Gifts

Those with justice

Mickey Mouse and Friends

Year: 2005

Type: NGO documentary film (11 minutes).

Director: Karin Mak Translator: Jessie Wang

Production companies: SACOM (Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior) and Sweatshop Watch.

Availability: online video (free access: Google VideoSweatshop Watch, cultureunplugged, YouTube embedded below); transcript (free access: SACOM); made to accompany a report called Looking for Mickey Mouse’s conscience (free access: SACOM).

Page reference: Cook, I. (2011) Those with justice. followthethings.com (www.followthethings.com/thosewithjustice.shtml last accessed <insert date here>)

Video

Descriptions

As part of [a] research report, SACOM made … Those with Justice – A Disney Factory in China … to visualize the collective struggles of the workers based in Shenzhen. It highlights the lives of migrant workers of the Hung Hing Printing Group Limited, a Hong Kong listed company (Source: Chan 2006, p.3).

Those with justice provides a rare glimpse into the struggles of migrant workers in Shenzhen, China. Making paper products sold at Disney stores, the workers at the Hung Hing Printing Company talk about the fatigue of extremely long hours and harsh working conditions, the loneliness of being separated from family, but also hope and strength that conditions will change (Source: Anon 2007, np link).

[Those without Justice is] an 11-minute videotape in which workers — their faces hidden — in the Hung Hing and Nord Race factories say they have been injured by unsafe equipment and show their bandaged fingers and cut hands. ‘There’s blood on this book,’ [US National Labor Committee director Charles] Kernaghan said as he held up a copy of a child’s book made in China and published by Disney (Source: Anon 2005a, np link).

Those with Justice … focuses on the working conditions of migrant workers in the Hung Hing Company, a factory that prints books for Disney. Sweatshop Watch visited China and had the opportunity to hear the workers’ stories and produce this video. The video was used in a campaign led by Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). The campaign and video garnered international press and eventually led to wage increases at the factory (Source: sweatinfo 2007, np link).

Sweatshop Watch … produc[ed] … a video with SACOM consisting of several interviews with workers. In the video, Those with Justice, workers share the horrors of workplace injury, the fatigue of extremely long hours and harsh conditions, the pain of being separated from families, the loneliness of factory life, but hope and strength that conditions will change (Source: Anon 2005b, p.6-7).

In the Hung Hing printing factory, supervisors curse at the workers, shouting that ‘they are stupid like pigs’ and ‘their brains are full of water.’ Managers also force the workers to memorize and repeat prepared answers to any questions the auditors are likely to ask, threatening them if they refuse to comply (Source: Chan 2006, p.3).

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

In the summer of 2005, taking the opportunity of the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland (in September 2005), SACOM conducted a field study of four Disney supplier factories in the Guangdong province. We released our first report in August 2005, entitled ‘Looking for Mickey Mouse’s Conscience – A Survey of the Working Conditions of Disney’s Supplier Factories in China.’ As Disney has never disclosed a full list of its suppliers in China and in other countries, we searched the internet and visited the Canton Trade Fair and finally located 4 supplier factories of Disney in the Pearl River Delta for our field investigation. In July and early August 2005, a research group of students and teachers conducted interviews with 120 migrant workers of different departments from the 4 factories. Our findings of the 4 researched factories clearly illustrate that and how labor rights are violated. … Let ‘s focus on one of the four targeted factories, Hung Hing Printing Company for more in-depth sharing. It is a publicly listed company from Hong Kong. It is one of the top 3 printing companies in China, founded in 1994, employing 12,000 Chinese workers. Hung Hing’s major clients include Wal-Mart, Disney, K-Mart, Mattel, and McDonald’s. Hung Hing specializes in making children’s books for Disney, paper boxes for Wal-Mart, and stationary products,. May I show you an 8-minute documentary on Hung Hing factory. It tells you the conditions for the workers there in their own words (Source: Leung 2006, p.2-3).

The ‘magical kingdom’ faced some unhappy news in September 2005 as labor groups questioned the conditions under which Disney products are made. Sweatshop Watch learned of these working conditions first hand in a visit to one of Disney’s supplier factories in China. After meeting and talking with workers, Sweatshop Watch produced a documentary called ‘Those With Justice.’ The video was used by Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) and National Labor Committee to demand that Disney disclose the names and locations of its supplier factories and ensure decent working conditions in their factories. Advocates also demanded that workers themselves play a role in monitoring factory conditions since they are the experts on the quality of their working conditions (Source: Anon 2005c, p.2-3).

I was in Hong Kong at the time and meeting up with workers' rights organizations and had wanted to put my video skills to use.  It so happened the SACOM was doing the study of the factories, so we went in to shoot.  We shot the video that way out of necessity - it was a very much on-the-fly production. We borrowed cameras and did the interviews with the hope of protecting workers' identities  (Source: Mak 2010, pers comm).

Discussion

The strength of this film isn’t its production but its ability to give you first hand accounts. These accounts are so secretive that all interviews in this film hide the workers’ faces (Source: Freedocumentaries.org {link expired}).

… Yes we’re only hearing the negative side of the story – no mention of the prosperity brought to the community by foreign money – but those companies ought to care more for their workers. … / I’ve been to electronics manufacturing and metal stamping factories in Shenzhen before and most of the video shot looks pretty typical. I visit these factories as a business customer, so I don’t hear much about saftey problems, but I’m sure it happens. … / I worked in a factory once. Once. It doesn’t sound much different. They just sound like a bunch of whiners. / Hm, that doesn’t look that bad. I really thought it was worse than that. /… It doesn’t sound any more dangerous or unreasonable then a local manufacturing company I once worked briefly for called Inventronics. They make all sorts of metal enclosures to house fibre optics and what not. Any one of the machines used could easily chop your hand clean off (or pulverize as the case may be), although they do have ‘safety’ mechanisms installed. The shift work is atrocious. You get the choice of a 4:00 PM to 4:00 AM shift, or the ever so fun 4:00 AM to 4:00 PM shift. Worst job ever! I quit after two shifts. The point is, factory work is inherently dangerous no matter what part of the world you are from. Shift work in factories is also the norm. Suck it up or find a new job (Source: comments on video at digg.com {link expired}).

What consumers think of the conditions: Colin Arthur said, ‘Hey, Disney executives, would you work in these conditions? No, you would not. So why condone other people working in these conditions? Get it sorted!’ / Brittany Rusk said, ‘I cannot look at the face of Pooh-bear without thinking about the suffering  of so many in our world. Please have compassion.’ / David Cromie said, ‘These practices amount to slavery!’ / Ron Woods said, ‘I am appalled at Disney’s failure to enforce its own standards for workers making its products.’ / Greg Giorgio said, ‘Disney’s long history of worker abuse in the manufacture of various goods, like children’s sleepware produced in Haiti, casts shame on them and shows the corporation’s real agenda to be pure, bottom line, cutthroat capitalism.’ // Thinking of the children: Chris Gibson said, ‘If the kids at Disneyland only knew…’ / Julie Roy said, ‘I cannot believe that a company that I adored so much as a child would treat human beings in such an inhumane way. It is absolutely frustrating and unacceptable!’/ Jessica said, ‘I loved Disney as a girl, and I find it awful that the company I put so much love into is doing this to these people. Please stop, otherwise you’ll lose millions of children’s support.’ / Schubert said, ‘What a miserable face shows WALT DISNEY COMPANY to the children of the world!’ / Dora Calderon said, ‘I have a 7 years old son and I want fair toys for him.’ / Benhamin Fasching-Gray said, ‘I keep having to explain to my children why I won’t buy Disney products.’ // What consumers want from Disney: Gary McDonagh said, ‘Remember the workers.’ / Joan Walker said, ‘Honour Chinese labour laws!’ / W. Matsubuchi said, ‘As a teacher, mother, and community volunteer, I demand to know what Disney is doing…and how you intend to retroactively compensate your Chinese workers. Until then, our family will not purchase, use, or accept Disney toys, or attend Disney theme parks.’ / Matt Lee said, ‘Please stop your corporate greed and start abiding by your labor Code of Conduct, Walt Disney!’ / Jessica Cave said, ‘Take Action! Put your corporate dollars to work and give workers safe, humane working conditions!’ / Kate Nielson said, ‘Grow up and pay properly – it’s not like you aren’t making HUGE profits.’ / Michael Florizone said, ‘Disney should pay their employees fairly to make their products in China. It is very sad that companies like Disney that are supposed to create joy and happiness for children and families, end up creating misery for the poor!’ / Peter Townsend said, ‘Please respect the rights and well-being of your Chinese workforce.’ / Michael Ball said, ‘Please take responsibility for the well-being of the people who’s labour your corporation depends on!’ / Conor Scott said, ‘Please do better with regard to workers’ rights.’ / Sue Stroud said, ‘Disney must do better: Chinese workers are not cartoons, they are people and must be respected by their employers. People matter more than profits!’ (Source: comments submitted with/to an online, 1390 person petition ‘Disney to end sweatshop conditions now’ – link – quoted in Chan & Yau 2008, p.29-30)

Impacts / Outcomes

After the completion of this video, a campaign was launched by workers’ rights groups demanding Disney to take responsibility for the conditions [under which] their products are made. As a result of the exposure and public pressure, Disney began investigations and started negotiations with labor groups. Conditions at the Hung Hing factory have improved as workers report an increase in hourly wages (Source: Anon 2005d, np).

Walt Disney Co. said it will employ an outside monitor to probe claims that four Chinese factories licensed to create its branded products violate labour laws and put workers in danger. Disney has asked the non-profit auditor Verité to investigate allegations by a workers’ rights organization based in Hong Kong, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, or Sacom. In a report released late last week titled Looking for Mickey Mouse’s Conscience, Sacom asserted Disney manufacturers put workers in physical danger, violate minimum-wage laws, demand compulsory overtime and hide their abuses from labour monitors. In a statement, Disney said it ‘will work closely with Verité to ensure a thorough investigation of these claims and take the appropriate actions to remediate violations found.’ The allegations come at a sensitive time for Disney: one month before the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland, which is expected to attract millions of Chinese tourists and become the company’s foothold into the China market (Source: Anon 2005e, np).

Sacom, a group of university students and academics founded in June, said it isn’t satisfied with Disney’s response. ‘There are problems in Disney’s monitoring approach and their buying practices,’ because factories can lie or find ways around Disney labor standards, said Sacom’s chief coordinator, Billy Hung. The Hong Kong group said it still wants Disney to make public the names and addresses of all its contract manufacturers and to announce its findings on labor abuses and industrial accidents. The operator of one of the factories named in Sacom’s report, Hong Kong-based Nord Race Paper Intl., denied some of the accusations, saying in a statement that it fully complies with Chinese labor laws. The report claims a Nord Race factory in the city of Dongguan, which makes Disney stationery, paid workers 33 [?] an hour, when Dongguan’s minimum wage is 42 [?]. The report also claims Nord Race coaches workers before audits and issues fake time slips to conceal illegal working hours. Nord Race responded that its workers are poorly educated and the company explains to them their rights, such as maternity leave. (Source: Anon 2005f, np).

While the corporate world elite held their traditional annual meeting in this Swiss alpine resort, non-governmental organizations again did their best to spoil the party, pointing a symbolic finger at corporate environmental and social irresponsibility. The targets this time were Chevron, Walt Disney and Citigroup. Pro Natura, the Swiss branch of Friends of the Earth, and The Berne Declaration, a non-governmental organization that promotes justice and equality in North-South relations, awarded their sarcastic prizes known as the Public Eye awards on Tuesday. Their announcement took place on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, an annual meeting that brings together CEOs of transnational corporations, political leaders and prominent neoliberal economists. Sonja Ribi of Pro Natura told IPS that Public Eye award recipients are nominated by civil society organizations all over the world. Held at the same time as the WEF, the ceremony has become a tradition, and represents ‘the only true alternative’ to the Davos meeting, she said. The organizers of The Public Eye on Davos offer a public platform at which ‘the dark side of a uniquely profit oriented globalization is illuminated,’ Ribi explained. The prizes for corporate irresponsibility were awarded this year to the oil giant Chevron Corp., in environmental affairs, for polluting forests in Ecuador; to Walt Disney Co., in the social domain, for violating workers’ and human rights in China; and to Citigroup Inc., for enabling tax evasion and money laundering by corporations, individuals and dictators. … A study titled ‘Looking for Mickey Mouse’s Conscience: A Survey of the Working Conditions in Disney’s Supplier Factories in China,’ led to the U.S. Walt Disney Co. receiving its ‘award’ for social irresponsibility. The study was carried out by an NGO in Hong Kong, Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), which is concerned with the working conditions of the poor. SACOM found that workers’ rights were being violated in four factories in Guangdong province in southern China, where books and other products are manufactured for Disney. Employees work 60-90 hours a week, and in one place up to 12 workers were crammed into a single dorm room. ‘The collusion between the corrupted state and transnational capital has brought miserable conditions to workers in China and other developing countries,’ said SACOM representative Parry Leung. ‘Pro-active measures must be taken to rectify the current situation at the workplace level. Our understanding is that the Chinese workers are not powerless or submissive. They are capable of resisting global capitalism’’ (Source: Capdevilla 2006, np).

Huang Xing used to receive up to 80% of its orders from Disney. After the publication of SACOM report in September 2006, Huang Xing workers confided to SACOM they experienced a dramatic decrease in Disney orders. As a result of the reduction of orders, workers’ wages dropped dramatically. Some workers have had no alternative but to quit without the damages the law requires employers to pay workers in such a situation. SACOM condemned Disney [who] withdrew orders from Huang Xing as a direct result of pressure on Disney to enforce workers’ rights at Huang Xing. More than 800 workers lost their jobs on 31 January 2007, just before the Chinese New Year, when Huang Xing closed down. Despite the protest of SACOM at the Asia headquarters of Walt Disney Co. on 6 February 2007, Disney gave no promise to compensate the affected workers (Source: Chan 2007, p.4).

Consumers in mainland China, Hong Kong, and other countries are very concerned about the affected 800 Chinese factory workers, who were laid off suddenly in the evening on January 31, 2007 (last Wednesday). The Walt Disney Company Limited turned a blind eye to workers’ rights violations in their supply chain in southern China, despite its claimed commitment to high international labor standards (Source: SACOM 2007, np).

When consumers and workers from different nations hold hands together, our cross-border solidarity will a difference and eventually will make them change. Let us continue to build stronger consumer-worker alliances to chase the big multinationals wherever they go or hide. This is what we call a real globalization, a globalization of justice and a globalization of human dignity! (Source: Leung 2006, p.3).

In response to the disturbing investigation results and the workers’ complaint letter, SACOM has built alliances with a number of unions and campaign groups in the US and Europe such as the Writer’s Guild, Sweatshop Watch, USAS and CCC Austria to launch round two of the campaign against Disney (Source: unionvoice.org {link expired}).

In early 2008, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) negotiated with Hong Kong-owned Hung Hing Printing Group about its unlawful practices targeting veteran workers. The 10,000-worker Hung Hing Printing (Shenzhen) factory was allegedly exploiting young migrant workers who made Disney-branded children’s books in the summer of 2005. After negative media exposure, the factory management had replaced dangerous machinery to improve occupational safety and health. On January 28, 2008, when the new labor law had taken effect, Hung Hing issued a company notice: ‘Hung Hing is going to renew its contracts with all workers on or before January 30, 2008. A three year fixed-term contract between February 14, 2008 and December 31, 2010 shall be concluded, or labor contracts terminated.’ The 400-plus workers who had been working in Hung Hing for more than 10 consecutive years were the hardest hit by this new policy, as the company refused to grant open-term contracts to them (per LCL Article 14, Section 1). Several workers immediately approached the workplace-based union for help. Unsurprisingly, given the fact that both the union chairperson and vice chairperson were top-level managers, the workers’ efforts were futile. In an open letter undersigned by hundreds of his coworkers, a 38-year-old male warehouse department worker who had been at the company since December 1994, explained: ‘We all thought that the Labor Contract Law going into effect on January 1 would have showered us—the weak and disadvantaged masses—with blessings. Our youth is gone with the days of the growth of the company. To our profound disappointment, none of us were offered open-term contracts despite years of diligent work. In our thirties to forties, we are under heavy familial burden. We are afraid of losing our jobs. We feel this is extremely unfair and we are angry, too.’ In May 2008, once the Law on the  Mediation and Arbitration of Employment Disputes was enforced, the core group of 64 workers filed their collective dispute with the local arbitration committee (the Mediation and Arbitration of Employment Disputes Law Article 53 stipulates that arbitration fees, amounting to several hundred yuan, are waived). In response to public pressure to look for ‘Mickey Mouse’s conscience’ and increased worker actions, Disney—one of the biggest customers of Hung Hing—stepped in to clear up the ‘misunderstandings between factory, management, and workers.’ The most adversely affected workers, buoyed by both the levers of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the new labor laws, finally reached economic compensation agreements with their managers. Other workers have not been so lucky (Source: Chan 2009, p.46-7).

Sources and further reading

Anon (2005a) Disney sweatshops alleged. money.cnn.com August 18 (http://money.cnn.com/2005/08/18/news/international/disney_china/ last accessed 18 February 2011)

Anon (2005b) Sweatshop Watch visits China: assembling the pieces along the global supply chain. Sweatshop Watch 11(3), p.6-7 (http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1022&context=globaldocs last accessed 28 February 2011)

Anon(2005c) Garment workers take on the global economy: a review of anti-sweatshop campaigns. Sweatshop Watch 11(4), p.2-3 [http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1023&amp;context=globaldocs last accessed 28 February 2011)

Anon (2005d) Those with justice: film credits. youtube.com (www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IcxmUzCYC8 last accessed 28 February 2011)

Anon (2005e) Disney to hire monitor for Chinese factories. The Globe and Mail (Canada) August 22, p.B6

Anon (2005f) Labor pains for Disney. Daily Variety August 22, p.28

Anon (2007) Those with justice. video.google.com (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3168009606901246390# last accessed 28 February 2011)

Gustavo Capdevila (2006) Business: Chevron, Walt Disney and Citigroup in hall of shame. IPS-Inter Press Service January 25

Jenny Chan (2006) Workers’ Democratic Participation in Walt Disney’s Suppliers. Hong Kong: SACOM (http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/sacom-second-letter-to-disney-ceo-dec-8-2006_.pdf last accessed 28 February 2011)

Jenny Chan (2007) Looking for Mickey Mouse’s Conscience campaign. Hong Kong: SACOM (www.evb.ch/cm_data/SACOM_Disney_report_11_12_07.pdf last accessed 28 February 2011)

Jenny Chan (2008) A Public Statement on The Walt Disney Company Annual Meeting of Shareholders, March 6, 2008 Chinastudy.net (http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/sacom-shareholder-meeting-march-2008-disney.pdf last accessed 28 February 2011)

Jenny Chan (2009) Meaningful progress or illusory reform? Analyzing China’s Labor Contract Law. New Labour Forum 18(2), p.43-51 (http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~salaff/JennyChanNLFspring2009.pdf last accessed 28 February 2011)

Jenny Chan & Vivien Yau (2008) The results of a two & a half year journey looking for Mickey Mouse’s Conscience: Unfulfilled Promises. Letter to Robert A. Iger,  CEO, The Walt Disney Company, January 2 (http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/sacomthirdletterdisneyceo2jan2008.pdf last accessed 28 February 2011)

Paul Garver (2008 ) Hong Kong student activists search in vain for Mickey Mouse’s Conscience. Talking Union March 1st [http://talkingunion.wordpress.com/2008/03/01/hong-kong-student-activists-search-in-vain-for-mickey-mouses-conscience/ last accessed 28 February 2011)

husunzi (2006) Bittersweet Working Life in Shenzhen. Chinastudygroup.net 7 June (http://chinastudygroup.net/2006/06/bittersweet-working-life-in-shenzhen/ last accessed 28 February 2011)

Parry Leung (2006) The Public Eye Awards 2006: Award in the Category ‘Social Rights’ (Speech by Parry Leung, Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), … ‘Looking for Mickey Mouse’s Conscience’) Hong Kong: SACOM (www.evb.ch/cm_data/SpeechWaltDisney.pdf last accessed 28 February 2011)

SACOM/NLC (2005) Disney’s Children’s Books Made with the Blood, Sweat and Tears of Young Workers in China. New York: National Labor Committee (www.nlcnet.org/reports?id=0425 last accessed 28 February 2011)

SACOM (2005) Looking For Mickey Mouse’s Conscience: a Survey of the Working Condition of Disney’s Supplier Factories. Hong Kong: SACOM (http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/disney.pdf last accessed 28 February 2011)

SACOM (2006) A Second Attempt – Looking For Mickey Mouse’s Conscience: a Survey of the Working Condition of Disney’s Supplier Factories. Hong Kong: SACOM (http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/7-disney-research-2006.pdf last accessed 28 February 2011)

SACOM (2007) Disney cutting and running. interlocals.net 2007-02-07 (http://interlocals.net/?q=node/264 last accessed 28 February 2011)

sweatinfo (2007) Those with justice. youtube.com 16 June (www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IcxmUzCYC8 last accessed 28 February 2011)

Michael Santoro (2009) The clipboard, the megaphone and socialist characteristics. in his China 2020: how Western business can – and should – influence social and political change in the coming decade. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, pp.20-46

Further viewing

The Bittersweet Working Life in Shenzhen is a collection of 7 worker-made videos showing daily aspects of life working in the transnational factories in Shenzhen, China’s first Special Economic Zone. From the first-person perspective of Chinese workers, audiences witness where the workers live, what food they eat, moments of fun, and ultimately are exposed to what they call a bittersweet life. Sweatshop Watch conducted videomaking workshops with migrant workers in July 2005. Download the facilitation guide to the videos. The Bittersweet Working Life in Shenzhen videos: (total running time: 20 minutes) 1. Environmental Problems ... ; 2. Our Life After Work; 3. Meals ... ; 4. What is the Minimum Wage?; 5. Is this a Rich Life?; 6. An Injury; 7. A Flash of Happiness (Source: hunsunzi 2006 link (pdf & video links dead, and updated where possible).

Photos of inside front cover

Mickey Mouse and Friends inside cover

Compiled by Ian Cook, with thanks to Jenny Chan and Karin Mak (last updated February 2011). Video embedded with permission of SACOM.