|To McDonald's, 'Happy Meal'
toys are an important means of gaining custom, not just of children, but
of adults too. According to the company's confidential 'Operations Manual':
"Children are often the key decision makers concerning where a family goes
to eat". Offering toys is "one of the best things...to make them loyal
supporters". This is cynical manipulation of children by appealing to their
love of toys, to get them to pester their parents into taking them to McDonald's.
But not only are McDonald's exploiting children, they are also responsible for the exploitation of workers in Asian countries who are paid a pittance to turn out 'Happy Meal' Toys.
THE REALITY FOR TOY WORKERS - Keyhinge Toys in Vietnam, and Chi Wah Toys, Kam Yuen Toys and Sewco toys in China are four of the companies which produce 'Happy Meal' toys for McDonald's. Conditions in these factories are appalling. Ventilation is poor and workers are frequently exposed to dangerously high levels of poisonous chemicals. In 1992, 23 workers at the Chi Wah toy factory in China were sent to hospital following benzene poisoning, and 3 died. The level of benzene was 9 times higher than the maximum permitted by law.
In February 1997, at Keyhinge Toys, 220 workers became seriously ill as a result of acetone poisoning and overwork, many collapsed and 3 were hospitalised. Two months later acetone levels within the factory were found to be 84 times higher than the recommended US exposure limit, and four weeks after this more workers were hospitalised after exposure to hazardous chemicals. Despite these problems continuing the factory is now expanding its capacity three-fold following an increase in orders from McDonald's.
Over 90% of the Keyhinge workers are young women. Most lack the experience needed to collectively defend their rights. In 1997 workers were earning as little as 5 pence per hour, below the legal minimum wage of approx. £22 per month. By February 1998, following international protests, most workers were receiving the legal minimum. However management circumvented the wage laws by making deductions for meals and preventing workers from eating outside where food is cheaper. Fines and penalties, including corporal punishment are regularly imposed on the workers.
In the Chinese toy factories work is an average 14-15 hours a day, with no day off. Wages are very low, and violations of minimum wage and overtime laws common. Unreasonable salary deductions, forced overtime work and physical and verbal abuse are commonplace.
Workers are afraid to complain about these practices for fear of dismissal. Many workers lack a social support base as they come from villages far from the factories. However, less than a year after starting production 772 Keyhinge workers (nearly half the workforce) resigned in protest against poor working conditions and labour rights violations.
Such is the reality of most of the cheap and plentiful goods produced in the third world for the profits of Western multinational corporations. But workers and communities everywhere are organising themselves to fight back with strikes, protests and boycotts.
RECLAIMING OUR WORLD - Multinational companies and governments dominate our lives and our planet, resulting everywhere in exploitation and oppression - and destruction of the natural environment. We call on people to get together and talk about these important issues. Together ordinary people can reclaim our world, currently based on the greed and power of a minority, and create a society based on freedom, sharing and mutual aid and respect for all life.
WORKING FOR THE BIG MAC
Low pay - Despite making approx. $2 billion profit globally every year, McDonald's deny their workers a decent wage. In 1997 a High Court Judge ruled that McDonald's pays such low wages that it "helps to depress wages for workers in the catering trade in Britain" (itself a low paid sector). On top of this, employees have no guaranteed hours and don't get overtime rates. McDonald's says workers can increase pay by passing 'Performance Reviews'. However, company documents reveal that to get a measly 10p per hour increase, a workers's performance must "consistently exceed job requirements and expectations".
Poor conditions - Work at McDonald's is hard and hectic, with employees expected to work at speed at all times. Pressure to keep profits high and wage costs low results in understaffing, so staff have to work harder and faster. Consequently, accidents (particularly burns and slippages) are common. Workers are often denied breaks or given shortened breaks, and required to stay late. On top of all this they're compelled to 'smile' too - in the reviews for pay rises, employees are marked on how often they smile!
The majority of employees are people who have few job options and so are forced to accept this exploitation. For many this is their first job, so they may be hoodwinked by company propaganda into thinking that conditions at McDonald's are normal and acceptable. Two-thirds of employees are under 21.
Anti-union practices - Not surprisingly staff turnover at McDonald's is high, making it virtually impossible to unionise and fight for a better deal. This suits McDonald's, who have always used a wide range of tactics to try to prevent workers from organising. The employee contract (crew handbook) contains outrageous clauses which prevent workers from informing trade unions of instore conditions, circulating leaflets, putting up notices or holding meetings.
What can be done? Workers can and do organise together to fight for their rights and dignity. We encourage all workers to do this. A leaflet is available for distribution to workers at McDonald's. The company doesn't always get it's own way. Unions have been successful to some extent (now or in the past) in several countries. And in August 1998 workers at one store in Canada, succeeded in becoming the first ever store in North America to be unionised.
It's not just McDonald's
-in society and almost all workplaces, ordinary people have no real say
over how things are run. But, together we can fight back against the institutions
and people in power who dominate our lives and planet and we can create
a better society without exploitation. Talk to friends and family, neighbours
and workmates about these issues. Please copy and circulate this leaflet
as widely as you can.
"I want every McDonald's worker to stand up for their rights, which is why I am backing this support campaign 100%. In this way, Mark's death will not have been in vain."
- Maureen Hopkins (Mark's mother).