The Olympics, sportswear and super-exploitation

Issue 

Below is an abridged April 21 statement by the International Trade Union Confederation.

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, Clearing the hurdles: Steps to improving working conditions in the global sportswear industry, from Play Fair 2008.

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, a sponsors of the Beijing games and numerous national Olympic teams.

"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, general secretary of the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation, one of the organisations 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."

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 ..."

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, the 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.

Jeroen Merk, of the Clean Clothes Campaign, said: "These [sportswear] companies control the ... 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.

The full report can be read AT <http://www.ituc-csi.org>.

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