THE Hong Kong manufacturer of the world's best selling toys - Mighty Morphin Power Rangers - is being investigated for alleged human rights violations at its factories in Thailand. Bandai HK, the Hong Kong subsidiary of a Japanese toy conglomerate, was using agents to recruit up to half the 3,000 workers at its Power Rangers production plants on the outskirts of Bangkok - a policy deemed illegal in Thailand since it allowed companies to avoid providing staff with even basic welfare. These workers were also forced to hand over as much as 15 per cent of their monthly pay in 'commission' to the agents to secure monotonous production line jobs in factories operating 24 hours a day to get the toys to Europe and the United States in time for Christmas. Thongbai Thongpao, an adviser to the Thai parliament committee on justice and human rights who is also Thailand's leading human rights lawyer, said: 'If Bandai are doing this then it's illegal. It's a way of exploiting labour. 'They just say they're not employing the women, the agents are.' His probe into the factory follows inquiries by the Sunday Morning Post into conditions at the factories in the Bangkok suburb of Samut Prakarn. He has called for reports on labour conditions at the factory, where workers in an all-female labour force are paid less than $1,200 a month. Bandai HK declined to comment on the case. During a visit to the factory earlier this month, the Sunday Morning Post was told almost half the workers were recruited by the agents - shady characters known as Kamnans - who scour villages in the impoverished northeastern region of Thailand and truck them down to Bangkok. In return for finding the women jobs, the Kamnans demand 20 baht (about $5) out of their 135 baht daily salary. One Kamnan, said to have 800 women under his control, earns $120,000 a month - more than five times a Thai's average yearly salary. Workers at the factory were generally too scared to give their names for fear of losing their jobs, but one said: 'We never see the Kamnan, even though he might employ 800 people or more. They send their clerks to pay us every two weeks. A lot of girls grumble when they see what has happened to their wage packets but there is nothing they can do.' Despite claims the Power Rangers television programme, distributed by Fox TV, was too violent, its spin-off models were the best-selling Christmas toys in the United States for the second year running and were now taking off in Britain and Europe. News of the Bandai probe came as intense competition in the toy industry was partly blamed for the world's worst industrial blaze - also at a Thai factory run by a Hong Kong firm. In May 1993, 188 workers died and nearly 500 were injured in the fire at the Kader Industrial toy factory on the outskirts of Bangkok. According to a report by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) published last week, the driving force behind such tragedies was competition which encouraged factories and countries to be lax on safety and health standards. An official at the department of labour protection and welfare under the Thai Ministry of Labour denied the Government was willing to sacrifice safety to win investment. The ICFTU report said Thai toy manufacturers were now facing tough competition from China. A factory engineer and three members of the Kader board, as well as the company itself, were named in a trial on charges of failure to provide adequate safety, and illegal construction. But the ICFTU report said the Thai Government as well as the big toy companies, retailers and consumers buying the product must also take responsibility for the tragedy.