Harmless, Barbie dolls are not. They are, in fact, responsible for exploitation, misery, and even death for thousands of innocents. According to the human rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), a Sturdy Products factory in Shenzhen, China, that makes Barbie dolls uses child labour and forces its staff to do three times the amount of overtime allowed by law. One worker reportedly killed herself after being repeatedly shouted at by bosses while others expressed concern about poisonous chemicals.
SACOM, which helped expose abuses in Apple's Foxconn plant in China earlier this year, recently assisted in an undercover investigation of the Sturdy Products factory. Barbie dolls are one of the products made for the giant Mattel company which last
month announced quarterly profits of $76 million. The factory also makes toys for Disney and Walmart.
Disney, Walmart and Mattel all said they had carried out investigations. Mattel declined to comment directly on any of the allegations other than to say it was "deeply saddened" by the suicide. We must hope the investigations bring some relief to the workers, but a spokeswoman for SACOM is not optimistic. She observed, "Mattel, Walmart and Disney ... always claim they strictly comply with local laws and adhere
to their respective code of conduct. The rampant violations at Sturdy
Products, including excessive overtime, arbitrary wages, unfair punitive
fines, child labour and negligence of occupational health, prove that
the pledges are empty statements. There is no effective enforcement
mechanism and remedies for workers at all."
Her words were underlined by Sturdy Products record. An investigation in 2007
uncovered similar problems. It found that employees were working up to 288 hours a month with a compulsory seven-day week during peak
periods, and the company was failing to pay the minimum wage. Nothing, it seems, has changed.
This exploitation of Chinese workers is the essence of globalization as our governments have created it—providing cheap labour for corporations at almost any cost. It is upon this altar that the welfare of Western workers, too, is being sacrificed.