Santa’s Real Workshop is a Sweatshop in China

It’s fun to tell our children fun stories about Santa and his elves merrily making all their Christmas wishes magically come true. But in 2017, maybe it’s time we tell them the real story — the story many grown-ups don’t even know, because they prefer to remain willfully ignorant.

Santa’s workshop is not at the North Pole. It’s in China. And his elves are desperately poor migrant workers, whose repressive government has given them no choice but to sell themselves into indentured servitude to corporations that make cheap, plastic goodies for European and American children.

Santa’s real elves work in a sweat shop in China

They work literally around the clock in sweltering heat and toxic fumes, performing the same repetitive, monotonous task for 14 to 20 hours straight. If they are lucky enough to make it “home” to their factory dormatories, where they are packed in 12-20 workers per room, they might catch a couple of hours of sleep before they do it all over again the next day, seven days a week.

Toy factory dormitory bunk beds

If you think this is an exaggeration, watch the videos below.

The first is a news story about a little town in China called Yiwu where 60 percent of the world’s Christmas decorations are made in 700 factories.

The U.S.  imported half a billion dollars worth of Christmas decorations from Yiwu in 2015.

It’s such an important exporter of cheap products to Europe, China opened an 8000 mile rail-line from Yiwu to Spain.

While this story is depressing enough, Chinese Christmas decorations are only the tip of the iceberg.

Globally, consumers spend nearly $100 billion on toys each year, most of them for Christmas.  80% of these toys come from thousands of factories in China, mostly from a city outside of Hong Kong called Shenzhen.

In the documentary Santa’s Workshop below, the non-profit human rights and environmental organization Swedwatch exposes the little white lie behind those pretty packages under the tree:

Several Scandinavian toy companies gave the filmmakers permission to visit select factories.

In covert interviews, workers making dolls and stuffed animals for Disney claim to work seven days a week from 6:30 am to midnight. During peak holiday preparation season, during the heat of the summer, workers say they sometimes work until 4 am.

In another factory that makes toy cars, filmmakers said the air was “stifling and it was difficult to breathe.”

When asked why more than 90 percent of the workers were female, factory manager Tai Guang Lai told filmmakers “women are easier to manage.”

The filmmakers found workers hands and arms scarred from cuts and burns from hot plastic molds. They watched women fall asleep on their work tables and faint when they stood up for lunch break.

During peak season, some factory workers never make it back to their dorms

Asked about why they were fainting, one manager said a lot of them skip breakfast to save money, but that it was “no big deal” … “they recover quickly.”


During lunch break two women support another woman who has just fainted

Factory managers and toy company representatives insisted that workers “want” to work overtime, so they can make extra money.

But workers interviewed in secret told a different story. They say they are not guaranteed a minimum wage and are paid according to how fast they work. They say their pay is so low, they couldn’t survive without overtime.

While the factories all present acceptable stats about pay, overtime and working conditions to buyers, the filmmakers say both sides are aware it’s a farce. When toy companies inspect factories, workers say they are paid extra to give acceptable answers to questions and that unacceptable answers result in punishment.

An investigation by Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee shows 7 out of 9 suppliers cheat in this way to make it appear they comply with national labor laws.

Factory managers say toy companies make impossible demands — pay your employees well, but keep your prices low … don’t require too much overtime, ship this to us in 30 days.

Toy companies blame consumers for being unwilling to pay more for their products.

“When we were manufacturing in Sweden, customers were not willing to pay the extra cost,” Tomas Person, managing director of Brio, said in the film.

So prices are kept low at the expense of the workers.

Why don’t the workers complain? Because China is not a democracy. Protests are crushed by the military and workers who try to organize unions are arrested.

Because of their enormous population combines with repressive trade union laws, the commoners of China are ripe for exploitation.


Its not only factory workers who pay the high cost of cheap toys, but everyone who lives in the area. The toy factories dump untreated waste including chromium, lead, mercury, phosphorus and ammonia into the surrounding environment.

Mercury levels in the water and fish around factories are 280 times higher than national requirements. Locals downstream use the water for drinking and irrigation, saying its the only water they have.

So maybe next year, we can make our own gifts, buy local, or at least buy “fair-trade” toys. Maybe if we didn’t buy 10 or 20 plastic toys that will end up in a landfill, we could afford to buy one or two high-quality ones like these fairly traded finger puppets from Peru:





67 responses to “Santa’s Real Workshop is a Sweatshop in China”

  1. Linda Bassett Avatar
    Linda Bassett

    Making toys for WHITE CHILDREN, what the hell, are WHITE CHILDREN the only kids that get toys for Christmas… I was reading this article until I came to this comment.. Gog to hell Sara Burrows, you are part of what is wrong with this country…

    1. Linda Bassett Avatar
      Linda Bassett

      Go to hell, not Gog to hell

      1. Doug Avatar

        Thot “Gog” was appropo…

    2. Heidi Piltz Avatar
      Heidi Piltz

      It doesn’t say “White children” anywhere in the article; Linda Bassett, put on your reading glasses!

      1. EE Avatar

        It said “white children” until the author changed it.

      2. MsPony65 Avatar

        It did.

        The author changed it.

      3. AJ Avatar

        It was that way in the original article. Read the author’s comment below.

    3. Jules Avatar

      No where did it say “white” children… it said European and American children. Obviously because Europe and America are their biggest buyers…

      1. Robert Avatar

        I also didn’t see it say “white children” anywhere in the article. There are other races in Europe and United States besides Caucasians. It seems that there are certain breeds of people on the Internet (both black and white) who like to engage in race baiting.

        1. EE Avatar

          The author admits Changing it in a later comment.

      2. Bill Avatar

        The author is confusing the word directly with honestly.

    4. Robert Avatar

      The blame is being put on the consumers who are the market, but we don’t make the marketplace. The sellers and manufacturers do.
      I suppose the “white lie” remark is what sounds like another attack on whites, which it might even be, granting clever composition.
      America and Europe are the wealthy markets for certain products so I guess that is where items will be made to be sold.
      This story is not about anything secret or new.
      This is why it is important to restore American values, share them everywhere and help raise all people to the level of dignity we once aspired to.

      1. E Avatar

        Consumers choose the amount they are willing to pay and how much they consume. Consume less. Teach children what they really need or not. People could afford to pay more if minimum wages were high enough but then poor people do have charity shops/thrift stores to go to, so mainly it is not people on the breadline but those who do not take human suffering into account when they choose what they are willing to pay.

      2. EE Avatar

        Well, if consumers aren’t willing to pay more for ethically-produced products (and I used to work for a Target, where the idea of people gently accepting price increases is a fantasy), then production is going to have to accommodate those statistics, otherwise risking sales and profit loss. To refuse any responsibility for this seems a little idealistic.

      3. Stever65 Avatar

        The story is informative, and if enough people are reached and stop buying this merchandise, then the situation might change. This is an example of Freedom of the Press; Information necessary for developing a moral code is presented, giving us the opportunity to make informed decisions. Better to encourage simpler expressions of “Holiday Spirit.” Better to choose less toxic materials. Better to know how our dollars are used in the manufacturing countries; the working conditions and the presence of workers’ unions and collective bargaining rights, or not! Better to push back on a corrupt world than docilely accept everything without thinking about it.

      4. Miss Undersood Avatar
        Miss Undersood

        Where’d you get that idea?? If the consumers weren’t creating the demand for the products, the manufactures wouldn’t have a reason to make them.

    5. Christie Avatar

      Linda, nowhere in this article does it say “white children”! (I read it twice just to confirm.)

      Damn troll.

      1. Sara Burrows Avatar

        To be fair, it did. I changed it to European and American children for those who like things said less directly.

        1. Sarah Joy Avatar
          Sarah Joy

          Well done for changing the wording, it is an important distinction. The skin colour is irrelevent when what you’re talking about is privilege in terms of the government and regimens the people are living in. Children of all races and backgrounds in America and Europe (supposedly) democratic countries are the recipients of the mass produced products made in sweat shops by less fortunate people living with fewer workers’ rights and freedoms. The world market is unfair and imbalanced.

        2. Mike Avatar

          “Less Directly” Sara?!! I guess in your mind white children are the only ones who participate in Christmas.

        3. Lezell Peyer Avatar
          Lezell Peyer

          For those who like things said less directly? Then your sentiment even though edited, is not correct or accurate. I am not white, neiither am I American or European, and I can certainly say this is something many nationalities and race groups contribute to. A lot of people naturally gravitate toward the lowest prices – not being aware of the cost implication on the work and life conditions that went into the product . On the other hand there are many ridulucliysly expensive products which are expensive just based on the greed and “brand” of some toy companies – and I don’t imagine they are any more effective in ensuring ethical work conditions . Your article creates great awareness and raises very very valid points – however it’s biased to assign accountability to a racial group –

      2. Sweets Avatar

        And it did, Sarah Burrows herself stated below.

        Damn Troll

    6. Bill Avatar


  2. Raymond Magno Avatar
    Raymond Magno

    Interesting article. It’s unfortunate you chose to single out “white children” as the benefactor of all these poor immigrants slaving away to make cheap plastic toys.

    1. DJ Avatar

      I think they changed it to American and European kids. I think their intent was not to single out ethnicity, but to emphasize that these people are not laboring for their own childrens’ toys, but are killing themselves for other people’s kids… OUR kids (no matter the color)
      Try not getting so caught up in the exact wording and try to understand what they MEANT to say, but perhaps didn’t express exactly right. Geez. You are part of whats wrong with this country!

    2. Heidi Piltz Avatar
      Heidi Piltz

      You too, Raymond Magno? Reading glasses, maybe?

      1. S T Avatar
        S T

        Wow, chill out, people… The author tells in a comment that it was “white children” originally but she changed it.

    3. J Avatar

      It is only mentioned in the comments.

      1. Teri Avatar

        Why not focus on the message instead of crying out reverse racism? Seriously no one wants to take responsibility for their choices or actions and it is disgusting.

      2. Dee Avatar

        Sara Burrows January 4, 2018 at 2:18 am
        To be fair, it did. I changed it to European and American children for those who like things said less directly

    4. Sweets Avatar

      Ok everyone, the writer herself Sarah commented up above in the replies that the article originally did indeed say White children. She only changed it when people made comments. And of course when she was supposed to write that it was a revised article and the date, she did not. So now you’re blaming people, calling them racist for seeing white when there is none, when indeed the writer herself said this is in fact a revised article and that she changed it to European and American. Because of course she was trying to make the article look like people of “privilege ” Like everyone likes to say, force people in other countries to work in sweat shops. For the exact same reason they want to blame it only on Christmas when toys are made year round. That way the article seemed so much more horrific. It doesn’t need to be made about race period, it sucks and is wrong and until companies start saying they won’t work with places like this this, it won’t change. Just as the diamond companies did.

  3. JL Avatar

    Thank you for showing the horrible conditions that these people work in. There are a lot of bad things about China.
    But why would you say these things are bought for “white children”? It taints the purpose of the article.

    1. Heidi Piltz Avatar
      Heidi Piltz

      What’s with all the people misreading, and obsesssing about something that’s not even in the article? It says “European and American” children, and in case you haven’t been to those places, they’re not all white – not by a long shot.

      1. Jb Avatar

        The writer mentioned that it did say white children but she changed it

      2. Rebecca Lopez Mayer Avatar
        Rebecca Lopez Mayer

        Actually the author herself conceded that she did originally say ‘white’ and then re-worded it. Read in the comments above…

      3. Melody Avatar

        It said it before it was changed. The author even said it was in the article in the comments above.

      4. Lindsay Avatar

        If you would go and read through all the comments, the writer of this article did in fact say she changed it. She did initially say “white children”. She fails to realize that it isn’t just “white children” in America & Europe.

    2. J Avatar

      It is only mentioned in the comments. One of those comments is yours.

      1. EE Avatar

        The author admitted to changing it from white to “American and European” in one of the comments down here. I agree that the article is better without it. The over-purchase of cheaply-made toys and decorations is clearly regional & based on our relative wealth, not racial— at least to anyone who’s ever been to a toy shop.

      2. Dee Avatar

        It’s not. The author commented above that she changed it from “white”

  4. Reineke Avatar

    Great article! But must people just don’t care. Sad!

  5. wondering Avatar

    White kids are the majority of children in the countries where these products are sold, at least until 2050 or so. Are you all so fragile that you don’t recognize that? Tender white snowflakes indeed.

  6. Randyk Avatar

    ‘Mercury levels in the water and fish around factories are 280 times higher than national requirements.’ Who’s ‘national requirements’? The ‘white’ national requirements? China doesn’t have ‘national requirements’.Fake journalist are taking over the media and adding the national disgrace in with every ‘article’ and blaming fox for propaganda. Ten msm outlets to one ‘conservative’ and the one is propaganda?

  7. Nicole Avatar

    I’m confused. I see nothing that says “white children”… the article repeatedly mentions European and American children and consumers but I don’t think that necessarily equates “white”. We are a disgusting consumer culture, acknowledge it. Change it. But don’t be so foolish to deny it.

    1. Dee Avatar

      Author mentions above she changed the wording from “white”

    2. Dee Avatar

      Sara Burrows January 4, 2018 at 2:18 am
      To be fair, it did. I changed it to European and American children for those who like things said less directly

  8. Nickolas Tingue Avatar
    Nickolas Tingue

    Well seams the the factory’s are much better then they where health and safety wise then where 20 years ago. See some massive improvement in there housing and work hours as well. Or should we forget that the capitalism has mad China. 35-40 years ago China was so poor it couldn’t feed there own children and almost nothing was produced there. Today threw capitalism there the worlds largest exporter of goods. And they have advanced from America in the 1790 to America in the 1940s-50s. In 30-40 years of capitalism. If they keep going this way. Your talking China replacing the United States as the worlds freeist economy. Oh wait. They already have as they have no osha or EPA. The workers choose who they work for. If the company is unhealthy or unfair to them. They go work for someone that is not. So I see no reason to complain about any of it. Sure there not as advanced as the rest of the world yet. But there getting there faster then the rest of the world can think they could.

  9. Amel Avatar

    Wow this is incredible. This author wrote an article about these terrible conditions of women workers in China and people from Western countries are mad because she said the truth. These toys are for European and American kids and it revealed a lot by the people who red instead “white” … there is non white people in Europe and America and it’s time white people accept that.

    1. sweets Avatar

      The writer didn’t do her job and say it was revised! She took the word white out of it and changed it to American and European children! Its in the 1st replies, her name is SARAH BURROWS

    2. Jeanette Avatar

      It is people that do not stay where they came from that will do that to the americans and europeans. work like slaves just like these people. thank you Only the top 1% slime wave immigrants in, TO KEEP THE WORKERS WAGES DOWN. I think a lot of people have race issues, whites not being the only ones. this is exactly what the top1% want, so they can make a clean get away, as their kind always has in the past. good luck with your state of mind…the we and they is the 99% vs. the 1% always has been. they create the chaos in other countries. Kick them. stay in the home countries and kick the 1%’ers there.

    3. Dee Avatar

      Sara Burrows January 4, 2018 at 2:18 am
      To be fair, it did. I changed it to European and American children for those who like things said less directly

    4. White PEOPLE Avatar
      White PEOPLE

      Agreed. It is really Unbelievable how stupid people are. No understanding at all.

      Hello EVERYONE this is an article about China and poor worker’s who have no right’s nor freedom!

      If you don’t care and want to argue about misworded sentences try a book club you overprivelaged “WHITE” -ASSES.

      I am convinced after reading the comments that all those who are so offended over the words “white people” are in fact white people from America & Europe and retarded as well.

      And you wonder why the rest of the world hates you America & Europe. Lol.

  10. Binny Avatar

    Reality is always bitter and for the most people easy option is to ignore it or try to drag some totally irrelevant detail.
    Till there is mindless consumerism and greed to hoard more for less, there will be oppression and exploitation.

  11. Adam R Avatar
    Adam R

    “Little town in China called Yiwu”. Clearly, you have never been there. It is a modern city of more than 1.2 million people. I have been to about 15 factories there and never seen or heard about “sweatshops” ( I speak fluent Mandarin).

    Re the Yiwu – Madrid rail line, it also,passes through Russia, Poland, Germany and France and the most commonly transported good are computers and motor vehicle parts.

    Further, maybe you can list the downstream communities affected by the polluted water? Again, you need to know your facts before making emotion charged posts about something you only assume is occurring.

    JL says that there are “a lot of bad things about China”. Like what? Every country in the world has good AND bad things. Maybe you should visit the country and see the Chinese work ethic and commitment to family that sadly lack in many western societies.

  12. Redrick Avatar

    Bit of a distraction with the *white children* comments, not mentioned in the main text as far as I could see. White/black/brown/yellow/red,..the children getting the products,and their skin colour is rather secondary to the point that our western desire for irrelevant trinkets costs the health and well being of those whose labour is exploited to provide for that demand.

    1. Abi Avatar


  13. Marthea Jager Avatar
    Marthea Jager

    Please help us petition and advocate against this and spread the message by facebook! How can this be done?

  14. Lisa Myers Avatar

    Sara, I enjoyed your article, which was a great reminder. However, it seemed ironic that the ads on your page included Liligal, which, I believe, sells products made in China. It’s hard to sort out which advertisers are allowed on our webpages. I just thought you’d like to know that they popped up.

  15. Grace P. Avatar
    Grace P.

    Let this be a lesson to the author – In the above comments she admitted changing “white children” to ” European and American children”. EVERYONE knows these areas are a mix of races and ALL buy cheap toys.. Singling out the ” white children” only serves to further divide and distract- as evidenced by the beginning of the comments. Instead of having a meaningful cohesive conversation about the workers’ conditions in China and how we might could come together to make a real difference, we wind up completely off subject and throwing barbs at one another.

  16. Russell Fleming Avatar
    Russell Fleming

    Whether it said “white” children or not, that would just be bad journalism. People of all races and colors inhabit all of the countries who consume these goods; America, England, all the countries in Europe, including all of the Asian countries where kids get these very gifts too. The point is not the consumers, but the promoters and companies who push these situations. “White” has nothing to do with this. If that’s what you think, you’re extremely short-sighted. Asia is ALSO a customer of these sweatshops.

  17. Laurie Avatar

    It’s easy to blame capitalism & the corps or consumers & American & Europeans (i.e: “White children” -as the authors own comment unapologetically admits to calling them before changing it to sound “less blunt”.) but if we remove our initial knee-jerk/emotional response, the blame can appropriately rest where the facts lie.
    The author uncovers these facts for us (although prob unknowingly): “…desperately poor migrant workers, whose repressive government has given them no choice but to sell themselves into indentured servitude…”.
    DING! DING! DING! Repressive Government.
    …You’re welcome 😉

  18. Vicki Avatar

    Here’s an idea just stop making all this shit. It all ends up in the dump anyway. The world needs to stop making useless products, they pollute the earth

  19. T L Avatar
    T L

    The author admits to changing the text under the first comment.

  20. Debra Dean Avatar
    Debra Dean

    Say we successfully boycott these items, what happens to these workers? What’s the greater source of harm to a region supported by 700 Xmas factories, the brutal conditions, or destitution? I don’t see where there’s much we as consumers can do that won’t harm the people dependent on these jobs. It has to begin with the workers themselves.

  21. Sandy Busby Avatar
    Sandy Busby

    “his elves are desperately poor migrant workers” I was not aware people immigrated into China for these jobs??? Ido not believe this to be the case.

  22. parviz Avatar

    Please do not go too far, I am an immigrant (in exile) living in Canada more than thirty years, More or less the situation is the same! The problem is capitalism!

    I live in subsidized housing with my wife and two children. there is water and sewage leak from ceilings for many months but no repair has been done. many people are in the same situation.

    I went to dentist a couple of weeks ago. He said if you want me to pull your tooth, you have to pay $250.00. If you want to keep it you have to pay $1500.00 is this human value?

    Last year more than $100.00 homeless die in the street in the cold weather in Toronto.

    Please send this reporter to Canada!

    the problem is greed,capitalism, Neoliberalism.

    The only solution is socialism! China is a savage capitalism as us, Canada, and etc.

  23. parviz Avatar

    I didn’t know people comments have been censored here!