Human rights groups accuse China supplier of Disney products of worker abuses as Shanghai theme park opens

An actor dressed as Mickey Mouse performing on June 8 at Shanghai Disneyland ahead of the theme park's official opening.
An actor dressed as Mickey Mouse performing on June 8 at Shanghai Disneyland ahead of the theme park's official opening.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SHANGHAI (Bloomberg) - Two rights groups have released reports that allege poor working conditions at Chinese suppliers making toys and accessories licensed by Walt Disney Co., as the world's largest entertainment company faces heightened scrutiny days before its first theme park in mainland China opens.

China Labour Watch and the Hong Kong-based Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) said they found employees who worked extended overtime with low pay and inadequate healthcare at suppliers to multinational companies that include the Burbank, California-based Disney. Both reports called on Disney, which debuts its Shanghai Disneyland park on Thursday (June 16), to improve conditions at factories manufacturing Disney products.

"We take seriously claims of labour standards violations against the independent facilities producing Disney-branded products," Disney said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday. "It is our practice to thoroughly investigate those allegations and assist facilities in remediation efforts and comply with local regulations."

In an open letter posted on the New York-based China Labor Watch's website, its founder and executive director Li Qiang said the manufacturing of Disney toys in China "is a process of oppressing Chinese workers".

SACOM held a 30-minute protest at a Disney office in Hong Kong's Kowloon district, where about 20 of its members shouted slogans and waved placards that urged responsibility for worker's welfare.

The organisations said they investigated 10 factories in total, mostly in the southern Guangdong province.

Some manufactured Disney merchandise such as hair clips with images from the movie Frozen and Snow White backpacks.

When contacted, four of the named factories said they could not immediately respond. Six of the factories named by the reports are listed as authorised Disney-product manufacturers, according to the media giant.

Investigators for SACOM and China Labor Watch allege workers were given almost no rest and worked over 10 hours a day while sometimes being paid 8.68 yuan (S$1.78) an hour.

They lived in poor conditions and lacked safety equipment to protect them against toxic chemicals, said the reports.

The SACOM report also said old equipment and worker-fatigue caused workplace accidents.