Labour debate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2007, 12:00am

TO MANY CHILDREN, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy are lovable characters.

But, to a group of 20 university students, they are symbols of corporate greed and labour exploitation.

Outraged by labour abuse on the mainland by big corporations, the students set up Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) in 2005.

The establishment of the organisation stood in stark contrast to all the fanfare surrounding the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland.

'When Disneyland opened in 2005, everyone talked about how the theme park would create jobs and boost tourist numbers,' said Vivien Yau Tze-wei, project co-ordinator of SACOM.

But the group saw Disneyland in a different light, so they staged a demonstration in front of the park's gate on opening day.

Over the past two years, the students have paid regular visits to the mainland to assess labourers' working conditions.

'We waited outside factories that make Disney products and asked the workers how they were treated,' said Renfred Yu Yiu-tung, a Year Two student from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The workers' stories appalled the young campaigners.

'Many of them are underpaid and work overtime. Some young women had their fingers amputated because of industrial accidents. Unaware of their rights, they didn't seek compensation,' said the 20-year-old university student.

When SACOM published the results of their two-year research project last year, it caused a stir.

'We focused our research on labour mistreatment in four mainland factories that made Disney products. Even foreign news media, including the BBC and CNN, reported our findings,' said Ms Yau.

But the group's aim of helping workers backfired this year.

Before the Lunar New Year holiday, news about the closure of a Shenzhen factory was reported by Hong Kong media.

Eighty per cent of the factory's orders came from Disney. When the corporation suddenly withdrew its orders, the factory was forced to close.

This resulted in 800 workers losing their jobs right before the festive season. The young campaigners were denounced as busybodies who messed up the lives of mainland workers.

A commentator in a Hong Kong daily went so far as to criticise the 'well-fed university students' for 'depriving the workers of their right to work and survive'.

Undaunted by the criticisms, the students said: 'It was Disneyland, not us, who left them out of work. Disney said they had withdrawn their orders because of labour abuse by the factory owners.

'But the factory owners told mainland media a different story. They said the small budget and tight schedules laid down by Disney forced them to make their staff work long hours for very

low pay.'

Despite the controversies, the young activists refuse to back down.

'We will continue to fight for workers' rights. We never intended to force factories to close. We just hope the big corporations will be less greedy in their push for profits,' said Ms Yau.


With 50 active student members, SACOM's main

goal is to campaign against big corporations which violate workers' rights on the mainland. For more information about SACOM's report on Disney, visit their website at