April 21, 2008
As the clock ticks down to the Beijing Olympics, workers producing for the international sportswear companies that spend millions on Olympic and athletic sponsorship deals are still working excessive hours and paid poverty wages, according to a damning new report from Play Fair 2008 (PF08), "Clearing the Hurdles: Steps to improving working conditions in the global sportswear industry". The report was written by the Toronto-based Maquila Solidarity Network.
Based on interviews with over 300 sportswear workers in China, India, Thailand and Indonesia, Clearing the Hurdles shows that violations of worker rights is still the sportswear industry norm - including in workplaces producing for adidas, sponsor of the Beijing and London Games and numerous national Olympic teams.
"With Beijing around the corner and the Vancouver Olympics on the horizon, we're going to be bombarded with advertising from sportswear brands," says Kevin Thomas of the Maquila Solidarity Network. "Now is the time to call on those companies to make concrete improvements in wages and working conditions by the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games."
"Workers making the goods sold by brand leaders such as adidas, Asics, New Balance, Nike, and Puma are still earning poverty wages despite the fact that company profits are soaring into the hundreds of millions, sometimes even billions of dollars," said Neil Kearney of the ITGLWF (International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation), one of the organizations coordinating the Play Fair 2008 campaign in the lead up to the Beijing Games. "This report presents clear targets for industry to work towards to make progress - we're urging industry leaders to step up to the challenge."
Play Fair's report lifts the lid on Yue Yuen, the little known Hong Kong manufacturer that produces one -sixth of the world's sports shoes and counts brands such as adidas, Nike and New Balance among its most important clients.
Says one worker at a Yue Yuen factory producing for New Balance in Dongguan, China, "I am exhausted to death now. The two of us have to glue 120 pairs of shoes every hour.... We are working without rest and are always afraid of not working fast enough to supply soles to the next production line... We are tired and dirty."
The report also sheds light on the conditions of workers stitching soccer balls in Thailand, India and China. At Joyful Long factory in China's Pearl River Delta, which supplies adidas, Nike, Umbro and Fila, overtime can reach 232 hours per month while average wages are almost half the legal minimum.
Despite more than 15 years of codes of conduct adopted by most of the major sportswear brands, PF08's report shows that workers still face extreme pressure to meet production quotas, excessive, undocumented and unpaid overtime, verbal abuse, threats to health and safety and a failure to provide legally required health and other insurance programs.
"For years key sportswear brands have argued that they can't raise wages singlehandedly but we believe that collectively they can," said Jeroen Merk, of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC). "These companies control the sportswear and sports shoe markets; by acting together and really leading the sector on wages and other key issues an end to the misery these workers endure is possible."
Clearing the Hurdles identifies low wages, abuse of short-term contracts and other forms of precarious employment, violations of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and factory closures due to industry restructuring as the four key issues the sportswear industry must act upon. PF08 has invited industry leaders to participate in a June meeting in Hong Kong to discuss their follow up to Play Fair's proposals.
Last year Play Fair 2008 released a report on rights violations in the production of Olympic-branded goods and since then has been seeking a concrete commitment from the International Olympic Committee on how it will follow up on such issues.
"Five years after we first approached the IOC on this issue, no concrete commitments have been made and it still remains unclear how they will take action on outstanding labour rights issues. We are ready to start working with them right away to get concrete results" said the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Guy Ryder.