Last spring, I applied for a job at the Boade toy factory [located in Shenzhen, in southern China], which is a Mattel supplier that makes toys for the American and European market. I was hired mid-May, and worked there until the end of June. My job was to carry merchandise around the factory.
When I started, I was given a 10-minute talk on what to do in case of a fire, but that was it. I didn’t get any other safety training. [By law, factory workers must undergo 24 hours of safety training.]
I worked 11 hours a day, from 8am to 9pm with an hour break for lunch and an hour break in the evening. Others worked 12 or 13 hours. [The legal limit is 9 hours per day. At this factory, some employees reportedly worked up to 100 hours of overtime per month – well above the legal limit of 36 hours of overtime]. I was paid 1,600 yuan [190 euros] per month, which is really not enough to live decently with. [In China, the average wage for private sector workers is about 300 euros. According to China Labor Watch’s report, workers at this factory and others were regularly paid a month late].
This pay stub, which reportedly belongs to an employee at Foshan City Nanhai Sino-American factory, states that he worked a total of 81.5 overtime hours in April. The legal maximum is 36.
I lived in a cramped, dirty dorm with other factory workers. [Editor’s Note: It is common for Chinese factory workers to live in on-site dorms to save money. This also allows them to work longer hours]. There was no hot water, no kitchen. We lived four to a room, and had trouble sleeping because some of us worked days, while others worked nights.
A factory dorm room equipped with bunk beds.
“If you got sick, you lost your day’s wages”
The factory itself was quite unsanitary too. Dirty water was stocked, and dumped outside as soon as it started raining. Meanwhile, toxic substances were dumped in regular trashcans. Our only protection was face masks. It was also extremely hot in the factory, making it difficult to work. [According to China Labor Watch’s report, the factory did not pay workers extra when temperatures rose above 33 degrees Celsius, thus breaking the law]. It was awful. And if you got sick, you lost your day’s wages.
At the Baode factory, waste water is reportedly ejected directly into a nearby pond.
Our managers verbally abused us. They insulted workers who were slower than others. The managers were under a ton of pressure to produce toys quickly, and they took this out on us.
A worker sleeping in a break room at Guangda factory in Dongguan.
There were no unions at the factory that we could complain to. In any case, no one dared complain, because they were too afraid to lose their jobs.