Barbie is Not So Perfect After All
by Carolyn Tomlinson
Barbie dolls in America are portrayed as one of the best toys for children today, especially girls. They adore these perfect, beautiful and do it all doll because it is everything they want to be someday. However, the reputation Barbie has would not be looked upon as highly if the public knew the process it takes to make them. Women and children from the third world seem to have no other choice, but to work for businesses in harsh conditions, hardly any pay, and tedious hours.
Every second, two Barbies are sold somewhere all over the world. This unbelievable amount of manufacturing is due to the harsh labor women and children from China, Thailand, and Indonesia are forced to work. A major producer of Barbies is the company Dynamics factory just outside of Bangkok. They create Mattel’s Barbies the main producer of this doll. Based in El Segundo, California Mattel Media earned $225.3 million dollars in only a three month period. This incredible amount of money is a result of the slave labor within the factories.
John Osolnick, an American working in Bangkok, managed to gain access to Dynamics factory where he reported the 4,500 workers carried major health issues. Since these women and children are forced to sit on old benches with no backs they obtain pains in their hands, necks, and shoulders. Others experience nausea and dizziness and suffer from hair and memory loss. A woman explained that, “It sometimes gets so hot and moist in here that some of us faint." Another terrible outcome is the breathing condition. More than seventy five percent of the workers say they have shortage of breath and infections in and around the throat as a result of the contaminated air. The bosses allowed them to wear masks, but were forced to buy them with their own money.
However, with the four dollar salary a day at the most, the workers usually can not afford such a cost. Osolnick stated that the most obvious thing he saw on the faces of the employees was the black circles surrounded each and every one of their eyes.
Another worker explained to Osolnick, "We have to think of our parents in Chiang Mai and our small brothers and sisters who go to school. Who is going to pay for them if we don't?" An easy answer to this question would simply be, find another job. However, that is not the case for these women and children in the Eastern World. A woman about eighteen explained, “Maybe I should move to Taiwan or Korea.” But even if she wanted to do so, she would not be allowed to emigrate because she is too young. Also, no matter what country, women and children usually are forced to work long hours, low salary, and receive hardly any health care.
Anton Foek, another man who does research on this issue, visited the female workers that were placed in the hospital after being thrown out of the factory due to illness. Sunanta, a twenty year old, he was able to talk to explained her story. She comes from northeastern Thailand, where the poverty is extremely low. In this area most parents must pick a life for their daughters which may range from being sold into sex slavery, forced to work for Thai gangsters from other countries, or like Sunanta, are sent to immense cities where they work in a factory. Her everyday routine is the following, she wakes up at five in the morning after getting home from a work shift that might have went until three a.m. She then must get ready for work, and help her neighbor’s two children get ready for school. Once that is complete, she awaits a ride from her friend to go to the factory. She has worked for six years, but after only a year she developed memory and hair loss, irregularities in her period, and difficulties in breathing. Sunanta quoted, "When we get sick, they throw us out." This appears to be very true as she explains that four of her friends have died because of the sicknesses they acquire during work. She tells Foek that if her friends might have been able to afford health care or insurance, they would have had a much better chance of living.
There are thousands of girls just like Sunanta who are slowly being killed with these illnesses that come from the factories. Dr. Orapun is the director of Thailand's National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health. She has been investigating the widespread illnesses and even deaths of workers at several different factories and assembly plants in and around Bangkok. After years of tests and research, she discovered that many of the sweatshop workers' blood was contaminated with lead from the paints and the chemicals from the fabric that is used to make Barbie's clothes. Furthermore, this could result in serious diseases such as cancer of the lungs, leukemia, and liver. Dr. Orapun attempted to follow the request of the workers and start a movement by going to first secretary of Thailand's Prime Minister. The secretary showed lack of interest and gave no support to Dr. Orapun’s situation. This poor response was because the government would loose massive amounts of income if these factories were to be shut down and the unemployment rate would increase tremendously.
Another example of the deaths and injuries that occurs within these sweatshops took place in one of Mattel’s factories located in Kwai Yong, China. Chen Yuying, 15 years old, was working at Zhili Toy factory receiving seven cents an hour. She like all the other teenage girls was working to support her family based off of her twenty seven dollars monthly salary. In November 1993 the factory set up in flames and eighty three were killed along with hundreds injured, one of them being Chen. Like all the other unsafe conditions for factories, Zhili had some of the worst. There were no sprinkler systems, fire alarms, fire hoses, or fire escapes, and heavy mesh covered all of the windows. The owners locked the doors of the factories on a daily basis so no employees could escape if they did not finish their required work. As a result, Chen suffers from burns to her left ear, breasts, hips, back, waist, left arm, and both legs, leaving her paralyzed for several months. She also lost three of her fingers, and can only walk by using crutches. Due to this accident, Chen, at an extremely young age, can not live her life normally.
In conclusion, companies that everyday people buy from are harming thousands of peoples’ lives. A prime business being Mattel, the producer of Barbie, kills and injuries young girls who probably have never even played with this toy.2 It builds mostly all its factories in China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Mexico because the government does not speak up for their citizens. The women and children truly can not speak up for their rights because they then would have no income to support their families. A banner that was hung by workers in Bangkok said, “We are not slave labor!” Hopefully a union will be started soon in order to save the lives of these people working in the unbearable conditions.