Workers Rights and the Olympic Label
The following article was featured in the 12 August edition of the Birmingham Post:
SWEATSHOPS EXPLOIT THE OLYMPIC LABEL
LYNNE JONES MP
The Olympic Games is a truly spectacular sporting two weeks and, for many athletes, the pinnacle of their sporting career. It also encourages public interest and participation in sport, including activities people may not have been familiar with before like diving, equestrian events, gymnastics and even synchronised swimming.
Winning a medal is an incredible achievement, but the medals of the 2004 Athens Olympics are at risk of being tarnished - not by drug-taking scandals or even by incomplete Greek stadiums, but by the very sportswear that the athletes help promote on the track and field.
According to the Play Fair at The Olympics report published by Oxfam, the TUC and Labour Behind the Label, workers making sportswear are being ruthlessly exploited for profit.
Staff at one factory producing Olympic-branded sportswear reported working shifts of up to 17 hours, being forced to do unpaid overtime and of being subject to harassment and abuse. One worker told researchers how pregnant women had suffered miscarriages because of the long working hours.
Others described verbal abuse: 'They call us 'dogs' and tell us to go and die.'
Big brand sportswear companies gain a huge amount, in revenue and kudos, from their association with the Games. In the highly competitive sportswear industry the pressure to get the latest fashions onto the shelves and marketed around the Olympics is intense. This pressure is passed down the global supply chain to the, mainly women, workers at the bottom who end up working longer hours, on less money and with fewer rights.
For big name sports companies getting ahead of the game means big profits. For the workers at the end of their supply chains it means exploitation and misery.
Yet when it comes to labour rights, the Olympics Movement wouldn't win any medals either. The International Olympics Movement has made an estimated pounds 0.7 billion from sponsorship and licensing agreements since the Sydney Olympics. In spite of its role as custodian of the famed Olympic spirit of 'fair play', the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has yet to make a serious attempt to ensure that the workers who make sportswear and accessories are treated fairly and humanely.
The IOC is uniquely positioned to make a big difference. As controller of the Olympic emblem it has the practical means and moral authority to ensure that companies using the emblem are not violating the rights of their workers.
As the world's greatest athletes receive their medals to the rightful celebration and admiration of the watching millions, the Olympics movement and its partner sportswear companies must come to grips with the exploitation of workers. The sports industry must make a public commitment to clean up its act, while the Olympics movement must use its influence to push for reform.
When workers around the world making sportswear bring home decent wages, in reasonable conditions and the chance to negotiate their terms of work, we can all feel truly proud of wearing the clothes that bear the Olympic emblem as a symbol of respect, fairness and dignity. I look forward to celebrating an ethical Olympic Games.
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