Report Cites Holiday Abuse in Chinese Factory

A report alleges abuse in the making of holiday ornaments sold in the U.S.

ByABC News
December 12, 2007, 1:25 PM

Dec. 12, 2007— -- Not only should parents be concerned about the made-in-China toys Santa puts under the Christmas tree but, according to a new report by a labor rights group, Scrooge is running at least one of the Chinese factories that makes their holiday ornaments too.

The National Labor Committee, which tracks working conditions in developing countries worldwide, released a report Wednesday titled "A Wal-Mart Christmas Brought to You from a Sweatshop in China."

It documents with photos and video, workers -- some as young as 12 years old -- working at the Guangzhou Huanya Gift Co., which produces ornaments sold in the United States at Wal-Mart and Target stores.

"Wal-Mart is glorifying the virtue of buying cheap goods in its stores, claiming this is the real holiday spirit," said Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee at a press conference outside Rockefeller Center, near the famous Christmas tree.

"But especially at this time of year, no American would knowingly purchase a product in Wal-Mart if they knew that bargain was based on the exploitation of children and teenagers forced to work grueling hours, seven days a week, who are stripped of their rights and paid pennies an hour," Kernaghan said.

Wal-Mart would not comment directly on the report since it was just released today, but a spokesman said the company takes the allegations seriously.

In a written statement, Richard Coyle, Wal-Mart's director of international corporate affairs said, "As soon as Wal-Mart learned about the Christmas tree ornament report, we contacted the National Labor Committee and they have not returned our call. Now that we have a copy of their report, we have launched an immediate investigation. Through our rigorous ethical standards program, Wal-Mart aggressively deals with any allegations of improper conditions at our suppliers' factories. Wal-Mart maintains a very strict supplier's code of conduct, and employs over 200 people to monitor our suppliers and their designated factories' adherence. Our program is the largest of its kind in the world -- last year, we conducted more than 16,000 audits at over 8,700 factories."

Other companies, such as Target, were not singled out in the report as selling ornaments from the factory. However the report said Target was listed among a list of buyers from the factory.

A Target spokesman said the store was still "researching the issue related to the factory in China that was identified in the NLC report, but our initial findings indicate that Target does not have any relationship with this factory."

Some 8,000 people work in the Chinese factory, working 10- to 12- to 15-hour shifts with breaks only for lunch and dinner, seven days a week during the eight-month busy season, according to the report, which obtained most of its information from videos and documents smuggled out of the factory this summer.

They show that the factory hired 500 or more 16 year-old workers this summer, and some of those teenage workers said the factory employed children as young as 12.

The smuggled video and photos released with the report seem to show startlingly young children hunched over large bags of shiny balls stringing the ornaments together.