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Disney’s Ariel Doll Pays Chinese Worker Only 1 Pence Wages Each

The latest scandal uncovered by The Guardian is that the Ariel doll from Disney – the mermaid – ends up paying the Chinese assembly line workers that make it only 1 pence each. That’s 1 p out of the £35 cost of the doll. Undoubtedly this is a scandal! Well, it is unless we have a little look at the logic being used here.

Our first observation would probably be that there’s not much labour used in the making of the doll then. And indeed there isn’t, not labour that the Guardian is counting at least. They are in fact counting only the wages of the 36 women who work on one specific production line and yet makes all of the Ariel dolls in the world. And no, 36 women do not make all of all of the dolls. They’re talking about one very specific part of the assembly process, nothing else.

For, obviously enough, all of that £35 becomes an income to someone. Simply because everything does become an income to someone, somewhere down the line. This simply must be so. GDP is defined as all production. Or all income. Or all consumption. Each of the three being equal, by definition, to the other two. So, we’ve definitely got £35 worth of consumption here. Therefore we must, definitionally, have £35 worth of income to people around the world.

Lasering in on the part of that income which goes to the 36 people who are a very minor indeed part of the entire process is what? Logical absurdity? Misleading? Lying to further a point – what we call propaganda perhaps, or agitprop. Given that the figures come from China Labour Watch we’d probably say that last.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Revealed: Disney’s £35 Ariel doll earns a Chinese worker 1p[/perfectpullquote]

This is akin to insisting that your loaf of bread you’ve just bought provides the farm labourer who ran the combine over the wheat with only a fraction of a penny. So? There is this thing called the division of labour, no?

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]She sings. She sparkles. And she’s made by women paid just 1p for each doll that shimmers off shop shelves.[/perfectpullquote]

Well, no, that’s not true. She’s made by women who do one very specific process getting 1 p each. There are many processes which go into making this doll. The actual calculation is this:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]This figure represents the total monthly wages of the 36 women on the production line, working an average of 26 days a month, divided by the total number of dolls produced each month[/perfectpullquote]

Anyone who thinks that production line, those 36 ladies, is the only part of the production process is an idiot. Total manufacturing cost is some £14. They really are trying to fool us by looking at only one fraction of the process.

But, of course, this is The Guardian talking about globalisation and wages. Therefore this gets worse.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] The investigator joined the Sing & Sparkle assembly line for a month during the summer. From her own experience and interviews with fellow workers, she found daily overtime varied between two and five hours and that, with weekends included, overtime would sometimes hit 175 hours a month – nearly five times the legal limit of 36 hours. In low season, workers earned about 2,000 Chinese yuan a month (£228); during peak season, they generally took home about 3,000 yuan. A survey last year put the average Chinese monthly salary at 7,665 yuan. [/perfectpullquote]

Well, this is Lake Wobegon. Someone’s going to be making less than average. But let’s go further. Average, just to have an average, is 2,500 a month take home. We’ll not add back in tax to get to gross. So, 30,000 yuan a year. No, I’d not like to live on it nor would you. But, once we adjust for exchange rates and Chinese prices, this puts us in the top 20% of all global incomes.

No, really, sorry, this is true. This pittance, this injustice crying out to the heavens for reparation, this is a global top 20 % income. There are some 6 billion people poorer than this. Our problem being that those at The Guardian wittering about poverty just don’t grasp what actual poverty is. Sure, these ladies aren’t going to tea at the Dorchester but so what? Neither is anything other than the merest sliver of the world’s 7 billion. The real problem here is the inability to understand quite how rare, quite how modern, not absolute destitution is.

BTW, China’s current wealth, perhaps income per head, is around and about where the UK was in the 1950s, 1960s. You know, a rough and ready comparison. As opposed to 1978 when China was at about the level of England in 1600. Please do note I am not joking about these numbers. They are all after inflation, adjusting for local price levels and so on.

But yes, Guardian, it gets worse:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]At Christmas time it’s almost impossible to be both poor and ethical
Kathleen Kerridge
Children need toys, but when you have no money yourself, it hurts to know that those making them are paid pitiful wages[/perfectpullquote]


[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] I wanted to buy wooden toys: shape-sorters; tactile bead-tables that sit in the corner of doctor’s surgeries; a cute push-along thing; building blocks; train sets. Not because of their premium toy status, but because I knew they were ethically made, and the people who make them are paid fairly and work in good conditions. I would prefer to buy my clothes from British manufacturers instead of Primark. I would prefer to feed my family free-range food. My ethics have nothing to do with my wallet; they don’t change when I’m struggling to make ends meet, but they do get pushed aside. I buy what I can afford, and that’s all there is to it really. I have to ignore my ethics and my conscience daily – it can feel like punishment for being “poor”. I’m told by the media that I am responsible for the plight of Chinese workers, because I buy the stuff they make. It’s my fault they are so exhausted they fall asleep in front of their stations when they get a break. It’s my need keeping them in the trap they’re in. Make no mistake – if I didn’t need the things they produce, I wouldn’t buy them. [/perfectpullquote]

This drivel ignores how much better the world has become. Why is it that Chinese workers are now living at the standard of 1960s England instead of 1600 England? Sure, we can praise the abandonment of Maoist idiocy for some of it. Underneath the thuggery of communist party rule China might be one of the world’s most free market economies extant. Certainly at the level of the small subcontracting factory it will be close to it.

But the real reason? We richer people have been buying the things made by poor people in poor countries. It’s exactly this supposedly unethical practice which is making them all richer. Neoliberal globalisation works. This being the very thing The Guardian, China Labour Watch and the rest are trying to deny.

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5 years ago

Pence is plural – it should be “1 penny”. I know you love a bit of pendantry!

Jonathan Harston
Jonathan Harston
5 years ago
Reply to  Judge

Pence is used for quantities of money, penn(y|ies) is used for quantities of coins, so Tim is correct.

5 years ago

I accept it is in common usage, but it doesn’t make it correct any more than “one pounds” or “one dollars”, which are also “quantities of money”.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
5 years ago

Pence is used for quantities of money, penn(y|ies) is used for quantities of coins, so Tim is correct

5 years ago

I accept it is in common usage, but it doesn’t make it correct any more than “one pounds” or “one dollars”, which are also “quantities of money”..

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