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The Commons
Voices / Letters from readers

Santa's elves don't make your kids' toys. A woman in China does.

Originally published in The Commons issue #441 (Wednesday, January 10, 2018). This story appeared on page D3.


My husband has three kids. On Christmas morning, about a quarter of the gifts are labelled “From Santa.” His kids even left a voice message for Santa in November and told him all the things they wanted.

So many parents in this country want to keep the “magic alive,” but at what cost?

Have we stopped to question how detrimental it is to our global society to have kids in supposedly wealthy countries believe that “elves in the North Pole” are making their toys?

Let’s break down who actually makes these toys.

Xiao Fang makes Barbie dolls in Chang’an, China. According to a report in The Guardian, “[S]he works 11-hour days, six days a week, and shares a dormitory with nine other women and gets to see her husband only once a week. She had to leave her three-year-old daughter back home in Sichuan. And there is only a communal bathroom, and if they want hot water they must fetch it from another floor.”

That is a far cry from happy little elves making your kids’ toys.

In 2015, China Labor Watch reported that most workers make 2 cents for each toy produced and that the workers get paid per toy they make.

Here’s a little more math. In 2014, Disney’s CEO Robert Iger went home with $43.7 million. (He didn’t “make” $43.7 million, because the workers did all the work.) It would take Xiao Fang 7,011 years to earn that annual pay.

When we mask the truth from young people about where their toys come from, we participate in perpetuating an unjust global economic system.

When advertising pushes people to buy, buy, buy, the holiday, which has profound meaning, becomes The Festival of Commodity Fetishism.

Kids want toys, and that is okay. If their family has the means to buy toys, they should, but they should also have a conversation about who made the toys. Just like we should have conversations about who picks our apples and tomatoes.

Who is laboring for us?

Nina Kunimoto


Brattleboro

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