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McDonald's employing child labour to produce toys

AFP, 17 August 2000

HONG KONG, Aug 27 (AFP)—Children as young as 14 were employed to make promotional toys for McDonald's in sweatshop conditions in southern China, according to local press reports.

At City Toys Ltd., at Shajing in the special economic zone of Shenzhen, youngsters worked 16-hour days, seven days a week, earning 1.5 renmenbiUS dollars) an hour to produce Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh and Hello Kitty toys for McDonald's, the South China Sunday Morning Post reported.

They slept on wooden beds without mattresses and shared a 200 to 300-square-foot (18 to 27-square-metre) room with 15 others, costing them 60 renmenbi a month.

While they had one to two days off a month, they could not leave the district where the factory was located because they could not afford the 350 renmenbi permit required for them to stay in Shenzhen.

Many youngsters at City Toys also worked under forged identity documents, the paper alleged.

Ma Bei, 16, from Guizhou, said she used her elder sister's identity when she joined the factory last year.

When my sister was younger, she also used our relative's ID when joining another firm, she said.

An Luping, 14, said she landed the job with the borrowed name of her 17-year-old village friend and a forged identity card.

My family is poor. It can't afford to keep four children, she said.

Youngsters's claim that the factory only carried out rudimentary checks on their identity cards.

McDonald's supplier Simon Marketing (Hong Kong) Ltd, which contracted City Toys' parent company to produce the toys, denied that underage children were employed or that checks on ID were rudimentary.

We have to go on the documents. It's not a wishy-washy process, it is thorough, spokeswoman Vivian Foo said.

The firm made regular audits and the last unannounced audit in May showed that City Toys had fully complied with McDonald's code of labour practice, she said.

McDonald's said in a statement it had no reason to believe that its supplier had breached its code of labour practice, which banned child labour.

City Toys director Jack Lau said he knew nothing about the underage workers, and would look into the matter.

When the Hong Kong-based labour union Christian Industrial Committee visited the firm early July, it found more than 160 children working their summer jobs there.

They ranged from 12 to 15-years old and all came from two schools in Gaozhou, Guangdong province, where the management had good connections.

Wang Hanhong, 12, told the committee investigators that his parents did not want him to work at the factory.

I cried and begged them to let me because I wanted to see the outside world. My family has three other children, but they are all studying. I want to earn some money to help my parents survive, he said.

The Christian Industrial Committee, which made several visits to City Toys over the past two months, estimated that it employed about 400 underaged workers, comprising of about 20 percent of its work force.

We believe the company knows they are underage as the girls look very young. We did see the fake IDs they showed us, and the pictures looked nothing like them, researcher Parry Leung said.

Anyone under the age of 16 is forbidden to work in China and the minimum wage for any worker working an eight-hour day, five days a week, was 419 renmenbi in 2000, according to Leung.