Urgent Appeal: Suicide at Mattel supplier
Due to work related stress and repeated humiliation, a 45 year old female worker jumped out of a window on the sixth floor at Tai Qiang Factory, a Mattel supplier in China.
45 year old Nianzhen Hu had already been working in the assembly department of Tai Qiang Factory in Shenzhen, one of toy giant Mattel's suppliers in China, for two years, when she was moved to the oil spray department due to labour shortage.
It was difficult for her to reach the quotas there, because she had eye problems and was often criticized and abused by her manager as a result, said her family.
On May 13, 2011, an argument occurred when Nianzhen Hu was accused of having spilt oil on the products she was producing. She had to stay until she had "repaired" the damage. She didn't show up at the factory the next day for overtime work, a Saturday, because she was exhausted. On Monday she returned, fearing that otherwise she would be fired. She asked her manager for a day of absence to rest and was refused and humiliated again. Four hours later Mianzhen Hu jumped out of the window on the sixth floor.
For her family and colleagues, there is a clear connection between the argument, the continuous humiliation, the high work pressure and Nianzhen's decision to end her life. Nianzhen Hu was mother to one son and two daughters.
"With production demands continuously increasing, it is clear workers had to deal with a large amount of work related stress. If they were unable to complete production quotas, they would be reprimanded by factory management. If you accidentally manufactured a product incorrectly, you would not only have to reassemble it, but would also have to pay a fine", explained her husband a few days after Nianzhen's death.
A colleague of Nianzhen Hu's describes the daily stress put on the workers: "The work intensity is very high in Taiqiang. The production quota keeps rising. Line leaders will set the quota by multiplying the number of the product manufactured in one minute by working hours. This quota disregards workers' break time for bathroom and water. A worker who can't finish the quota won't be allowed for overtime work and will be scolded and warned. Three warnings lead to the dismissal. If a product is not manufactured in compliance to the quality standard, it needs to be reworked and the producing worker will be fined."
Abuse of the Mourners
The factory only notified Nianzhen Hu's family 4 hours later. Upon arriving at the factory, family members were not given permission to see Hu Nianzhen’s body, because of security concerns.
Her family returned to the factory on the afternoon of May 20 with the intention to light incense and pay respects to recently deceased, but they were roughhoused and beaten so severely by factory security that they had to be admitted to the local hospital.
The price of a human life
"We, the deceased’s loved ones of Hu Nianzhen, have been immersed in extreme grief ever since her death. We have been thoroughly dissatisfied with the amount of compensation offered and the attitude the factory has taken our discussions. As migrant workers, we have no protection when confronted with difficulties in our lives. We were all forced to leave our low income jobs, in order to arrange Hu Nianzhen’s funeral and return home to bury her body as quickly as possible.
After failing on 6 different occasions to reach an agreement with the factory, we lacked the energy to continue discussions with the factory over compensation matters and were forced to accept the factory’s unfair and unreasonable compensation package", explains Mr Hu.
The family accepted the 90.000 Yuan (9.600 €), but has now asked China Labor Watch, the Campaign "Stop Toying Around!" and consumers around the world for help to demand support from Mattel to ensure a better compensation of at least 250.000 Yuan from the factory. Also a public excuse and compensation is being demanded for the abuse of Nianzhen's family members.
Mattel has to accept responsibility
Mattel has to accept its responsibility for its suppliers and must immediately take measures to prevent any further suicides, to reduce moral and physical pressure on the workers and to improve the working conditions.
Already in 2009, NGO investigations at Mattel suppliers in China had revealed violations ofhumand and worker's rights. As soon as when orders are placed, pressure is being exerted on the suppliers as unit prices and delivery dates decrease. The price is paid by the workers with their health, the appalling living conditions and sometimes, as in Nianzhen Hu's case, with their lives.
Amongst the other revealed violations of Chinese Labour Law and Mattel's own code of conduct were famine wages, excessive overtime, lack of contracts and security measures, indecent dormitory situation and unrealistic piece rates.
Mattel is not the only one
Around 80% of globally sold toys are produced in China, where labour is cheap and abundant, free unions don't exist and many workers cannot but accept the indecent working and labour conditions. Toys are mainly produced in the estimated 5.000 toy factories in Guangong Province. The majority of workers are women between 16 and 30 years of age. Many of them come from rural areas of China. Nianzhen also was a migrant worker. Due to the famine wages paid, workers cannot rent their own apartments and are dependent on mass dormitories and bad cantine food provided by the factories, for which they have to pay a good part of their meagre salaries.