Are our Olympic stars in uniforms made in sweatshops?

Campaigns and Advocacy, Fair Trade & Workers Rights, Media Releases, News article written on the 07 May 2012

Oxfam is calling on the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to ensure workers producing sportswear for Australia’s Olympic athletes are treated fairly, after a new report highlighted the exploitation of workers producing sportswear for the London Games.

The report released today, ‘Fair Games?: Human rights of workers in Olympic 2012 supplier factories’, reveals that workers are being forced to work excessive hours for poverty wages, and are also denied legal entitlements such as sick leave and pension payments.

Oxfam Australia’s workers’ rights coordinator Andrea Maksimovic said the report was a stark reminder that while the Olympics were meant to showcase fairness and respect, the same ideals were not being extended to the workers producing sportswear for the Games.

The report, released by global labour rights alliance Play Fair, investigates 10 factories in three countries – Sri Lanka, the Philippines and China – where more than 32,000 workers are producing sportswear for the London 2012 Olympics.

The factories supply to brands including adidas — the Olympics’ ‘tier-one partner’ — Esprit, Polo Ralph Lauren and Speedo.

The report finds that in Sri Lankan factories, workers are paid only 22 – 25 per cent of the living wage of $US 357 per month, while workers in the Philippines often work more than 60 hours a week.

Forced overtime was common, and in all the 10 factories investigated, there were no recognised unions or credible workers’ organisations. Workers who tried to form a union faced discrimination, and in some cases, immediate dismissal.

“The London Olympics boasts it will leave a ‘blueprint for inspiring positive social, economic and environmental change’, yet workers making sportswear for the Games are having their most basic rights abused,” Ms Maksimovic said.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) subscribes to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code, which guarantees a living wage, secure employment, healthy and safe working conditions, freedom to join a union and prohibits child and forced labour.

However, the report finds significant breaches of this code in factories that make sportswear for the Olympics.  Researchers found workers were not being paid enough to cover basic costs of living, were kept on short-term contracts to avoid the payment of pension, health and maternity benefits, and were working in incredibly poor conditions with sewing machinists being forced to work on stools instead of chairs.

“Much work remains to be done to make this a truly ethical Olympics,” Ms Maksimovic said. “It’s one thing to have a code written on paper; it’s another thing to enforce it.  “The IOC needs to assure the Australian public that the uniforms our athletes will be wearing are not made under sweatshop conditions.

“They must call on the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games to immediately ensure that workers are made aware of their rights and can access LOCOG’s complaints mechanism to demand fair working conditions.

“The IOC must make respect for workers’ rights an integral part of its basic principles and code of ethics for all forthcoming Olympic Games.”

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