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Thu, May 25, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Sportswear firms face criticism over poor labor practices


As millions of soccer fans gear up for the World Cup, international sportswear makers came under fire in Indonesia yesterday for failing to improve conditions in their factories overseas.

A report by the rights group Oxfam International details the lack of labor rights progress in Asian factories that make sportswear for companies from FILA to Adidas.

"Giant sportswear companies are parading their sportswear on catwalks in the lead up to the World Cup," said co-author Kelly Dent at the report's launch in Jakarta. "But despite years of scrutiny and campaigning, large companies are still failing to ensure labor rights are respected."

The report specifically looks at how labor unions aiming to increase wages and better conditions for workers are actively suppressed in factories across the region through layoffs, factory closures, intimidation, violence and sexual harassment.

The Oxfam report points to FILA as the worst offender, having "taken the least action to improve respect for trade union rights in its Asian supplier factories," and allegedly refusing to address abuses brought to their attention.

The report and Dent highlight Reebok as the sportswear company with the best record, and others such as Nike Adidas, Puma and Asics for making "some improvements," but make it clear that "none of them received a passing mark."

"Human rights organizations are only able to investigate a small percentage of the thousands of factories producing brand-name sportswear in Asia, yet almost every time they conduct such an investigation, they find serious labor abuses," the report said.

Dent admits that sportswear companies are not necessarily worse than many other companies with factories overseas, but millions recognize their labels, and their abuses are striking when contrasted with the enormous sums their athletes get paid to don their apparel.

Nike pays US$16 million per year to the Brazilian national football team competing in the World Cup and Adidas pays US$1.8 million annually to French player Zinedine Zidane, while the Asian factory workers making their shoes and other sportswear might earn less than US$5 per day and be forced to work 16-hour days, according to the report.

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