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Playfair Olympic campaign highlights worker exploitation

9 June 2010

Behind all the glitz and glamour of the World Cup and the Olympics are thousands of workers around the world "sweating blood". They are the people working for a pittance in rotten conditions to ensure that sportswear and souvenirs are supplied to the big companies who sponsor the international sporting competitions.

Backing a campaign to highlight the injustices, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ deputy general secretary said:

"The Olympic ideal is based on fine and noble principles but where is the nobility in working for a system that pays poverty wages, relies on unpaid overtime and expects children to slave for 13 hours a day? The people who make the sportswear and the other merchandise should not be forgotten in the excitement of the Olympics."

Michelle Stanistreet was giving NUJ support to the Playfair campaign, which aims to protect and respect workers who are making Olympic-branded products.

When London made its successful bid for the 2012 Games, it said it would encourage the elimination of poverty and child labour around the world, according Sharon Sukhran of the TUC.

"But we know that in Thailand, 13-year-old girls are working until 2am in the morning to complete orders on time and to meet contracts."

She said it was against the law in Thailand to work more than 36 hours overtime in a week, but some workers are putting in 140 hours overtime a week.

Lilis Mahmudah of the Indonesian national union of workers told of massive factories, sometimes employing as many as 30,000 workers, where only lip service is paid to national and international agreements designed to protect workers.

"Adidas, Nike and other big firms say they respect workers' rights but the practice is very different..
"Some of our workers have their wages docked, are intimidated, arrested and even imprisoned when they try to take part in union activities."

One man was held in jail for six months because of his union activities.

"The pressure on ordinary workers is so great that there is no time for them to have a drink of water or to go the toilet."

In theory, there is a minimum wage for workers with less than 12 months service, but some workers who have 15 years experience are still getting the minimum wage.

"And the minimum wage is too low anyway. It is not enough for the female workers to pay for childcare so children are often sent back to faraway villages where they can be cared for by a family member. Often the workers have to take on a second job to make ends meet."

In some factories, the international companies ordering goods demand spotless conditions. Lilis Mahmudah said: 

"But in some cases, this means that local bosses insist on people working in bare feet to keep the factory clean. This led to one woman being killed when she stepped on to a wet floor where there was a live electric cable."

The workers feel they are not asking for much. They just want international rules to be observed.

"Low wages are only part of the story. In some factories, workers are denied the right to form a union and in others, union representatives are harassed. Where union representation has been conceded, some companies insist that only one union representative will be recognised for every 500 workers."

Tags: , olympics, playfair, human rights, rights, trade union freedom, exploitation, sports, world cup