Another month, another insight into the criminal activities relentlessly conducted by our most-loved companies! This Month we might break a few hearts with this one, so I apologise in advance for this.
At the same time, it is crucial that we know what the companies that we love are complicit in, and should feel evermore compelled to make ourselves, and others, aware of what is happening.
So without further ado, here’s our exposé on……..
WALT FRIKKING DISNEYYYYYYYYYY.
The people who pretty much made our childhoods.
I can’t lie, I always feel conflicting feels when I reminisce and become nostalgic over Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahantas (when I rewatched it years later and saw she fell in love with her coloniser I was like nah), and Mulan, as I’ve always been somewhat aware that Disney was complicit in some dark stuff, I just wasn’t completely sure what. The conflicting feels return whenever I see a Disney store, where it looks all magical and shit. But it is these precise feels, where we feel conflicted between our morals and our desires that we need to utilise to challenge Disney, and let them know that as consumers of their media and their products, we aren’t afraid to stand up against any unethical practices. In fact we are more obliged to call it out.
As expected, Walt Disney are BALLING. In 2016, the Walt Disney Company held assets worth a total of over $92bn. In the same year, they generated global revenue of £55.63bn, marking their highest figure to date. In fact, Disney comes in at second among the biggest media conglomerates. The focus of the article will be regarding the manufacture of their consumer products, which in 2016, resulted in $1.7bn earned from consumer products in retail and other sales, and $3.82bn from giving licensing and publishing permission to people wanting to use their brand.
With a mission to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment, it’s an absolute shame a large part of their success is dependent on the exploitation of people in the Global South. Anyways, lets get onto it then. Here’s why Mickey ain’t that fine.
Tazreen Factory Fire
On 24 November 2012, a factory fire in the Tazreen Factory in Bangladesh killed 112 people. Survivors spoke of how the exit doors were locked and as a result, many were burned alive from being trapped inside, while over a hundred workers were injured jumping from the windows, causing injuries that have left them in constant agony.
At least four register books listed Disney as one of the buyers from this factory. Indeed, among the clothes found in the rubble, Disney themed children’s clothes were found.
However, Disney explained that Tazreen was not actually a supplier they had authorised to produce their products, but that these clothes had been made for Walmart at a different factory, and were left at Tazreen for storage without Walmart or Disney’s permission. Therefore, they are supposedly innocent
What is crazy, is the length of this explanation given by Disney to wipe their hands clean of any responsibility, just to avoid paying compensation to the families and victims of the fire. Scroll up again and see how much these lot earn. It’s pathetic tbh.
Avoiding Responsibility (again)
After the collapse of the eight story garment factory Rana Plaza where 1,138 garment workers were killed, Disney stopped the production of its clothes in Bangladesh, and agreed to end production in other areas where they believed working conditions were not suitable, including Ecuador, Venezuela, Belarus, and Pakistan. Disney stated that they would consider permitting production in Bangladesh again, as long they agreed to partner with the Better Work Program (a programme which aims to improve labour standards in garment industry).
Liana Foxvog and Judy Gearhart of the International Labor Rights Forum explain that this was a terrible decision, as it only validated and justified the practice of factory owners hiding their problems from brands, in fear of them stopping production and taking their business elsewhere. This therefore prevents any actual improvements to factories.
Conditions in Factories in China
These findings are based on research conducted by China Labour Watch (CLW), who in 2016, underwent an investigation of a number of factories supplying toys for Disney, and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), who between 2015-2016, conducted an investigation of factories supplying Disney. Here is what they found:
Long working hours: According to the law, workers should not work over 8 hours a day- however this can be increased under certain circumstances, with overtime hours limited to 36hrs a month. However, CLW found that workers were working 11hour days, with more than 50hrs overtime, reaching 100hrs in half of the factories. In one factory, it was also found that when workers were having lunch, the automated machine on the production line they were working on wouldn’t stop. This meant workers were required to finish lunch quickly in order to deal with the piled up backlog of products.
In SACOM’s investigation, it was found that workers worked an average of 10hrs a day with one rest day per week, and in three other factories they received two rest days each month during peak season. Some workers worked 144hrs of overtime per month, but weren’t even paid overtime wages. These long working hours only made workers more prone to injuries due to weariness. One worker explained:
“I can hardly walk after work. I stand 12 hours at work and even a day at work makes me really tired.”
Another issue was how hard it is to apply for leave, as workers would be punished if they applied for leave or were absent from work. E.g. in one factory, if a worker was absent for a day, the factory would deduct three days from his/her wages.
High production targets: To meet deadlines, many workers would work ’til midnight or even 1am, with employers refusing to let workers leave until all goods were ready. During peak season they often worked till the morning. In the toy factories, workers were barely given time to rest, in order to meet their targets. In fact, during the 11hr working day, they would only be given a 40-60minute lunch break.
Lack of safety precautions: SACOM found extremely dangerous working conditions in the factories they investigated. For example, in a metal department in one of the factories, workers reported that work injuries took place every month, sometimes four or five in a month. one worker explained injuries he had witnessed:
“In July, a worker from Guangxi Province was hit by production materials weighing over 100kg at the chest; a worker got hit at his leg, a whole arm of a worker got trapped in a machine and another worker lost four fingers at work.”
These injuries are ignored by the factories, as workers are left to handle themselves.
Another worker explained how he had lost one segment of a finger in each hand. As he was covered by work injury insurance, the factory was required to pay for his medical expenses, food allowance, and rehabilitation fees, but the employer had been cutting his entitled benefits. For example, the allowance they gave him was not enough, as the hospital was in an expensive neighbourhood, and he also struggled with the costs of transportation to visit the hospital and buying medicine.
“Shit! They are so inhuman! Such a big factory and yet so stingy with this kind of minor expenses, they should at least think about humanity!”
The fact that these workers are given insufficient training and equipment makes them prone to injuries such as this.
Indeed, this has also led to accidents involving harmful chemicals, as the researchers found that despite the risks some of the chemicals posed, workers were not informed, nor were they given training or protective gear. For example, in some of the factories, paint containing toulene was used, which irritates the throat, lungs, eyes and skin, and can lead to headaches, dizziness and other symptoms. Long-term inhalation can lead to permanent damage to the nervous system. As the factories had not installed adequate ventilation systems, workers were left with prolonged exposure to toluene in a confined space, leaving many feeling unwell. Basic face masks were given but they did little to block out fumes.
Similarly in the toy factories, CLW found that there were no instructions for workers working with toxic materials, as well as a lack of protective gear. For example, the toxic liquid banana oil was widely used, which, under direct exposure, can make the skin chapped and cause eyes and mucosa membrane irritation. If it is inhaled in high concentrations, it can impair the lungs and central nervous system. In one factory it was estimated that workers were exposed to a poisonous environment for more than two hours a day.
Lack of unionisation: Among the factories studied by SACOM, only 3/8 claimed to have trade unions. However, these unions were not representative of workers, as their executive members were not elected by the workers. In the toy factories, factories either lacked a union or the unions were inactive. Workers were also unaware of who their representatives were, nor were there any contact details. There was no independent and effective complaints channel either. Although some factories had an opinion box and a companies hotline, the opinion box was covered in dust and results were yet to be seen from the companies hotline.
Poor wages: CLW found that workers were paid merely 5% above the minimum wage, forcing workers to work overtime. This caused problems for workers during off season, where there was little to no overtime work. SACOM found monthly wages for workers to be under the legal minimum wage, while other factories adopted piece rates- paying people depending on how much work they did. This meant that new employees, due to lower productivity, could only earn 1,000 yuan per month, which was not near enough. This also meant that if a worker couldn’t work faster, their wages would be lower than they already are. One worker explained that though she had only half a rest day each week, she still earned far below the legal minimum wage.
Poor living conditions: Among the toy factories, it was found that workers received food low in nutrition, while their dormitories were old and dirty, with electrical wiring all over the floor. In one particular dormitory building, 320 workers shared 24 bathrooms and 24 toilets. There was no access to hot water, and there were no shower heads, meaning workers had to bathe using a bucket or pan. Each room contained eight beds, four fans and nothing else. The building was also very old, with rusted pipes and rust evidently flowing in the water.
Bias auditor visits: Factories were informed before the arrival of auditors, so were able to hide things in advance. When auditors came, they rarely spoke to front-line workers, and were therefore unable to discover real labour conditions. Factory owners made sure workers wouldn’t reveal anything, telling them how to answer questions, and giving them a list to memorise of what they should not tell.
Contracts: SACOM found that many employees did not sign an official contract, meaning that their benefits, salary and rights were not guaranteed. To make matters worse, employers did not make their contribution to workers’ social insurance, jeopardising the workers’ rights to access medical, retirement and unemployment protection.
Child labour: In order to cut labour costs, factories often used students, temporary workers and dispatched workers. This included a 15 year old girl, who was found frequently working until 10pm or midnight. If she didn’t obey orders to work overtime, she would be dismissed. Although students performed the same amount as workers, they were paid less.
Penalties: Strict penalty systems were found in factories by SACOM. For example, in one factory, workers would be fined for leaving early for a meal, for using an electric cooker in the dormitory, or for not finishing food, with a security guard stationed near rubbish bins to check for leftovers. Names of those being punished would be publicly displayed.
Personally, I am shocked at how well these findings have been hidden. With the previous corporations we’ve exposed, I’ve heard here and there about their corrupt practices, but with Disney I was genuinely shocked when I read about these conditions, particularly the fact that these findings are from only last year!
There are people out there being exploited to the max to make Disney’s toys and clothing, and having read some of the accounts, it is quite frankly shameful.
Selling happiness and fairy tales to young kids while abusing workers’ rights. I’ll say it again. Shameful.
If you’d like to contact Disney and demand some answers, here are their contact details:
If you do send any tweets/messages etc do show us and we’ll upload it!
People over profits all day errday!
Love && Solidarity
Oh So Ethical xx
Other studies on Disney factories from previous years not included here: