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Old 2011-12-20, 11:20 AM   #1
Terome
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Default Factories hired by Hasbro to make Transformers found to operate under appalling conditions.

http://www.globallabourrights.org/reports?id=0642http://www.globallabourrights.org/reports?id=0642

Here's a PDF compiled by a whistleblower about the conduct of a factory in Hong Kong that Hasbro enlists the service of. It makes for an uncomfortable read, and is peppered woth some weird cheap shops, but is also sadly unsurprising.
 
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Old 2011-12-20, 05:29 PM   #2
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This doesn't suprise me. Since reading No Logo over a decade ago, i'd wondered about the toy industry use of such factories (they were the one industry not mentioned in the book). It doesn't make for good reading. Particularly the section on 14 - 15 year olds being approved "on a case by case basis".

Sigh. This is the downside of a 'free market economy'. It might sound incredibly naieve to say this, but doesn't it matter to companies that this goes on? Doesn't it bother the executives that make these decisions to use certain factories that they are causing such misery?
 
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Old 2011-12-20, 07:35 PM   #3
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but is also sadly unsurprising.
Indeed. Hasbro certainly isn't alone in this, but that doesn't make it right. Though as long as these practices are (presumably) legal in China I'm not sure exactly what can be done to stop corporations who don't seem to give a toss doing this.
 
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Old 2011-12-20, 08:20 PM   #4
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With toys... even the better average factory conditions in China are unlikely to be considered reasonable by the average Westerner, so we can make a choice to moderate or stop buying worthless bits of plastic assembled by kids ten years our junior.

With slightly-less-optional-to-modern-living devices such as fridges / freezers / house phones / computers... where are the ethical producers? Even with premium devices, that doesn't generally equate to better production conditions, just more of a mark-up... are there any reputable Fairtrade-like certifications for electronics and similar goods, and are the certifications worth a damn?
 
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Old 2011-12-20, 08:25 PM   #5
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To be fair, those are probably the only job that they could find with any sort of pay. It's not like they would work there if there is a better alternative...

I mean, if it's between living on the streets with only begging as your way of life, and this... it's sort of better. It's not right and the factory in question is probably lower in standards than the usual ones, but for them it's a job..
 
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Old 2011-12-20, 08:25 PM   #6
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Honestly, I find all of the "Oh no, I had no idea!" reactions I'm seeing on other TF boards hilarious. It's impossible to not know how bad working conditions are in China unless you've willfully buried your head in the sand, because stuff like this gets talked about all the time. It's sad that so many people are only starting to pay attention when a hobby of theirs is explicitly called out.

Just so no one has any illusions, more than half (and maybe close to all) of the things you own were made in Southeast Asia under conditions similar to -- if not worse than -- the ones discussed in the article. That includes the clothes you're wearing, the chair you're sitting in and the computer you're reading this on. It's a global problem and singling out one particular toy company to call out is not only disingenuous, it smacks of a hatchet job. Getting mad at Hasbro for working within the bounds of the system that every manufacturer has to work within isn't going to fix anything. If you want to be mad, get mad at the Chinese government for not enforcing workplace standards and not tossing the corrupt factory owners in jail.

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Sigh. This is the downside of a 'free market economy'. It might sound incredibly naieve to say this, but doesn't it matter to companies that this goes on? Doesn't it bother the executives that make these decisions to use certain factories that they are causing such misery?
They literally can't afford to care.

The factory owners can't pay their employees more or upgrade the facilities because if they did, they'd have to charge Hasbro more and would probably end up losing their contract to a cheaper factory with worse conditions. And Hasbro can't be aggressive rooting out and firing sweat shops like this (let alone pulling manufacturing out of China altogether and moving it to Europe or North America) because unless every other toy manufacturer did the same thing (and they obviously wouldn't) Hasbro's costs would skyrocket, the toys' prices would skyrocket and they would sell far, far fewer toys than they do now. And that would basically be the end of Hasbro.

It's a prisoners' dilemma, basically -- neither the workers, the factory owners or the toy companies can safely take action to fix the problem because they can't trust the other parties involved to do what's right. I think the only people who could fix the problem are the Chinese government, but since they're not responsable to the 'little people' like Western governments are I don't know if they'll see any benefit in passing workers' rights laws. And even if they did, all it would take is Bandai or someone moving their production lines to some shithole country in Africa or South America and the whole thing will start all over again.

Even Lego -- whose brand carries so much weight that people are willing to pay double what Megablocks are charging for the same sized set -- have been forced to start using factories in China and Mexico to compete with Chinese-made product. And that says a lot, considering "Made in Europe" was such a big selling point to my parents' generation.
 
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Old 2011-12-20, 08:28 PM   #7
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And, adding to my two cents worth of thoughts, there are just so many factories in China and the corporate owners are more concerned about profit than the little people, that I don't think the government actually can fix the problem within a short time.

Certainly not without affecting the economy of China.

And again, if you ask many of the people working in shithole factories like those, some of the reasons are like, 'it's to pay for the milk for my malnourished two-month-old baby brother, I'll take what I can get.' or 'I'm an orphan and no one would take me in' or 'it's this or drug dealing/child prostitution/[insert other horrible fate]'

It's mostly because they don't have any qualifications for a proper job, are too poor to get one, and are too many for the government to do something about.
 
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Old 2011-12-20, 08:53 PM   #8
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Lego have at least been careful to use factories that have a decent level of care for their employees, although the hours are still long for the workers. Its a small step in the right direction and displays some level of care from a Western company.

Whilst I am not totally in the dark about how our goods are produced, i would argue that a company should have some sort of repsonsibility and code of ethics that would govern to whom they award contracts, and working practices should play a part in that. Child labour hasn't been acceptable since the Industrial Revolution, so it shouldn't be acceptable now.

China have demonstrated time and again that they could give a fig about peoples welfare, so in those circumstances, I would hope any firm would do the right thing.

Having some sort of 'Fairtrade' tag across all industries sounds like a good idea to me.

and in all honesty, people really do not know where things come from. there are children growing up who do not know that meat comes from animals. which probably tells you all you need to know about british education. moreover, since we sent manufacturing abroad, no one knows how things are made, where stuff comes from, nor the conditions in which they are made. sad, but true.
 
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Old 2011-12-20, 11:47 PM   #9
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And, adding to my two cents worth of thoughts, there are just so many factories in China and the corporate owners are more concerned about profit than the little people, that I don't think the government actually can fix the problem within a short time.

Certainly not without affecting the economy of China.
Considering the, ahem, undemocratic nature of the government in China they're probably better-equipped to reign in bad businesses than most other countries, aren't they? If they decided that this was a problem they could round up the executives of a couple dozen of the worst offenders, run a public show-trial and then execute them without needing to worry about the technicalities of the law or evidence. I wager things would turn around pretty quickly after that.

They won't though, at least not as long as cheap manufacturing is such a vital part of their economy. Raising the employment standards too much too quickly will drive the multinationals to a different country and shut down the industry in China entirely. And as horrible as the conditions may be in a job like that, it beats being unemployed in a country like China. Not that I think the government cares about that much, but tossing 1/4 of your workforce onto the streets all at once sounds like a good recipe for having your government overthrown if I've ever heard one.

They could still be making incremental improvements, but frankly they don't seem to be interested in even that.

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Lego have at least been careful to use factories that have a decent level of care for their employees, although the hours are still long for the workers. Its a small step in the right direction and displays some level of care from a Western company.
Lego actually own the factories, if I remember correctly. At least they own the ones in Europe and the one they recently opened in Mexico. I think the same thing is true about the Chinese ones they use as well, but I'm not 100% sure. I'm curious how that effects the economics of production, but Lego has somehow managed to find a niche as a 'premium' toy that parents think has more value than the lower-priced competition. If other companies (toys or otherwise) could figure out how to get away with that, I suspect you'd see fewer and fewer items with the 'made in China' tag on them.

I'm curious whether other toy companies that don't have the same following would be able to afford to buy their own factories or not. I also wonder whether the relative simplicity of Lego -- they can basically reuse the same 100 or so parts molds to make anything they want -- means that owning the infrastructure is cheaper than for something like Transformers, where you need to cast new molds for every new item you want to sell.

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Child labour hasn't been acceptable since the Industrial Revolution, so it shouldn't be acceptable now.
Does this really count as child labour, though? It sounds like the youngest we're talking about is fourteen or fifteen years old, and (at least in Canada) a lot of people have jobs by then, albeit part-time ones since they need to be in school until 16. And frankly, if these teens weren't working in a factory half of them would be doing back-breaking labour on a family farm and the other half would be street urchins, because if they (or their families) didn't need the extra money to survive then they wouldn't be there. So I wouldn't be too quick to turn them out.

It's not like we're talking about eight year olds chained to a workbench, unless I missed something (quite possible).

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and in all honesty, people really do not know where things come from. there are children growing up who do not know that meat comes from animals. which probably tells you all you need to know about british education.
That's disgraceful, but hardly something you can blame on the education system when the parents seemingly don't see any need to teach such basic things either. That's another discussion entirely though, so I won't derail things.

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moreover, since we sent manufacturing abroad, no one knows how things are made, where stuff comes from, nor the conditions in which they are made. sad, but true.
A lot of people are willfully ignorant of how and where their stuff is made, but that's not the same thing. It's impossible not to make the connection between the stories you hear of sweat shops and the consumer goods you buy, unless you don't want to make the connection. The truth is that most people don't want to know, because if they did they might have to stop and think about the morality of the consumer-driven society that we live in. And I can completely understand that, because...well, because what can we do to change it?

But not caring is not the same thing as not knowing.
 
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Old 2011-12-21, 12:08 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Warcry View Post
I also wonder whether the relative simplicity of Lego -- they can basically reuse the same 100 or so parts molds to make anything they want -- means that owning the infrastructure is cheaper than for something like Transformers, where you need to cast new molds for every new item you want to sell.
Adds to the logistics... yeah, you've got an initial "item" range that's perhaps only a few thousands (low tens of thousands across the lifetime of the product as a whole?) of parts, particularly bearing in mind the licensed ranges, but when you factor in stock control and colour variations, plus exacting quality control (there's far less tolerance in moulds that need to produce parts that 'clutch' to others, including other parts that may be years or decades old -- and keep their shape precisely for those periods) and I'd guess it's more complicated than the pump-and-dump approach Transformers moulds are subject to.

Quote:
Does this really count as child labour, though? It sounds like the youngest we're talking about is fourteen or fifteen years old, and (at least in Canada) a lot of people have jobs by then, albeit part-time ones since they need to be in school until 16.
Holding a 14 year old to the daily hours/breaks of a Chinese factory isn't much different to holding a 17 year old or 20 year old -- the older workers are likely to be in worse health, if anything. The first case is child (and in this case literally sweatshop) labour, though, insofar as that term has a more emotive meaning for us than the culture it's applied to.

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what can we do to change it?
Little. I'm opting for being less materialistic as I get older and not bringing new life onto the hole we call a planet (whilst recognising that if everyone did the latter we'd really be ****ed.)

But no, no particularly good alternatives... I'm not aware of any manufacturers who produce consumer electronics where a higher price tag equals ethical production.

edit:

Quote:
Honestly, I find all of the "Oh no, I had no idea!" reactions I'm seeing on other TF boards hilarious.
Mmm. Most depressing is the "I can't participate with [a letter writing campaign or online discussion criticising those involved] directly for professional reasons" I've just spotted... basically, having ethics and speaking about them publicly would prejudice the person's employment/freelancing with Hasbro or Takara. The chilling effect is disgusting, really.
 

Last edited by Denyer; 2011-12-21 at 12:39 AM.
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Old 2011-12-21, 12:20 AM   #11
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Skyquake87: Sigh. This is the downside of a 'free market economy'. It might sound incredibly naieve to say this, but doesn't it matter to companies that this goes on? Doesn't it bother the executives that make these decisions to use certain factories that they are causing such misery?
As a company that markets to parents, Hasbro most certainly should care about the negative PR this has and will generate. It's possible, through a combination of plausible deniability, strategic bribery and wishful thinking, that they are as blindsided by this report as we are.

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Denyer: With slightly-less-optional-to-modern-living devices such as fridges / freezers / house phones / computers... where are the ethical producers? Even with premium devices, that doesn't generally equate to better production conditions, just more of a mark-up... are there any reputable Fairtrade-like certifications for electronics and similar goods, and are the certifications worth a damn?
The Fairtrade labels for food and drink generally aren't worth a damn, unfortunately. And you're right, our whole civilisation is built on a sea of skulls and the bones of the oppressed. It's worth reflecting on just how much misery our daily lives inflict on other people alive today even without taking into consideration luxury items like toys.

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Warcry: Considering the, ahem, undemocratic nature of the government in China they're probably better-equipped to reign in bad businesses than most other countries, aren't they?
Hong Kong operates under special laws granting it a bit of freedom from the planned economy. They couldn't be stomped down without causing a ruckus.
 
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Old 2011-12-21, 12:32 AM   #12
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Adds to the logistics... yeah, you've got an initial "item" range that's perhaps only a few thousands (low tens of thousands?) of parts, particularly bearing in mind the licensed ranges, but when you factor in stock control and colour variations, plus exacting quality control (there's far less tolerance in moulds that need to produce parts that 'clutch' to others, including other parts that may be years or decades old -- and keep their shape precisely for those periods) and I'd guess it's more complicated than the pump-and-dump approach Transformers moulds are subject to.
That's true. It's a lot easier to enforce strict QC standards when you own the factory directly, and I imagine that's a very big factor in their decision as well. And warehousing and supply chain management probably eats up a lot more of the budget for Lego than for an action figure line, but that's going to be a factor no matter who owns the factory.

You also need to factor in what Lego production doesn't need that Transformers does.

There's probably a lot fewer people involved in the assembly line. Bricks can easily be machine-sorted into the correct assortment for any given set, and the human element is probably more tuned to quality control -- people making sure that the parts are coming out within tolerance and that the sets have the right number of each element included. A Lego factory won't have dozens of people sitting at a workbench screwing parts together or popping arms onto ball-jonts.

They also don't need to worry about tearing down old assembly lines and putting up new ones quite as often. When a set goes out of production, it doesn't make as much difference from a manufacturing standpoint. The factory that stamps out 2x2 square bricks is still going to be stamping them out six months from now, while the factory that produced Dark of the Moon toys will have spent a lot more overhead swapping out molds, moving equipment and training employees so that they can produce an entirely different set of figures under the Prime or Generations banner. And that's assuming that Hasbro doesn't retask their factories with producing entirely different toylines -- they could be making Nerf guns or Ponies once the run of Transformers is done.

Making Lego certainly isn't cheaper when you factor in the big picture, and I think the reasons you mentioned are the biggest reasons why. But I think the actual manufacturing process probably costs less. Either way it's definitely a very different process, and that makes it frustratingly hard to judge whether what works for Lego would be viable for a company like Hasbro or not.
 
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Old 2011-12-21, 12:36 AM   #13
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Quote:
Denyer: Holding a 14 year old to the daily hours/breaks of a Chinese factory isn't much different to holding a 17 year old or 20 year old -- the older workers are likely to be in worse health, if anything. The first case is child (and in this case literally sweatshop) labour, though, insofar as that term has a more emotive meaning for us than the culture it's applied to.
I didn't see anything about the mean age of the workers in the PDF, but if the textile sweatshops I've poked my head inside in South Africa are anything to go by, most of the factory workers would be old ladies and mothers. From anecdotes told to me, it used to be quite common in Taiwan for three generations of women to work alongside each other in the same factory, with mothers bringing their children in for daycare / training and then talking the foreman around to employing them.
No evidence for any of that here, mind.
 
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Old 2011-12-21, 03:33 AM   #14
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Considering the, ahem, undemocratic nature of the government in China they're probably better-equipped to reign in bad businesses than most other countries, aren't they?
Hong Kong is one of China's new "Special Economic Zones" that have cropped up. They don't operate under the same laws as the rest of China and are far far far more able to act in a capitalistic manner.

That said, I saw nothing particularly shocking in that. I've been keeping a keen eye on China and it's factories for a few years now. The upside is that things are improving. A few years ago there was a worker's strike and things got a little scarce on this end. Working conditions have improved, as has pay, overall for the past few years. The upside is that the new improvements have helped China without getting too many companies to move out. Downside, from a Westerner perspective, they are still shite.

Also, I'll point out, that no matter what happens there will always be poor as dirt people willing to do shitty jobs for way to little money. At least in China they can be watched and the like. I'd be much more worried if the factories moved to, say, Africa.
 
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Old 2011-12-21, 04:13 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Terome View Post
Hong Kong operates under special laws granting it a bit of freedom from the planned economy. They couldn't be stomped down without causing a ruckus.
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Hong Kong is one of China's new "Special Economic Zones" that have cropped up. They don't operate under the same laws as the rest of China and are far far far more able to act in a capitalistic manner.
The factory isn't in Hong Kong, but Shenzhen (the Chinese province just on the other side of the border) according to some research done at the Allspark. It was probably identified as Hong Kong to make it easier for people to know where they were talking about, but as you guys say there's a pretty big difference. They're the one city in the same way that Minneapolis and St. Paul are one city, but they're legally and administratively distinct. For our discussion, the important difference is that Shenzhen is only a 'special economic zone', not a 'special administrative region' like Hong Kong or Macau. It doesn't have anywhere near the level of autonomy as those two cities do.

Something this bad probably couldn't happen in Hong Kong itself because the city has used it's autonomy to create much stronger workplace protections than the mainland has. I doubt it's entirely up to Western standards but it seems to be one of the best places to work in Southeast Asia. At least on paper, they have strong safety laws, a reasonable minimum wage and protect workers' rights and the right to form unions. That's presupposing any of these things actually exist in practice.

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I didn't see anything about the mean age of the workers in the PDF, but if the textile sweatshops I've poked my head inside in South Africa are anything to go by, most of the factory workers would be old ladies and mothers. From anecdotes told to me, it used to be quite common in Taiwan for three generations of women to work alongside each other in the same factory, with mothers bringing their children in for daycare / training and then talking the foreman around to employing them.
No evidence for any of that here, mind.
I think a big driver of the demographics in a textile plant is sexism, though. By and large clothing is seen as "women's work". At least, that's the sort of attitude that was prevalent when textile plants in Winnipeg were importing Filipino workers in the 70s and 80s.
 
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Old 2011-12-21, 05:38 AM   #16
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We all knew this before... didn't we? I take it as a given that anything with made in China/Hong Kong/Macau stamped benefits from exploitation, and it's been that way as long as I've been alive (not my understanding, but the situation - G1 figures weren't made in luxurious positions). I try not to think about it and thank my lucky stars I'm on this end of the arrangement, but that's it. I could make a vague smokescreen about never really buying anything new from Has/Tak, but that's something which suits me personally and is meaningless anyway.

That's not a very nice attitude, but unlike some (no-one here, I must stress) I'm not going to pretend to be shocked and bleeding hearted over it while simulatenously buying hundreds of dollars' worth of product (and probably complaining it's 5% more than it was a couple of years ago). A fan boycot would make an impact (more in attracting mainstream media attention than on overall sales), but then who'd do YouTube reviews of the new Prime figures and send IDW wet-brained pitches? Transformers fans in gutless self-interested scum shocker.
 
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Old 2011-12-21, 06:36 AM   #17
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Indeed. Hasbro certainly isn't alone in this, but that doesn't make it right. Though as long as these practices are (presumably) legal in China I'm not sure exactly what can be done to stop corporations who don't seem to give a toss doing this.
Hasbro's tried to do more operations in the United States, but they would have to charge over $20 for a Cyberverse Legion figure to do it, thanks to all the increased costs.

While the conditions in China are appaling (and borderline crimes against humanity), it's become more and more impossible to have a manufacturing base in either the United States or Europe, thanks to the insane cost of labor.

Averaging $40/hr for untrained labor before benefits... or $1.20 an hour? ...

Until our labor forces start accepting the idea that unskilled safe labor probably shouldn't top $10 an hour, China and Mexico and so on will be getting the blue-collar jobs.
 
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Old 2011-12-21, 12:03 PM   #18
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Just checked my 'The Brick' magazine that i got from Lego in 2010. They do indeed own the Mexican and Chinese facotries.

I don't know, I'm an optimist. Whilst I understand that improvements in foreign labour conditions are going to be slow progress, I had hoped things would have improved somewhat over the last twenty or so years. Mind you, we don't know if this is just an isolated case. Like Cliffjumper says, this probably wouldn't stop me purchasing goods from said company, but it would be nice if they thought about doing some research into the type of operations they deal with. Do firms still send people abroad to source factories to work with? And do they visit them to check out the production line?

And Vanguard, you are totally right about Labour costs. One of things that tickles me about the UK is that we have all this unemployment, yet there's always factory work going for minimum wage which people refuse to do as if its somehow beneath them. Okay, i appreciate that for some people they've had it so cosy on benefits that going back to work would leave them worse off (which is a whole different problem - one that our current government is now solving by cutting everything), but it seems churlish for idiots to moan that polish, asian or russian migrants are stealing "our jobs" if they're not prepared to do the work themselves. When I got made redundant from my credit control job last year, I went to work in a factory doing quality control work (a friend kindly helped me out as he ran the department) and I was happy to do the work for minimum wage. Apart from him, I was the only british person on the team, working alongside a load of latvian and russian girls

Anyway, I've just emailed hasbro, see what they make of all this and whether they'll be doing anything about it (i've suggested that they might want to work with the factory rather than pull their contract) . I had to use hasbro uk though, which is little more than a distribution hub, but we shall see what happens.
 

Last edited by Skyquake87; 2011-12-21 at 12:25 PM. Reason: something i did
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Old 2011-12-21, 02:03 PM   #19
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Hmm, just found out that threads about this were deleted on the IDW boards and that TFW2005 aren't reporting it at all.

That's kind of crazy.

Quote:
A fan boycot would make an impact (more in attracting mainstream media attention than on overall sales),
I think simple e-mails urging Hasbro to sort their shit out would work. Their PR department is probably already on triple-shifts this week working on a response to this.
 

Last edited by Terome; 2011-12-21 at 02:05 PM. Reason: An additional point!
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Old 2011-12-21, 02:33 PM   #20
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I think simple e-mails urging Hasbro to sort their shit out would work. Their PR department is probably already on triple-shifts this week working on a response to this.
Again, the problem here is self-interest. Half the fandom think they're a bit of brown-nosing away from making the design team and doing that Generations-Jazz-as-Stepper recolour only they've thought of, or that IDW are dying to do their cult-film-redone-with-Transformers Spotlight.
 
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