Behind the Holiday Season

Demand in the west strains supply of labor in China

Sales during the holiday season were the highest in six years as reported by Reuters, with a rise of 5.1 percent amounting over $850 billion.

According to Marketplace, 90 percent of sales from imported holiday decorations come from China, and with increased demand comes increased pressure on supply of labor.

Yiwu, sometimes referred to as China’s Christmas village, is located south of Shanghai and is home to about 600 factories. These factories are responsible for the production of nearly two thirds of the world’s Christmas decorations. According to The Telegraph, factories in Yiwu produced roughly $5 billion retail of Christmas related products this year.

Thousands of migrant laborers from rural China work in these factories, some as young as 15. Despite Chinese labor laws allowing a maximum of 36 overtime hours a month, the average factory worker actually works 88 hours overtime.

Mark Robertson, foundation director of communications for the International Council of Toy Industries, told The Guardian, “The reality is, across the board, most factories, or the vast majority at least, work way beyond legal limits in China, and legal limits are almost universally ignored. Our position is, we want transparency. We want to know how many hours are worked in the factories, so we can make sure workers are paid for every minute they work.”

However, workers are not always paid in hourly increments, sometimes being paid in what essentially amounts to commission based on how many products they make in a day. At Chang’an Toy factory, 4,200 people are working more than 100 hours a month with a base wage of $1.37 an hour.

China Labor Watch, a non-profit organization dedicated to reforming the labor policies in China, conducted a recent follow-up to their 2016 investigation when they discovered Barbie, Thomas the Tank Engine and Hot Wheels toys were being made by factory workers who earned as little as 0.031 percent of the market value. The workers, many of them migrants supporting families back home, also typically live in shared dormitories, working 12 hours a day, six days a week.
“We can’t tolerate that children’s dreams are based on workers’ nightmares, and we must fight against the unfair oppression of workers who manufacture toys,” Founder and Executive Director of China Labor Watch Li Qiang told The Guardian.