Sportswear industry Offside! on workers’ rights

Published: 18 May 2006

As top sportswear brands prepare to showcase their wares at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Germany, behind the scenes many sportswear workers in Asia who attempt to unionize are facing intimidation or dismissal, according to a report released today by Oxfam International.

Oxfam’s report, "Offside! Labor Rights and Sportswear Production in Asia," found that workers making clothes, shoes and other goods for global sports brands have been dismissed or threatened with violence when they have organized unions to lobby for better pay and conditions. The majority of Asian sportswear workers are women from poor communities, many supporting children and families. Oxfam says that none of the big sports brands are doing enough to solve the problem.

“In 2004 the Play Fair Alliance – including Oxfam, the Clean Clothes Campaign and Global Unions – challenged the industry to improve labor conditions, but sadly little has changed. Workers' right to form unions is crucial to achieving the big improvements needed on the factory floor but many brands are still not willing to play ball,” says Kelly Dent, Oxfam International spokesperson and the report's co-author.

Oxfam’s year-long survey of 12 sporting labels found that FILA, a major US-based sponsor in world tennis, was bottom of the league and had failed to address serious labor abuses in its supply chain. In one case, a FILA sport shoe supplier in Indonesia with an appalling record of worker abuse closed suddenly and without warning. A year later, none of its 3,500 workers have received any back-pay or severance pay. FILA refuses to reveal its role in the closure or take responsibility for the workers.

“Unless workers are free to bargain collectively for better pay and conditions, companies like FILA will continue to get away with this kind of outrageous behavior. Professional footballers are represented by players’ associations, sportswear workers should be allowed to form unions,” Dent said.

Oxfam says that Reebok has done the most to uphold sportswear workers' rights in Asia while other big brands such as Nike, adidas, Puma and Asics had made some improvements. However, the performance of the industry as a whole remains poor.

For example, an adidas supplier in Indonesia recently dismissed 30 union workers who took part in a legal strike for more pay so that they could meet dramatic rises in the cost of living. Workers receive as little as 60 cents an hour for their labor.

The Panarub factory near Jakarta makes the adidas' Predator Pulse boots promoted by England’s David Beckham and Frank Lampard, France’s Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Viera, Spain’s Raul and Brazil’s Kaka, as well as the +F50.6 Tunit boots promoted by Holland’s Arjen Robben, Germany’s Kevin Kuranyi and Brazil’s Ze Roberto in the lead up to the FIFA World Cup. However, adidas has refused to help the 30 sacked workers get their jobs back.

“The dismissal of these workers sends a very worrying signal to sports brands that it’s acceptable to discriminate against union workers. In the past adidas has shown leadership within the industry and the company should continue to do so by ensuring the factory reinstates these workers,” Dent said.

“The sportswear industry is a valuable source of jobs in Asia. But consumers and workers alike have the right to expect that global brands will not exploit the people making their goods,“ concluded Dent.

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Contact Information

For more information or for interviews with Kelly Dent or co-author, Tim Connor please contact:
Gemma Swart : +62 81 384 643 653 or +661 814 7756
Yon Thayrun: +62 81 269 896 19