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Is 'Sesame Street' toy made in a Chinese sweatshop?

The Cookie Monster and Elmo Building Set are two of the products made jointly by the Chinese factory and K'NEX, a Hatfield, Pa.-based toy company.
The Cookie Monster and Elmo Building Set are two of the products made jointly by the Chinese factory and K'NEX, a Hatfield, Pa.-based toy company. Handout / MCT

WASHINGTON_ The Sesame Workshop and a U.S. toymaker launched investigations Tuesday of allegations that some "Sesame Street" toys are being made in a Chinese sweatshop.

The National Labor Committee, a New York-based foreign-labor watchdog, released a report Monday claiming that some 600 workers — many of them teens — put in 15-hour days for weeks at a time making "Sesame Street" toys. It said the Kai Da factory in Shenzhen, China, paid the workers less than half the legal minimum wage.

But officials at U.S. toy companies named in the committee's report — K'NEX Brands L.P. and Hasbro — say aspects of the findings don't add up.

A spokesman for Hasbro, based in Pawtucket, R.I., said the company has never made any "Sesame Street" toys and does no business with the Kai Da factory cited in the report.

K'NEX president Michael Araten, whose company is based in Hatfield, Pa., said he'd never heard of the factory, either.

Araten said that K'NEX has partnered with another factory in Shenzhen since 1999, but that it's name was Hoida. That factory meets international labor and safety standards, according to Araten.

He suggested that the plant the labor group investigated might be producing knock-offs of "Sesame Street" toys. This could explain the confusion about the two Chinese factories.

Another possibility, Araten and labor group director Charlie Kernaghan suggested, is that there's just one factory but its Mandarin Chinese name was translated in two different ways: Kai Da and Hoida.

Kernaghan's group relied on Chinese agents to investigate factory conditions in Shenzhen, he said, because foreigners can't do that kind of work in China.

The labor group did not contact K'NEX or Hasbro in preparing its report or before releasing it.

To look into the report's allegations, Araten dispatched his vice president of operations to China Tuesday afternoon.

Sesame Workshop spokeswoman Ellen Lewis issued a statement that read: "We have commenced an independent investigation of each and every claim so that we can determine corrective steps to be taken as necessary in the immediate future."

Meanwhile, K'NEX's "Sesame Street" Ernie Building Set toy — which the labor committee report said is produced in the Kai Da sweatshop — went on sale Tuesday for $9.31 on Amazon.com.

The National Labor Committee's report: http://www.nlcnet.org/article.php?id=577

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