SCMP Saturday, September 9, 2000


Cover-up claim over McDonald's toy factory

MARTIN WONG

Labour activists have claimed there has been a cover-up over child labour at a Shenzhen factory making toys for McDonald's, despite production being halted.
In a statement issued from its US headquarters early yesterday, the food giant and its supplier - Simon Marketing - announced that following a four-day audit it would cut ties with City Toys, which operates a factory at Shajing in Shenzhen.
The audit was sparked by a Sunday Morning Post report on August 27 that revealed children as young as 14 were working more than 16 hours a day for 1.5 yuan an hour. They were required to work seven days a week in the factory - a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Pleasure Tech Holdings.
The auditing team from four international, independent monitoring firms found certain violations of the code of conduct for suppliers adopted by McDonald's and Simon Marketing, including incomplete employment records. It also found other infringements, such as lack of adequate workers' rights postings, insufficient training and poor lighting. However, it denied there were underage workers, saying it carried out 500 face-to-face interviews with workers in the facility.
But the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee said last night that there had been child workers there. "Fact is fact. McDonald's should not disavow it," it said. The group said it revisited City Toys and affiliated factories nearby four days after the Post's disclosure of child labour. "According to workers in those plants, we know that several inspection teams came. The inspectors asked all workers to show their ID cards. Then the factory immediately sacked several hundred workers," Alice Kwan Ming-wai, a researcher for the group, said.
Ms Kwan said the workers told them they saw child labourers locked in warehouses and toilets to escape investigation. "Even worse, the workers were warned not to mention bad things about the working and living conditions in the plants. They were trained to answer the inspectors properly.
"The so-called independent monitoring is totally incredible and the report [not to be trusted]," she said. Monina Wong, another of the group's researchers, said the incident showed the fast-food chain's inspection was inadequate.
Apo Leong, executive director of Asia Monitor Resource Centre, accused McDonald's of only caring about its public image. "It always claims itself as a good boss. But once there is any scandal, like this time, they pretend nothing has happened. It cannot do that. It has responsibility."
The Christian Industrial Committee said McDonald's should apologise to the workers and take care of their benefits, including for workers dismissed. It said it had more revelations to make today.
McDonald's in Hong Kong said it would forward questions about the audit to its US headquarters. These had not been answered last night.