GENEVA — Workers in factories based in China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka making sportswear for top brands for this year’s London Olympics have been subjected to a range of abuses including being paid poverty wages and forced to work excessive overtime, alleges a report from the Play Fair 2012 campaign.
“Despite the London organizers’ best intentions and [their] confidence that factory audits would be enough to expose any abuses, this report shows that there have been goods made in Olympic supply chains where the workers were treated in a way that cannot be described as ethical,” said Brendan Barber, general secretary of Britain’s Trades Union Congress.
The report, titled “Fair Games? Human Rights and Workers in the Olympic 2012 Supplier Factories,” documents cases in which it claims workers have been badly treated, including being threatened with dismissal if they complained about the conditions. Among other accusations, it alleges that workers in China were ordered not to say anything during inspections and audits and notes workers that provided information were subsequently dismissed.
Researchers working for the Play Fair campaign — which includes the International Trade Union Confederation, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation and the Clean Clothes Campaign — conducted interviews with a total of 175 workers in 10 factories, eight of which were purportedly producing goods for this summer’s Olympic games.
The brands sourcing from the factories include Adidas and the U.K.-based Next Retail Ltd., according to the report. Others cited in the study include The North Face, Columbia Sportswear, Nike, Speedo, Ann Taylor and New Balance.
The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games responsible for preparing and staging the 2012 games agreed to include adherence to the Ethical Trading Initiative base code in its sustainable sourcing guidelines which cover contracts with its suppliers and licensees. The code includes the core International Labor Organization conventions, such as freedom of association and collective bargaining; requires payment of a living wage and the provision of regular employment.
The study outlines that in the Amerseas Enterprises factory in Guangdong province, which produces for Adidas, workers complained of regularly having to work overtime, with working hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. not uncommon. In the case of China, the report highlights that the standard working week under the law is 40 hours per week and that overtime cannot exceed 36 hours per month. However, workers interviewed reported that they sometimes worked between 40 and 60 hours overtime per month.
The Adidas Group said it “strongly disputes many of the claims made in Play Fair’s report and will of course launch an immediate investigation,” and clarified that only three of the 10 factories highlighted in the report make Adidas licensed Olympic products.
But Adidas noted that whenever issues over excessive working hours arise, it will continue to press its suppliers “to reduce total working hours, while maintaining existing levels of take-home pay, through higher productivity and incentive schemes.”
In Sri Lanka, the report said, the monthly pay for workers interviewed ranged from $79 to $198 a month. The living wage at the end of 2011 in Sri Lanka was almost $357 a month, meaning many workers interviewed received between 22 and 55 percent of the living wage.
Next Retail did not respond to a request for comment on its manufacturing activities in Sri Lanka cited in the report.
The report also says that although Sri Lanka has ratified ILO conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining “very few workers in the apparel sector are employed in facilities where they are respected.”
Of 250 apparel factories in the sector, there are only five collective bargaining accords in place, it says.
Similarly, in the Philippines, of 35 workers interviewed, 25 said their basic wage was not enough, and many said they regularly worked 12 hours overtime a week. More than 20 workers also indicated that there is no existing recognized trade union in their workplace.
The study notes that trade union rights are recognized in the Philippines, but with many restrictions, and claims there is “an environment of violence and intimidation against trade unions.”
Finally, it concludes that Olympic licensees and multinational brands and retailers, need to “exercise demonstrable due diligence with respect to human rights of workers in their supply chains.”