationed at the Kingmaker factory as a sign that Timberland will no longer tolerate worker rights abuses, and that the scam and cover-up is now over.

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