From the TUC

One year to go: what’s the measure of a successful Games?

29 Jul 2011, by in International

Secrecy is not something we would usually associate with the London Olympics. But when you try to find out exactly where Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville were made in China – and the working conditions in which they were produced – the chatter and sparkle of the Games quickly becomes a dark maze of dead ends.

The Playfair 2012 campaign – which the TUC coordinates – has long been calling on the organisers of the London Games to disclose their supplier list, as part of our aim to encourage the sportswear industry and the Olympic movement to ensure that workers making their goods are not exploited.

The Games Organisers tell us that their suppliers are meeting high ethical standards and are abiding by the Ethical Trading Initiative code, which includes payment of a living wage, no child labour and respect for the right to join a union. This ethical bar was set as a result of ongoing talks between Playfair 2012 and the organisers. But when we ask the organisers for evidence to verify their claims, we are referred to a company database which requires payment to access information and even then the information given out is incredibly selective.

Since members of the public are contributing their hard earned cash towards London 2012, we believe they have the right to know that their money is being well-spent and not supporting the widespread exploitation of workers around the globe.

I expect the majority of us don’t want the London Games tarnished with similar stories of exploitation as those from last year’s World Cup with mascots being produced in sweatshop conditions, or the Beijing Olymipcs – where children as young as 12 years old produced official Olympic branded stationery.

Today, Adidas released its Olympic supplier list, which we welcome, and we will continue working with unions around the world to check that workers’ rights are being respected and that Adidas – as the official sportswear sponsor – is paying workers a living wage.

Over the last year, Adidas sales increased to £10.6 billion, and in 2010 the company’s CEO, Herbert Hainer, received a compensation package of around £4.3 million. Mr Hainer would almost certainly be protesting in the streets if he was earning the £680 a year basic wage that a worker making Adidas goods earns in Sri Lanka. It would take that, probably female, worker over 6,000 years to make a similar amount. Would most of us think that this embodies the Olympic values of respect, fair play and equality? Probably not.

But it’s not only about wages, Adidas and other sportswear brands should be doing more to work positively with unions, restrict the use of short-term contracts and build up better, long-term relationships with their suppliers.

A recent campaign success has been the signing of an agreement between the major sportswear brands, unions and suppliers in Indonesia. This is a major step forward in ensuring the right to freedom of association is respected, the key to workers being empowered to negotiate for better pay and working conditions, without being victimised.

With one year to go, openness and ensuring respect for workers’ rights needs to be at the heart of the London Games if it is successfully going to live up to the Olympic message about seeking a way of life based on …”respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” (Olympic Charter, 2007)