A Hong Kong-based NGO staged a demonstration at Disney’s offices in Kwun Tong Tuesday morning to bring attention to labour conditions in Disney’s Chinese supplier factories.

Around 15 people attended, sticking photos of workers’ injuries onto the office doors, according to Sophie Chen from Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM). They also left a copy of their report and are planning to send a petition to Jim Leung, Disney’s Asia Pacific regional director for International Labour Standards.

SACOM members protest outside Disney’s offices in Kwun Tong. Photo: SACOM.

“We think that it’s important to stick all the crushed fingers, all the bloody photos in front of them, to let them see that it’s happening in reality in China, inside their own factories,” Chen told HKFP.

Poor working conditions

Despite changes made since a 2005 report, Disney is still failing to protect workers in its Chinese supplier factories from injuries and poor working conditions, an investigative report by the NGO said.

The investigation of eight of Disney’s Chinese suppliers’ factories from July 2015 to February 2016 found that workers endure long hours, meagre wages, work injuries with no proper compensation, forced overtime, sham unions and lack of labour contracts.

SACOM members protest outside Disney’s offices in Kwun Tong. Photo: SACOM.

Since SACOM’s earlier report on Disney suppliers’ working conditions in 2005, Disney has introduced some changes into the factories and made their list of suppliers public, said the report. However, Disney’s corporate social responsibility system has failed to protect the workers.

“We’re so disappointed that ten years have passed and we still find other factory workers that suffer from high occurrence of work injuries,” Chen told HKFP.

“In short, Disney fails to: disclose all information regarding its suppliers to its customers and the public; monitor its suppliers and ensure that they follow local labour legislation to protect workers’ fundamental rights; and publicise and implement its code of conduct,” said the report.

Although Disney has an audit system in place, it is ineffective because factories were notified ahead of time, according to the report. Before audits, workers were told to watch their mouths. “Once auditors are coming, they make a list to tell us what we should not do or tell, we have to memorise the list and speak accordingly. It is exaggerated lying,” said one worker quoted in the report.

Workers at Disney’s Chinese factories. Photos: SACOM report.

“Knowing the time and subject of the audit, the factories were able to hide things in advance, and the genuine labour conditions could not be uncovered [sic],” the report said.

Workplace injuries, overtime & child labour

SACOM’s earlier report found frequent work injuries, with employees’ fingers cut off due to ageing equipment. The current report says workers are still at risk of injuries. In one factory visited by SACOM, a dozen injuries occurred within a month.

“Work injuries were actually caused by extremely long working hours required by the factory and insufficient pre-service training,” Chen said. “Most important of all, Disney didn’t monitor its suppliers to have regular checks of the machines that workers are using. Some of the worker’s fingers were crushed because a infrared ray detector malfunctioned.”

Besides workplace injuries, factories did not supply workers with adequate protection from dust, chemicals and noise.

A wall of Huiyi factory’s office building. Photo: SACOM report.

In one of the factories, new workers were only paid RMB 1000 per month (HK $1178) or below, according to a very low per piece rate. Only 1.3% to 3.1% of the market value of their products went to the workers, SACOM found. Some workers worked 144 hours of overtime per month. In one factory, workers were forced to work overtime by signing a “voluntary overtime” statement before they could start working.

The report also found that factories used student and child labour. A 15-year-old girl was employed in one factory, and another paid student workers below the legal minimum wage to save costs.

SACOM Disney report. Photo: SACOM.

SACOM, which has also campaigned against Uniqlo and Apple, interviewed workers in the factories and also had investigators take jobs undercover at Disney’s Chinese suppliers’ factories to put the report together. It called upon Disney to organise trade unions with democratically elected candidates, and allow the media and the public to monitor conditions at its suppliers, among other demands.

Disney has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.