Mattel and Disney under pressure again for Human and Labour rights violation

According to a resent study done by Sacom is the toys produced by Disney and Mattel who also make the Barbie dolls produced under poor working conditions. This is not the first time that Mattel in specific have been under scrutiny on their ethics.

A Chinese factory that produces, among other Disney characters, Fisher Price toys, Barbie dolls, have been accused of using child labor, toxic chemicals and to push employees to illegal overtime.

These claims have been put forward by the Hong Kong-based human rights organization Sacom who has studied the working conditions at the factory Sturdy Products.

The factory, located in Shenzhen city, has more than 6,000 people on the payroll, and according to the survey, employees were among other things pressured to work 120 hours extra a month.

In addition, they must work for a salary far below minimum wage, and earlier this year one of the employees, a 45-year-old woman, committed suicide after several supervisors had yelled at her.

Among the accusations that is made by Sacom are:

■ The employment of a 14-year-old. Staff also reported the presence of other child workers, according to the investigator.

■ Routine excessive overtime. Employees produced a “voluntary” document they said they had to sign agreeing to work beyond the maximum overtime legal limit of 36 hours a month, along with wage slips that suggested they were averaging 120 hours of overtime a month.

■ A harsh working environment in which workers complained of mistreatment by management. One worker injured on the production line was shouted at and ordered back to work despite needing medical treatment.

■ Concerns about the chemicals in use and poor ventilation. Employees claimed three workers had fallen ill. They said they had to hide pots of adhesive and thinners during audits of the factory by its client companies.

■ They also claimed that they were paid by the factory to give misleading answers during audits and that they were fined for failing to hit targets. The calculation of wages for different workers was described by Sacom as arbitrary.

Disney and Wall Mart are prone to take action

As this is not the first time that the big retailers Mattel and Wal-Mart is under pressure to get more control over their supply chain.

“We take reports like this very seriously and we will implement a corrective action plan if our investigations confirm any of the findings,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Megan Murphy told the South China Morning Post

“As soon as we learned of the suicide at the Sturdy Products Factory, we immediately launched an investigation.”

According to the Human rights group was Wal-Mart also in contact with the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI), a trade association that certifies legal compliance and decent working conditions in toy factories worldwide, which was pursuing a separate investigation.

Winson, who owns Sturdy Products, According to The Guardian newspaper declined to comment on the new report from Sacom. But the study has however shaken Disney Group, and supermarket chain Walmart, which sells some of the products being produced at the factory.

Disney said in a statement that they “always take cases dealing with licensees and business partners very seriously” and that the group, will now “evaluate the situation” from the information they have available. Wall Mart, which has more than 8,500 giant stores around the world have decided to, launched an independent investigation of working conditions.

This and other instances where factories in China or some of the other market in Asia have been monitored using different types of codes just shows the limits of what these can do for business when it comes down to running the everyday business. Big companies in the developed world can implement and make supply chain partners sign as many Codes of Conduct or Ethics as they want to if it is not followed by real action it will mount to little more than window-dressing.

Dynamic CSR Reporting the future of stakeholder engagement – Introducing the CSR Sustainability Index

Here is an idea… What if we reported on the ability of organisations as a Corporate Citizen Live? Corporations are already evaluated on a minute-by-minute basis through the stock market so why not transfer this basic idea to the realm of CSR and Sustainability.

The idea would be to have a series of indicators on which a corporation can be evaluated through social media and other ways of interacting with their stakeholders. Some areas would have a lot of activity while others would only be changed on a weekly or monthly basis. Just like volatility on the stock market which looks at how much a certain stock is traded the indicator for sustainability would only change when somebody evaluate or leaves a comment.

Like the Flameindex that looks at poor or critical media coverage the CSR Sustainability index would look into how certain companies did on a overall sustainability agenda. But it would incorporate an extra layer which would cover the individual areas of some of the well knows measurements of sustainability and governance.

My suggestion would be to monitor individual companies on several social media channels, coupled with the company’s own PR communication, NGO reporting, College and University Students reports analysis and professional analysts evaluation of corporate performance. The idea is to cover as many of the organisational stakeholders as possible while at the same time creating an easy point of access for further analysis and investigation.

For example, if a Professional analyst raises a red flag in the area of governance in a company a further investigation by other stakeholders might uncover problems in the area of labour law and corruption within the same company. The problem area would not have been uncovered if there had not been a red flag warning in the first place in a area normally not covered in conventional sustainability reporting.

On the other hand if a company had a best practice on how to combat child labour in their supply chain this knowledge could be flagged and other organisations could learn and adapt this knowledge to their own operational practices.

The platform would of cause be web-based providing live data on the largest companies in the world who are also the most exposed to global sustainability issues. Using the Global Compact as a starting point it would be the ten guiding principles that would form the basis of the index.

Human Rights

Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.

Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

(These principles could be monitored through tapping into local/global news channels were the company is active, monitoring local NGO activity, Whistleblowing on social media and own corporate reporting.)


Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;

Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;

Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and

Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

(Labour unions could be provided with an excellent channel for reporting abuses they cant communicate through the corporate pipeline but would like to have attention on. The CSR Sustainability index would provide an up to date indicator on how the company performed right now so that action can be taken in order to remedy the issue. Under normal circumstances it could take weeks, months or even years before an issue makes the media. But though the index it would be possible to raise awareness a lot faster just because it is linked to so many other channels of communication and organised in a way that makes it possible to get a fast overview of issues of concern.)


Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;

Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and

Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

(Environmental reporting has been around for many years and there are several channels, which can provide information on corporate environmental performance. There is of cause the organisations own reporting, which will be important, but this information should be seen in the light of what NGO say, municipalities, news channels and whistleblowers have to say. This would create a reasonable way of evaluating a company environmental impact and if that how this measures up against the expectations of its stakeholders. In many cases we tend to look upon environmental issues disconnected from the specific industry meaning that we look upon the carbon emissions of a clothing manufacturing company measure up against a producer of computer components, but who says that this is a important factor for the stakeholders? So, the reporting should of cause reflect the expectations of the people who have the most interest in the performance of the organisation and not some universal agreed standard that tells one close to nothing.)


Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.

(One of the least transparent areas of the Global Compact and the one in my mind with the most potential. While the issue of corruption is less salient in the developed world it is a problem that affects all companies who work in an international context. The problems that corporations faced are backed by the resent publish annual report by transparency international that documents the impact of corrupt behaviour. As Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International states, “During 2010 we continued to see the terrible cost of corruption. Sixty-four million more people were pushed into poverty since the financial crisis struck, according to the World Bank. Such tragedies make us ever more resolved to make a difference through our work.”. But as we all know these things are interconnected and one cannot look upon corruption without also taking into account, at least at some level, human and labour rights, environmental issues and not least education and gender. So the complexity of anti-corruption is difficult to comprehend and get a real overview of without some kind of systematic approach with the CSR sustainability Index such a platform would be provided at least in the form of information that can feed more in-depth investigations.

A think a unifying approach is appealing as I for one have a difficult time finding out what is PR, Spin and lobbyism from all the channels out there wanting my attention. I think it would also be appealing as It would provide a more “true” picture of who is really the leaders on the “goodness” market and how is just good at talking about how good they are. How would not be voted the best when some of your worst critics is on the voting panel?