In December 2007, two nongovernmental organizations, or NGO's, documented what they said were abuse and labor violations at 15 factories that produce or supply goods for Wal-Mart — including the use of child labor at Huanya Gifts, a factory based in Guangzhou that makes Christmas tree ornaments.
Wal-Mart officials say they are investigating the allegations, which were in a report issued three weeks ago by the National Labor Committee, a New York-based NGO.
Guangzhou labor bureau officials say they recently fined Huanya for wage violations, but officials say they found no evidence of child labor. A spokesman for Huanya, which employs 8,000 workers, denied that the company broke any labor laws. But two workers interviewed outside Huanya's huge complex in late December said that they were forced to work long hours to meet production quotas in harsh conditions.
"I work on the plastic molding machine from 6 in the morning to 6 at night," said Xu Wenquan, a tiny, baby-faced 16-year-old whose hands were covered with blisters.
Asked what had happened to his hands, he replied, the machines are "quite hot, so I've burned my hands."
His brother, Xu Wenjie, 18, said the two young men left their small village in impoverished Guizhou Province four months ago and traveled more than 500 miles to find work at Huanya.
The brothers said they worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, for $120 to $200 a month, far less than they are required to be paid by law.
When government inspectors visit the factory, the young brothers are given the day off, they said.
A former Huanya employee who was reached by telephone gave a similar account of working conditions, saying many workers suffered from skin rashes after working with gold powders and that others were forced to sign papers "volunteering" to work overtime.
"It's quite noisy, and you stand up all day, 12 hours, and there's no air-conditioning," he said. "We get paid by the piece we make but they never told us how much. Sometimes I got $110, sometimes I got $150 a month."
In its 58-page report, the National Labor Committee scolded Wal-Mart for not doing more to protect workers. The group charged that last July, Huanya recruited about 500 16-year-old high school students to work seven days a week, often 15 hours a day, during peak production months for holiday merchandise.
Several students interviewed at the Guangzhou Technical School, less than two miles from Huanya, confirmed that classmates ages 16 to 18 had spent the summer working at the factory.
Some high school students later went on strike to protest the harsh conditions, the report said. The students also told labor officials that at least seven children, as young as 12 years old, were working in the factory.
"At Wal-Mart, Christmas ornaments are cheap, and so are the lives of the young workers in China who make them," the National Labor Committee report said.
Jonathan Dong, a Wal-Mart spokesman in Beijing, said the company would soon release details of its own investigation into working conditions at Huanya.
(c) New York Times