United States retail giant Target will conduct a probe of a mainland supplier, following allegations by a labour-rights group that it employed under-age workers.
China Labor Watch on Thursday claimed its investigation last month uncovered child labour violations at the factories of manufacturers Ningbo Lucky Craft Co, Hangzhou Ownseas Pen Co and Dongguan Fuxiang Garment (B&N Industrial) Co.
The New York-based workers' advocacy group accused those three mainland companies of employing labourers as young as 15 years old - who allegedly are paid little and work up to 13 hours a day - to make toys, pens and clothing for Target, the second-largest US discount retail chain behind Wal-Mart Stores.
'We are taking these claims very seriously,' Target spokeswoman Jessica Carlson told the South China Morning Post in response to our report on the allegations yesterday.
Carlson added, however, that clothing maker Dongguan B&N Industrial was the sole 'Target-registered factory' among the three mainland suppliers identified in a 30-page report by China Labor Watch.
'We are re-examining our recent audit of the Dongguan factory and - based on the results - will address this situation accordingly,' she said. 'Target will not knowingly work with any company that does not comply with the company's ethical standards.'
Debby Chan Sze-wan, a spokeswoman for Hong Kong labour rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour, said no mechanism was in place to enforce the large buyers' codes of conduct for suppliers on the mainland. 'That is why deception during [supplier] audits is widespread,' Chan said.
Carlson said all Target business partners 'must provide safe and healthy workplaces that comply with local laws'. The mainland's Compulsory Education Law prohibits companies from hiring school-age children or adolescents for full-time jobs. This law covers minors, defined as those under the age of 16, who are supposed to be in school.
Zhenhai-based Ningbo Lucky Craft, which makes foam toys, rubber balls, plastic toys and mobile phone cradles, has not been a Target-registered factory for several years, according to Carlson. Hangzhou Ownseas, which makes different types of ball pens, has never been a Target-registered supplier, she added.
China Labor Watch executive director Li Qiang, said however that the group had copies of shipment records in which Target Industries, a manufacturing and export firm located in Michigan, was the consignee of goods shipped by Ningbo Lucky Craft and Hangzhou Ownseas.
There was no immediate response from Target on whether the two mainland companies may have served as sub-contractors to its registered suppliers, nor regarding its relationship with Target Industries.