ICTI CARE Process Response to Aktion fair spielt Statement
Dated December 2011
The ICTI CARE Process (ICP) was disappointed to read the recent statement on the Aktion fair spielt (AFS) website in which it called the ICP a "Paper Tiger," which many would translate into saying the ICP is ineffective. This would seem to indicate that AFS has moved from its long-standing balanced evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the ICP program to one that is mainly and unjustly negative.
One hopes this change is only temporary and has not been influenced by the strident and aggressively negative approach of SACOM, whose annual European tour is currently underway.
ICP continues to assert what AFS has openly recognized in the past - that our program has made good progress but still has a way to go in improving the treatment of workers and the environment in which they work - that, on balance, workers in Chinese toy factories are better treated now than they were before the ICP began its work.
The issues mentioned in their 30 November statement include:
- That the toy industry is seasonal and that seasonality causes excessive working hours during the high season. It is certainly true that there is greater overtime during the high season. It is also true that:
- the ICP is working hard through its Continuous Improvement Process to bring working hours down, in stages, to more reasonable levels; and very many factories have been successful in doing so.
- according to our surveys, a significant portion of workers view the overtime accrued during high season as an important portion of their income expectations, so long as it is voluntary and not excessive.
- The work week can be five or six days long in China, so that a 70-hour work week, while too long, more closely represents 11-12 hour days, not 14-hour days, as AFS alleges. This still exceeds our current targets but is not so sensational a number. It is also quite close to a level that is permitted by local-government high-season exemptions.
- That workers pay with their health for the toys in European stores because of a combination of long workdays, presumably because they lead to a greater number of accidents, and an absence of social benefits such as health insurance.
- Turning first to safety, this simply is not true. During its audits, the ICP pays very close attention to the accident rate at factories and, through that attention, has been driving down the accident rates to lower levels. We require increased worker training, reduced overtime and provision of personal protective equipment when using potentially dangerous equipment or hazardous material. There should be no accidents, and that is our goal. But one factory, recently mentioned negatively in a SACOM report, reduced its number of accidents in successive quarters from 14 to 3 - in a factory with 4,000 workers.
- The provision of social benefits is a key part of the ICP monitoring program and once Chinese law and enforcement patterns are clear, we will require full compliance.
- That toy brands, although they commit to using only ICP-certified factories, are not demonstrating that compliance and, because they do not identify their suppliers, compliance cannot be checked. We began working with industry on this issue several years ago, aiming first to gain industry commitment to what we call the "Date Certain" process and more recently requiring regular renewal of that commitment. We have also asked industry leaders to consider identifying their suppliers and indicating how many have achieved the different levels of certification. That effort has borne fruit:
- The US Toy Industry Association, representing by far the largest number of worldwide toy brands in any national association, has long required Date Certain commitment as a condition of association membership and now also requires annual re-commitment. A number of other national toy associations are following in their footsteps.
- Hasbro, one of the largest toy brands, has just now decided to identify the number of its supplier factories at each level of certification and to identify its suppliers by name on its website. We encourage other brands to take similar action.
- That purchasing policies of retailers, licensors and toy brands, because of pricing restraints, tight delivery timings and order changes, are a root cause of the long working hours and their alleged consequences. The toy industry is a consumer-driven business and the industry must anticipate and then respond to consumer choices. It is also a highly creative business with large numbers of new products launched every year - products whose success is based first on retailer evaluations and then amended in line with evolving consumer acceptance. The industry is working on ways to alleviate this consumer pressure and buyer-training programs are underway at major retailers.
In summary, we close as we started - asserting that the ICTI CARE Process has been effective, has improved the working lives of many workers in toy and related industry factory workers. We are also the first to admit that there is more to be done; and we are encouraged by regular progress that we will become more and more effective over time.
We hope that Aktion fair spielt will return to its balanced evaluations, recognizing what we have achieved and urging us to continue to improve.
President and CEO
ICTI CARE Process
ICTI CARE Process Statement
Regarding SACOM "Toys Without Joy" Report
Dated December 2011
In 2011, SACOM investigated three factories as part of its monitoring of the toy manufacturing industry in China. All three are registered in the ICTI CARE Process and are listed as being compliant with its requirements. Nevertheless, SACOM found issues with all three.
This statement is the ICTI CARE Process (ICP) response to the allegations contained in SACOM's annual report.
As background, there are now 2,433 Chinese factories registered in the ICTI CARE Process, of which 1,297 have been certified as compliant.
As it has in the past, ICP thanks SACOM for providing us with information about non-compliance with ICP standards. As is our practice, we have followed up on those allegations and where we have found them to be true, required corrective action.
We are concerned, however, that SACOM has taken findings from these three handpicked factories located in the Pearl River Delta and used them as the basis for a broad generalization about the effectiveness of our entire national program. Moreover, they have taken a series of unconnected, anecdotal findings, strung them together artificially and then used them to support sensationalist allegations about industry-wide treatment of workers. Such actions are both inaccurate and unfair.
This is the height of the holiday season, when factories are pressed to meet deadlines. Why was a problem discovered in the summer not reported at once so that it could be corrected immediately, rather than waiting until December? SACOM consistently refuses even to meet with ICP, let alone share any information prior to issuing its public releases, in this case, 4-6 months later.
Because ICP zealously seeks to improve toy factory working conditions, we regularly make use of other independent outside organizations to conduct offsite investigations to validate our on-site audits. We also conduct unannounced quality control audits using our own audit staff, randomly assign our own supervisory auditors to accompany accredited audit company teams as they conduct ICP audits, and conduct investigatory and root-cause audits when an issue is brought to our attention.
We would like to repeat our invitation to SACOM to enter into dialogue in the interest of the workers that both our organizations aim to protect. That way, we can act on issues at once.
ICTI CARE Process Statement
Regarding SACOM’s Statement on the Suicide at the Sturdy Factory
Dated 2 August, 2011
The ICTI CARE Process notes with sadness that a woman chose to end her life at the Sturdy factory this past May. We can only imagine how this tragedy has affected her family and friends and we have sent our condolences to them. We understand that this has been investigated by the police, who we are told
found nothing suspicious regarding her death.
As soon as we learned this had happened, ICP immediately conducted an unannounced check audit by our staff auditors and could find nothing that would indicate there was an environment in the factory that would lead to this kind of action.
We were therefore quite surprised by the accusatory statement made by SACOM on 8 July and find it very strange that, without talking to the ICTI CARE Process, they would conclude that there was something wrong at the factory that the ICP appointed auditors had missed in their audit.
The ICP is very conscious of the importance of our auditing system and the need for continuous improvement, based on learning from experience, and then building that into our processes. We have been refining our processes, including consulting with and using the services of Chinese labor organizations, for the seven years we have been working in China. Unfortunately, SACOM has not been willing to be one of them.
This is not the first time we have been criticized by SACOM and, as in the past, we have always conducted investigations and required corrective action whenever we found violations. We have tried to work collaboratively with SACOM as we have with other worker's rights groups, but have found SACOM unwilling to do so. That is a shame because we think that, working together -- even at arm's length – we would serve workers better.
Statement of ICTI CARE Foundation
In Response to SACOM Report
“ICTI CARE Makes Big Money While Workers Continue to Suffer,”
Dated 8 February 2011
SACOM Report Ignores ICTI CARE Process Achievements and Contains
The ICTI CARE Foundation respects the role of activists in the human rights arena and appreciates the dialogues we have entered into with them over the past few years. These include Fair spielt, Swedwatch, China Labor Watch, SACOM and the “Stop Toying Around” consortium (with which SACOM collaborates).
As we said in our last statement (December 8, 2010), we receive communications from SACOM with a mixture of respect and surprise.
- With respect because we view the participation of NGOs like SACOM as a valuable, complementary check on the compliance of factories with the ICTI Code of Business Practices, as ongoing advisors and as a stimulus to our efforts to promote ethical manufacturing practices through the ICTI CARE Process.
- The surprise stems from the fact that SACOM consistently chooses to publicize purely negative criticism with little constructive input and essentially no recognition of what we have achieved over the past several years. Nor does it acknowledge any actions taken or process improvements made by the ICTI CARE Process as a result of situations they have called to our attention in the past.
The ICTI CARE Foundation is proud of its achievements in improving the treatment of workers in factories in China and elsewhere. We are the first to concede that much more work lies ahead of us; but we refuse to accept the sensationalist, media-oriented declarations of any group, especially when they are carping and filled with incorrect information. It is simply counter-productive.
The plain truth is that workers in many toy factories in China are better off now than they were before and that this is due in considerable part to the ICTI CARE Process.
It is clear from the headline of their report that SACOM has not done its homework and has presented as fact erroneous information which they could have checked with public sources or with us before publishing. Here are some of the errors:
- The ICTI CARE Foundation and ICTI CARE Foundation Asia do not “make big money.” We don’t make any money. Both foundations are registered as not-for-profit entities and our records are publicly available. Our income is used to cover the expenses of operating the ICTI CARE Process. Any excess of income over expenses is used to improve our services and for capacity building and education projects that directly benefit workers. We have no shareholders and no one is making any money.
- SACOM completely misses the point when it talks about the ICTI CARE Process’ policy on wages and working hours. Our Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) is intended to move factories into full compliance with Chinese law over time. Our experience has shown that requiring full, legal compliance from the start is not productive and results in multiple sets of records. With CIP, we are making progress now as more and more factories agree to be fully transparent, enter this program and move steadily toward eventual compliance.
The different levels of seals are awarded based on the level of compliance reached by each factory at the time of each audit. But there is a firm requirement that all factories currently registered in the process must achieve “A” level seal status by 30 June 2012, or one year after they register, whichever is later.
- To say that ICP conceals labor rights violations is entirely untrue. What is true is that ICP does not publish the results of audits publicly. We believe the results are the property of the factory that pays for the audit. But we do use them to monitor factory compliance with the ICTI Code, to measure continuous improvement and to decide whether or not to certify a factory as compliant.
Factories very often make the audit results available to the brands for which they manufacture, to demonstrate their compliance so as to receive orders. That ties audit results directly to the ability to stay in business, materially incentivising compliance, which is the intent of the program.
- It is important to make it clear how the two foundations are funded. There is nothing unusual or hidden. Both foundations were established as not-for-profit organizations because their mission benefits the public and is therefore appropriate to that treatment. This allows them to invest all their funds in fulfilling their missions.
The ICTI CARE Foundation was initially funded by donations, which served as “seed money” to develop the ICTI CARE Process and to operate it until it became self-funding. That was achieved during 2009 and it is now entering its second full year of self-sufficiency. As soon as it achieved self-sufficiency, ICTI CARE Foundation Asia stopped receiving donated funds and began to support itself fully with its own revenues. As its income increases, it has invested a growing portion in education and training programs and in improving its ability to do its job. For example, over the past two years it has significantly increased its roster of staff auditors, allowing greater frequency of unannounced quality control and observation audits. It is also investing in an upgrade to its information systems to better analyze and communicate the results of its operations.
Both entities have provided required financial reports regularly to the government. Because they are organized as non-profit foundations, the financial results are freely available to the public.
- Because there seems to be some confusion, it’s appropriate to discuss how the ICP operates in relation to Chinese law. Our Code calls for us to require compliance with local law. That is precisely what we have been doing in all aspects of our monitoring, and especially as regards wages and working hours. Our clear objective is for factories to reach full compliance with the law and we are moving steadily in that direction.
We meet regularly with Chinese government officials to ensure they know how we are working and to understand their thinking as regards regulation of treatment of workers. As is clear to everyone, the Chinese government has made significant, positive changes to its labor laws over the past two years and is expected to implement additional changes in the future. The ICP will monitor for compliance with those new laws and regulations as they come into effect.
SACOM “Demands to ICTI CARE Foundation”
Turning to some of the “demands” made by SACOM:
- ICF should “...revise its standards. Living wage, grievances mechanism, the right to collective bargaining and the right to remedy, including policy of back payment, should be incorporated into the standards.”
We respect SACOM’s desire to ensure “a living wage,” for workers and that will no doubt be achieved in time. At the moment we are focused on ensuring that wages required by law are paid (this includes minimum compensation and correct payment of overtime premiums), as the ICTI Code requires. The Chinese government is expected to raise the minimum wage in Guangdong Province by about 20% March 1st, 2011 and we will enforce compliance.
Recently a number of media reports were published showing that the Chinese Government is working towards establishing “collective bargaining” in factories. We sincerely hope that such a mechanism will be introduced in due course. As soon as this goes into effect we will monitor for compliance with this requirement in our program. Regarding back payment of wages, we had a number of successes in 2010 and many workers did receive back wages. However we fear that your demand for a 24-month back payment period would result in less transparency from the factories.
As far as grievance mechanisms are concerned, our audit protocol checks for the existence and effective operation of a factory’s internal grievance mechanism. We have also begun a program that requires distribution of “What You Should Know” cards to each worker and placing of supporting posters in factories. The cards include a hotline number for complaints that is set up and monitored by a mainland Chinese NGO. So far about 600,000 cards have been shipped to factories for distribution and compliance with this requirement is now part of the audit protocol. The grievance hotline to date has received well over 1,000 calls or e-mails since we launched this service in April 2010, with the numbers trending upward each month. Of those, the hotline provider judged about 150 to be emergencies and referred them directly to our staff auditors for resolution.
A series of three training videos have been produced – one on Occupational Safety & Health, one on Labor Standards and one on Communications and Grievance channels. We are moving these into the factories through train-the- trainer programs throughout this year.
- ICP is asked to disclose “to public the statistics of violations in the global toy industry and publish its financial report...”
One of the reasons we are updating our IT systems is precisely to allow us to provide summary statistics on audit results in the geography where we conduct audits. At the present time, there is no reasonable way to collect and analyze all the data for publication. However we can and will publish summary data on child labor and corruption findings and the outcomes of our interventions. We expect we will be able to provide a full analysis by the end of the year.
With regard to financial reporting, we have already pointed out that the information we provide to the US and Hong Kong governments is both independently audited and open to the public. Nevertheless, we have been considering publishing a summary on our website to enable easier access and expect to do so soon.
- ICP should release “information of the ethical performance of the supply chain of each of the 711 companies supporting it.”
What you ask is complicated but we are and have for some time been working on a solution to this issue, which we intend to find. It is complicated because there are so many companies involved and because we are at least two levels away from management of those companies. ICTI’s members are national toy associations and the brands are members of those associations. Also, the toy industry is a very competitive and creative business, whose members do not wish to make public the names of their suppliers for fear of disclosure of competitively valuable information that may lead to intellectual property theft.
Remember that each of these “Date Certain” companies has committed to source only from ICP certified suppliers in the geography where the ICP operates. So we are now in the position of asking them to reaffirm their commitments on an annual basis and to advise on their progress toward that goal. We are pursuing two avenues of approach: 1) encouraging trial of a program through which brands provide summarized audit reports on their websites; 2) put into place a continuous improvement process mechanism, similar to our approach to working hours, through which brands can periodically report their progress. This is an ongoing and important program for the ICP.
- “ICTI CARE should disclose the number of the cases of bribery and child workers found, on a regular basis.”
As stated in paragraph 2, above, this is something we plan to do.
- “ICTI should release information about the violations and remediation actions of the probation factories and have a deadline with milestones for full compliance.”
As indicated in our response in paragraph 2, above, our new IT system is expected to provide us with the ability to provide summarized information about Code violations and actions taken to correct them.
As regards the probationary process, there very definitely is a specific Corrective Action Plan (CAP) that includes a deadline. There are also surveillance audits conducted every three months along the way, which check for progress specifically in the areas found to be deficient. It should be noted that these surveillance audits are not full audits, but always include verification of correct wage payments and working hours. If we find that the factory has indeed corrected the deficiencies earlier than the time allowed by the CAP, we will end the probationary period early and issue a seal. At the same time we have extended probationary agreements when the factory had made some progress, but needed more time to achieve full compliance.
We should note that all factories on probation are required to distribute the “What You Should Know” cards to their workers; and we check this as part of the CAP.
- “A democratically-elected workers’ committee should be formed in factories to monitor the working conditions at the factories by themselves. To facilitate the formation of a workers’ committee, labor rights training should be conducted at factories.”
Our Code requires, in paragraph 1e “...that all workers are entitled to freely exercise their rights of employee representation as provided by local law.” We monitor for compliance with this section of our code during factory audits. We also know that the Chinese government is making changes in this area and we will require compliance with changes in the law.
- “...a purchasing model of brands must be reviewed. The brands must raise the unit price and provide a reasonable delivery time when they place order. Also, the brands should make living wage a condition when they buy toys. ICTI should work with companies to provide a living wage for workers.” There is a lot contained in this “demand.” We have addressed the question of living wage in paragraph 1, above.
We fully appreciate the effect that buyer pressure for lower prices and faster delivery has on factory management, which is then tempted to reduce compensation and increase working hours. We have already talked about some of what we do with the factories to make sure this doesn’t happen. There are two other programs we have undertaken to address this issue. First, we are providing training to factory management in both effective management and productivity improvement, to help them improve their performance. Second, we are working with a major retailer to develop buyer training programs to raise buyer awareness of the effect of their price and timing demands on supplying factories and consequently on the workers.
- “ICTI CARE should have representatives from international independent trade unions to be its executive board members, so as to ensure that the international labor conventions, workers’ rights to remedy, collective bargaining and organizing are genuinely respected in the ICTI CARE Process.”
We are addressing this concern and have just added Auret van Heerden, head of the Fair Labor Association, to our Governance Board. This increases civil society and NGO representation on our board to 7 members.
Demands to Toy Companies
Although we are not able to speak on behalf of toy companies, we can comment from our point of view on what we are doing to assist toy companies in the areas you mention:
- “Toy companies should reform its buying practice to make living wage feasible”.
As mentioned above, we are working with the toy industry to conduct buyer training programs. In terms of compliance monitoring, as we have said, our initial focus is on compliance with Chinese law in terms of wages and working hours.
- “Toy companies should not evade its responsibility by outsourcing the monitoring task to ICTI. Brands and retailers must monitor the performance of ICTI CARE to ensure that the effective and credible audits are conducted.”
We can assure you that brands, licensors and retailers monitor our activities quite closely. ICTI and the ICP were initiated by toy companies, which provided our seed funding, watch closely how we operate and provide their input regularly. Far from evading their responsibilities, they created us to ensure that factory workers are treated fairly.
- “To increase transparency, brands should include the details of level of compliance to their suppliers in the CSR reports respectively.”
This issue has been discussed in paragraph 3 in the “Demands to ICTI CARE Foundation,” above.
As we have in the past, we reiterate our desire to maintain a continuing dialogue with SACOM and welcome the opportunity to meet regularly to understand better each other’s points of view. We are both helping to create positive change, going out into the factories and amongst the workers to understand how they are being treated and to ensure that their treatment becomes fairer and complies with the law. Our goals are the same – to protect the health and welfare of factory workers. It would be good if we could do a better job of working constructively together to this end.
Read the SACOM statement: ICTI CARE Makes Big Money While Workers Continue to Suffer.