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US: McDonald's Uses Sweatshop

Associated Press
August 27th, 2000

HONG KONG -- Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh and Hello Kitty toys sold with McDonald's meals in Hong Kong are made at a mainland Chinese sweatshop that illegally employs child laborers to package the toys, a newspaper reported Sunday. The children, as young as 14, work 16-hour days for about $3 - barely the cost of one McDonald's meal in Hong Kong, the Sunday Morning Post reported.

The newspaper said one of its reporters mingled with some of the youngsters in a guarded factory complex in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, where they live in spartan conditions. It said 16 workers sleep in a single room on wooden beds with no mattresses.

The newspaper quoted some of the youngsters as saying they lied about their age and used false identification documents to obtain jobs with a company called City Toys Ltd., a subsidiary of Hong Hong-based Pleasure Tech Holdings Ltd. that works under contract for a McDonald's supplier, Simon Marketing (Hong Kong) Ltd.

McDonald's said it has a strict code on labor rights that prohibits child labor and that for more than a year an independent auditing firm has carried out periodic, unannounced inspections of its suppliers. In October, auditing firm Societe Generale de Surveillance, or SGS, inspected City Toys and found it to be in compliance with corporate guidelines, McDonald's and SGS said in statements released Sunday.

"We take the current allegations very seriously and are taking immediate action to get all the facts," said a statement from McDonald's corporate spokesman Walt Riker. The statement said that if any McDonald's suppliers do not comply with its code of conduct, they could lose the company's business.

The newspaper quoted a City Toys director, Hong Kong businessman Jack Lau Kim-hung, as saying he "knew nothing about the underage workers" but would investigate. It also quoted a spokeswoman at Simon Marketing, Vivian Foo, as denying that the plant employed child laborers.

The newspaper quoted one worker it identified as 14-year-old An Luping as saying she lied about her age so she could work at the plant.

"My family is poor," An was quoted as saying. "It can't afford to keep four children."

"Many people do this," the girl was quoted as saying. "I used a fake name - Yang Li. She is my friend living in my village who is 17 years old."

Meanwhile, about 20 activists who accuse McDonald's of child exploitation demonstrated outside one of its outlets at a busy tourist spot in the territory Sunday.

"Stop exploitation, shame on McDonald's," the activists chanted.

Several McDonald's customers outside the branch said child labor was bad, but it would not stop them from eating at the fast-food chain.

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