Stop. If that irresistible playthingy you're buying junior for Christmas has a "made in China" label -- or a label from any other country in Asia -- chances are it came from a sweatshop specializing in child labour. And which companies are these toys being made for? The biggest names in the biz.
A TOY PRIMER
Amount spent each year in Canada on toys: more than $1.5 billion
Percentage of all toys sold in Canada that are made in China: more than 60
Average age of a worker in a typical Asian toy factory: between 12 and 15
Chances that toys sold in Canada are made in factories that exploit workers: better than 50-50
Toy companies linked by human rights groups to sweatshops in Asia: Mattel, Disney, Hasbro, Irwin
TOIL AND TROUBLE
Typical wage of workers in Asian toy factories: from as little as 6 cents an hour up to $2.40 (U.S.) a day
Typical number of hours worked in a day during busy periods: up to 19
Typical number of days worked per week: 6
HEALTH AND SAFETY
What human rights groups have uncovered about working conditions:
Toy factory workers suffer long-term and potentially fatal health problems from exposure to toxic chemicals.
Workers aren't compensated for serious injuries sustained on the job.
Workers are docked pay for minor transgressions like going to the bathroom without permission.
WHY THE PROBLEMS PERSIST
Factory owners in Asia are willing to do almost anything to undercut their competition, including exploiting their workers, to win lucrative contracts from toy companies in North America.
Trade unions and collective bargaining are illegal in China and frowned upon in most other Asian countries.
WHAT TOY COMPANIES HAVE DONE TO RESPOND TO CRITICISMS
Adopted codes of conduct that prohibit the use of child labour in factories they sign agreements with to make their toys.
WHY HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS SAY IT'S NOT ENOUGH
Reviews of factory conditions are not conducted by third-party monitors.
Factories are warned beforehand about reviews.
Workers in monitored plants are generally reluctant to speak out about abuses for fear of losing their jobs.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN CANADA
The Canadian Labour Congress, BC Federation of Labour and NDP are encouraging the feds to write basic labour protections into trade deals signed with other countries.
What NDP trade critic Pat Martin says:
"We've been running into a stone wall. There's been goodwill articulated (by toy companies), but it's all voluntary compliance, and really... their motivation is a mile wide and an inch deep."
What Foreign Affairs says:
"Canada is a middle power. It only has limited power in what it can and can't do vis à vis other countries." Mia Yen, spokesperson
What Mattel says:
"We're probably the most transparent consumer products company out there. (But) we don't allow outside organizations to come into our factories at any time, just because of the proprietary nature. First and foremost we're a business." Lisa Marie Bongiovanni, director of corporate communications
What Disney says:
"We require companies we do business with to sign a code of conduct. Our goal is universal compliance. (But) every country has a different culture and expectations and things they don't see as being against their rules. It's not as cut-and-dried as 'Why not?'" Sandra Haley, spokesperson
What Irwin says:
"Irwin strives to market and manufacture products with great care, keeping in mind our ultimate end user, children. It is absolutely critical to our business and our ethical standards." Cyndi Henderson, spokesperson, via e-mail
What Hasbro says:
"The conditions under which our products are manufactured have been a matter of serious and long-term concern to Hasbro. If there was a problem, we would not walk away from factories we work with. We prefer to correct any issues that may be present." Wayne Charness, senior vice-president, via e-mail.
Sources: Maquila Solidarity Network, Asia Monitor Resource Centre, Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, Oxfam, The Secret Life Of Toys, by Sarah Cox