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Sportswear Industry Offside! on Workers' Rights

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As top sportswear brands prepare to showcase their newest products at this year’s FIFA World Cup in Germany, many workers who make the products are facing intimidation or dismissal for attempting to unionize, 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 fired 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 said 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 sportswear labels found that US-based FILA was at the 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 soccer players are represented by players’ associations, sportswear workers should be allowed to form unions too,” Dent said.

Oxfam says that Reebok has done the most to uphold 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 where workers receive as little as 60 cents an hour for their labor recently terminated 30 union workers who took part in a legal strike for more pay. The Panarub factory near Jakarta makes the Adidas' Predator Pulse shoes promoted by England’s David Beckham and Frank Lampard, France’s Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Viera, Spain’s Raul and Brazil’s Kaka. The factory also makes the +F50.6 Tunit shoes 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 fired workers get their jobs back.

“The firing 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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