Saturday, August 23, 2008

Play Fair 2008: What's changed?

Play Fair 2008 is organised by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Worker’s Federation (ITGLWF), among others. The main function is oversee the human rights of workers involved in sportswear manufacture. According to their reports brand name companies have used their market power to negotiate the best price and quickest turnover from manufacturers in developing countries which is to the detriment of the workforce. Unscrupulous manufacturers have relied on a workforce unable to negotiate acceptable working conditions and by negated duty of care and promulgated atrocious abuse of human rights created sweat factories. Workers are expected to toil long hours (up to 18 hours per day) in arduous conditions without the most basic employment protection. Women in developing countries have no job security and are expected to work unpaid overtime at the risk of loosing their jobs. The pay rate can be as little as 30 cents (US) per hour. In the past researchers have reported factory workers malnourished, ill, and living in substandard housing but because this was the only regular work available the workforce continue to suffer human rights abuse despite reassurances from Brand leaders to the contrary. In 2004 large companies like Adidas-Salomon, Nike, Reebok and Puma have been held to account by Oxfam in their "Play Fair at the Olympics," with the focus to change purchasing practices; implement credible labor practice policies in conjunction with trade unions and other concerned organizations. Despite a more recent approach to the International Olympic Movement (IOM) to respect the rights of workers in the sportswear industry, the IOC remains non committal and continue to refuse to take moral leadership on the issue. Prior to Beijing Olympics a new report entitled Clearing the hurdles: Steps to improving working conditions in the global sportswear industry was released. Researchers reported workers producing for the international sportswear companies are still working excessive hours and paid poverty wages. Over 300 sportswear workers in China, India, Thailand and Indonesia were interviewed and violations of worker rights are still prevalant. The research showed workers producing goods sold by brand leaders such as Adidas, Asics, New Balance, Nike, and Puma are still earning poverty wages. At a time when company profits are at a premium and likely to sore higher after the Games it appears all the more unfair. Whilst company giants, adidas and Nike fight for market dominance in China, most of their shoes are made by Yue Yuen, the Hong Kong manufacturer that produces one-sixth of the world’s sports shoes. Yue Yuen workers reported working without rest periods and under pressure to meet mass production targets with many having to glue 120 pairs of shoes every hour. At Joyful Long factory in China’s Pearl River Delta, which supplies Adidas, Nike, Umbro and Fila, it was reported the overtime could reach 232 hours per month while average wages were almost half the legal minimum. Whilst major sportswear brand adopted codes of conduct more than 15 years ago but the report shows 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. The full report can be read here . Keen to avoid potential adverse publicity companies began to improve poor working conditions at their sports goods factories by introducing new stringent working conditions. If the ‘best practice was not implemented then companies would cease to trade with rogue manufacturers. In 2003a Code of Labor Practice for licensed Olympic Goods was established but it appears has not always implemented. FIFA also agreed to a code of labor practice for FIFA licensed products, but according to the Clean Clothes Campaign may not always implement it. At the 29th Olympiad, Reebok took the unprecidented decision not to allow their athletes to speak at press conferences or one-on-one interviews during the Games. Fearing a compromised situation Reebok contracted media organisations with pre-edited film clips to save embarrassment to athletes ill prepared to comment upon human rights issues.

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