Merchandise manufacturers hit back at 'groundless' allegations

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am

Mainland companies called allegations that they use child labour to produce official Olympic merchandise 'totally groundless', insisting they comply with every domestic labour law from the minimum wage to maternity leave.

Workers in one of the four companies said there was no use of child labour in their factory but did complain of long hours.

'I've never seen the factory hire child labour. In fact, you can't get a job if you don't have an ID card,' said Ye Fang , a 20-year-old worker at Mainland Headwear Holdings in Shenzhen, a Hong Kong-listed company.

But during high season, Ms Ye said, 'We often have to work from 7am to 10 pm. It's really a tough time'.

All four companies - Lekit Stationery, a Taiwan-invested firm in Dongguan; Yue Wing Cheong Light Products, which makes bags and other products in Shenzhen; Eagle Leather Products, based in Hong Kong; and Mainland Headwear - resolutely stood by their labour practices.

The four companies had been accused of labour abuse by the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

'The approach adopted by this organisation in compiling the report is questionable,' Mainland Headwear chief executive Peter Ho Hung-chu said.

The headgear company, which also has a factory in Dongguan, had never been approached by the ITUC to conduct any kind of factory audit or interview with its workers, Mr Ho said.

Lekit received assessments from auditing firms at least five or six times a year, said a female manager who declined to give her name.

'We would have been exposed a long time ago if we were using child labour,' she said, adding the report was politically motivated.

Yue Wing Cheong Light Products had been contacted by the International Olympic Committee about the report, operations product manager Jackson So Hoi-ing said.

The family-run company, which has been manufacturing bags and other goods on the mainland for 25 years, opened an official store selling Beijing 2008 Olympic products in March in Cameron Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. They also have four retail stores in Beijing and one in Shenzhen.

Mr Ho from Mainland Headwear said his workers' average monthly salary was 1,100 yuan, compared with the local 700-yuan minimum wage.

'It is inconceivable that our workers' wages are allegedly 36 per cent to 57 per cent below minimum wages,' he said. 'This also reflects their lack of knowledge of south China labour market conditions.'

According to Ms Ye, the Mainland Headwear employee, most workers can get more than the 700 yuan monthly salary and get paid for overtime.

'It's actually not that bad compared with other factories,' she said.

The ITUC report alleged the four Chinese companies hired workers under the age of 12, paid half of the minimum wage and forced workers to work up to 15 hours a day.

It also alleged the factory owners falsified employment records and forced workers to lie about their wages and conditions.