22 June 2006 Edition

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International: Dark side of World Cup sponsorship

The sportswear giants and exploitation

The World Cup frenzy should prompt questions other than the state of Wayne Rooney's foot. Questions such as whether the global get-together is more about business than sport. The borders are blurred by the competition which has seen the constant presence of sports brands as sponsors of teams or individual players. Companies are very anxious to have star players persuading people to buy a particular brand product. Nike pays €13 million to the Brazilian national football team and Adidas pays €1.5 million to French player Zinezine Zidane. In 2003, Beckham signed the most lucrative sporting endorsement deal to date with Adidas for approximately €127 million.

However, while sports brands are happy to sponsor the world's sporting teams and players, their generosity stops when it comes to paying fair wages to those who manufacture the goods that the players wear and advertise every time they take the field.

Oxfam campaign

This is now the focus of one of Oxfam's campaigns, Offside, and its report, Labour rights and sportswear production in Asia. Oxfam's document highlights how Asian workers who make the football boots and other sports gear worn by Zidane, Beckham and the Brazilian team are paid as little as € 0.47 cents Euro per hour - €3.76 for a standard working day. Women producing brand-name sportswear in Indonesia need to work nearly 4 hours to earn enough to purchase 1.5kg of raw chicken, which for some is all the meat they can afford for a month. When these workers attempt to form unions to push for better conditions, they commonly suffer discrimination and often violence and dismissal.

Oxfam's report considers 12 international sports brands - Adidas, ASICS, FILA, Kappa, Lotto, Mizuno, New Balance, Nike, Puma, Reebok, Speedo and Umbro - and examines the steps they take to ensure their suppliers in Asia allow workers to organize trade unions and bargain collectively for better wages and conditions. "In industries such as sportswear which are marked by low wages and poor conditions, women and men who are able to actively participate in trade unions and bargain collectively with their employer have more power to influence their wages and conditions of work," the document states.

The document concludes that sportswear companies are failing to ensure that subcontractors are allowing workers manufacturing their products to have the right to associate. However, it also pinpoints that "some companies - notably Reebok, Puma, adidas, Nike, ASICS and Umbro - are involved in positive initiatives which have led to improved conditions in some factories". In the ranking of the worst, FILA, owned by Sports Brands International (SBI), has taken the least action to improve respect for trade union rights in its Asian supplier factories. FILA has failed to adequately address serious labour rights abuses when they have been brought to the company's attention and since February 2005 has ignored multiple attempts by labour rights groups and trade unions to communicate with the company about labour issues.

Serious labour abuses

Oxfam research in 2004 into long-time FILA sport shoe supplier PT Tae Hwa in Indonesia revealed serious labour abuses, including denial of trade union rights, high levels of sexual harassment and intrusive and inappropriate procedures for claiming menstrual leave. At the time, SBI, owners of FILA, claimed there was little they could do immediately but said that in future the company would take steps to improve respect for labour rights in its supply chain. In February 2005, the Tae Hwa factory closed suddenly and without warning, leaving thousands of workers without jobs. Since then FILA has declined to either reveal its role in the factory's closure or to take responsibility for ensuring Tae Hwa workers receive their legal entitlement to severance pay.

An adidas supplier in Indonesia recently sacked 30 union workers who took part in a legal strike for more pay so that they could meet dramatic rises in the cost of living. These workers receive as little as 60 cents an hour for their labour. The Panarub factory near Jakarta makes the Adidas' Predator Pulse boots promoted by England's David Beckham and Frank Lampard, France's Zinezine Zidane and Patrick Viera, Spain's Raul and Brazil's Kaka, as well as the +F50.6 Tunit boots promoted by Holland's Arjen Robben, Germany's Kevin Kuranyi and Brazil's Ze Roberto in the lead up to the FIFA World Cup. However, adidas has refused to help the 30 sacked workers get their jobs back.

So next time you visit the sports shop, do the right thing and buy in solidarity with workers in other parts of the world. Reward those companies that are committed to change. Give the exploiters the red card.

An Phoblacht
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