Human Rights for Workers: Special Campaigns

'Our Children Don't Need Blood-Stained Toys'

About 30 worker activists from 10 countries met in Hong Kong for two days in January [1996] to adopt an action program to help the hundreds of thousands of young women workers exploited by the toy industry of Southern China. The theme of their international campaign: "Our Children Don't Need Blood-Stained Toys." Reproduced below is a graphic that illustrates that theme, followed by the full text of the statement adopted, as well as a proposed code of conduct for the industry. For a summary of a report on toy workers issued by the Coalition, see the first item in the Bulletin of February 23.
We, labor organizations, union representatives, women's organizations, victims of industrial accidents, and support groups, came together to share, exchange information, and to strategise and make future plans for our international campaign to ensure toy workers' health and safety. Countries represented were Bangladesh, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

 Many industrializing countries are opening up their economies to the global market. In order to attract investment, governments in industrializing countries provide all kinds of structural and financial incentives to multinational corporations (MNCs). These include low taxes, a source of cheap labor, few legal restrictions, and others. MNCs welcome this move as profits would rise with the lowering of production costs. Thus, in order to attract more MNCs to invest, many industrializing countries lower wages, and deny basic rights of workers by allowing exploitative and dangerous work conditions to exist. Child labor, industrial accidents and occupational diseases are the common phenomena in many industrializing countries.

 In the Zhili toy factory, Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, China, 87 workers died in a fire in 1993. Exits in the factories were locked, trapping workers who choked to death. This and the Thailand Kader factory fire tragedy, where 188 workers died, are not accidents but the direct consequences of the government and employers' disregard of workers basic rights. The main victims of these fire disasters were women, who are the majority of workers in export processing zones (EPZs).

 These disasters aroused international concern on the workers' health and safety in toy factories. In Hong Kong, a coalition was formed in 1993, and a Charter on the Safe Production of Toys was drafted. This Charter [see text below] outlines eleven demands which ensure the protection of the rights of toy workers. In the past two years, the Hong Kong coalition has promoted the charter to the public, and bargained with the Hong Kong Toys Council, an interest group for toy manufacturers and dealers, to adopt the Charter. Similar actions were taken in North America, Europe, Japan and New Zealand.

 However, the governments and employers refuse to meet the demands of workers and labor organizations. In Hong Kong, the Toys Council refused to adopt the Charter. The Charter has not been adopted in Europe either. In the face of resistance, workers and concerned groups all over the world have united to strategise one common campaign. Hence the reason for this meeting in Hong Kong. In France, Italy, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Canada, campaigns have been initiated to inform and raise public awareness, and to demand for government and employer responsibility in ensuring workers' human rights. While much media attention has been generated, commitment by the parties concerned to protect toy workers' rights has been shortcoming. If this continues, we will not hesitate to wage a campaign to boycott blood stained toys.

 We will not give up until workers' rights to occupational health and safety, and other basic human rights, are protected by laws and regulation which are properly enforced.

 Therefore, we demand:

  1. that the toy industry ratify the Charter on the Safe Production of Toys.
  2. that an independent monitoring system/committee, composed of organizations which express workers' rights/interests, is institutionalized to ensure the implementation of the Charter.
We are all committed towards working for these ends:
  1. the setting up of an international coordinating committee to coordinate the international toys campaign, and to monitor the ratification of the Charter.
  2. the continuation of demands on the Thai and Chinese governments and multinational corporations, such as Chicco (the Italian company whose toys were produced in the Zhili factory), to compensate victims of the Kader and Zhili toy factories fire disasters.
  3. to wage a boycott campaign of particular toy brand names if its producer refuses to sign the charter.
  4. the abolishing of child labor in the production of toys according to Convention 138 of the ILO.
  5. the setting up of a taskforce to coordinate the gathering and exchange of information, plans and strategies.
  6. the establishment of independent trade unions; and to raise consumer awareness
After our sharing and exchange of information in this international meeting, we are committed towards one common goal in our respective toys campaign: to ensure that the toy industry ratify the Charter on the Safe Production of Toys. In order to face the challenge of globalization, groups and individuals working for workers' interests must strengthen their networking links. Governments must protect their workers through legislation and policy enforcement. Multinational corporations must adopt the Charter to ensure the basic human rights for their workers.

Contact person for the Coalition for the Safe Production of Toys:
Chan Ka Wai
Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee
3/F, 57 Peking Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: 2366 5860/5965; Fax: 2724 5098

[The Bear Is Crying]

Charter to Protect the Lives and Limbs of Toy Workers

The Hong Kong Coalition has made a specific recommendation on the issues that should be covered in the proposed Charter. Here is the text of its proposal.
We demand that the following be included in the Charter:
  1. Factories must have adequate fire exits and fire prevention facilities.
  2. Dormitories, warehouses, and workshops must be located in separate buildings.
  3. Adequate facilities for safe production must be provided to ensure a safe workplace for workers.
  4. Manufacturers must implement international labor standards and local laws on industrial safety and fire prevention.
  5. In cases where the use of chemical substances is necessary, international safety regulations must be adopted, including ensuring a safe working environment, individual production facilitities, standard production facilities (i.e., air ventilation systems), and a safe process of disposal of the chemicals used. Furthermore, chemical containers should be clearly labeled to indicate the substance and its toxicity. In addition, workers should undergo regular physical examinations as well as safety and health education.
  6. Overtime damanges workers' health and violates their rights to rest. The normal daily working hours must not be longer than eight hours, and at least one day of rest must be provided each week.
  7. No child workers are used.
  8. Dormitories must not be overcrowded, and meals provided by factories must contain adequate nutritional value.
  9. No physical harassment or any form of psychological or physical oppressions of workers are tolerated.
  10. There must be no restriction on workers' efforts to organize trade unions. Workers must be allowed to enjoy the right to bargain collectively, and trade unions must be allowed to have the right to investigate and to monitor the safety of the factories.
  11. Manufacturers shall inform their workers of the national labor law provisions and local implementation of regulations.


What You Can Do

Because of the international character of the industry, the opportunities for consciousness-raising are enormous. Here are some examples of things you could do, compiled by the editor of Human Rights for Workers. Please submit your ideas for enlarging this list.
Contact person for the Coalition for the Safe Production of Toys:
Chan Ka Wai
Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee
3/F, 57 Peking Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: 2366 5860/5965; Fax: 2724 5098 

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