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Report Looks to Draw Attention

Violations of workers' rights and low wages are still the norm in the sportswear industry, according to a report released Monday and compiled by a coalition...

WASHINGTON — Violations of workers’ rights and low wages are still the norm in the sportswear industry, according to a report released Monday and compiled by a coalition of labor and human rights organizations.

The report was written by the Maquila Solidarity Network and The Play Fair Alliance, which includes Oxfam, the Clean Clothes Campaign, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Textile, Garment & Leather Workers’ Federation.

The report, “Clearing the Hurdles: Steps to improving working conditions in the global sportswear industry,” was released in advance of the Beijing Olympics to draw attention to the conditions of workers in the global sportswear industry. Play Fair also focused on the industry before the Athens Olympics in 2004 and the coalition said there has not been any real progress since then.

Since the Nineties, brands and retailers have accepted some responsibility for the conditions in the factories that produce their products, but more needs to be done, the report said. Many apparel and footwear brands have established codes of conduct for the foreign factories they use in an attempt to address workers’ rights and concerns.

“With Beijing around the corner and the Vancouver Olympics on the horizon, we’re going to be bombarded with advertising from sportswear brands,” said Kevin Thomas, director of advocacy at the Toronto-based Maquila Solidarity Network, which supports the efforts of workers to win improved wages and working conditions. “Now is the time to call on those companies to make concrete improvements in wages and working conditions by the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.”

Based on research in Southeast Asia, the report found that workers face extreme pressure to meet production quotas, “poverty wages,” undocumented and unpaid overtime, verbal abuse, health and safety threats and a lack of access to legally required health and other insurance programs.

Globalization has further complicated workers’ rights by removing the direct link between the primary employer and the workers, the report said, pointing to the reliance of the global supply chain on sourcing agents.

The report based its findings on interviews with 320 sportswear workers in China, India, Thailand and Indonesia. According to the report, 90 percent of all athletic footwear is produced in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, with more than half of that manufactured specifically in China. Sports apparel production is more geographically dispersed, with many major sportswear companies reporting manufacturing centers in more than 30 countries each, the report found.