Thursday 26 July 2012

Let The Children Play

Gerry, the voice and conscience of Pier32 asked me a question yesterday that couldn't have come at a better time; has child labour been used at all to produce goods for the Olympics?

That's an important point to explore as we enter the preliminaries to tomorrow's opening ceremonies. The Beijing Games were marred by accusations of children working 15 hour shifts to produce badges and toys. Have things improved four years on?

There's certainly more focus on workers rights in third-world countries now, which has a lot to do with the tireless efforts of charities like War On Want. The rise in online activism has made it easier than ever to make your disapproval of poor labour practices known to the multinationals that have allowed them to proliferate in their factories. They know we're watching now, and they have to play a little bit more cleanly as a result.

Playfair, a UK-based charity, has been at the forefront of the push for worldwide workers rights over the past few years. They have scored some impressive victories this year. They have talked a lot of the major players like Nike and Adidas to sign a protocol protecting those rights in Indonesia, a hotbed of abuse. And although it's one thing to sign an agreement and another to enforce it, Playfair are seeing encouraging signs. Unions and worker associations are starting to become more involved in negotiations for fair pay and better working conditions. Let's be clear: a unionised factory will not tolerate child labour. So it's in all our interests to encourage and support these nascent organisations as they move towards securing the basic rights that all of us should enjoy.

There's still a long way to go, of course. Playfair have noted with sorrow that Adidas are digging their heels in, noting in their May report:
“Despite being committed to a living wage through sourcing agreements with the London Games Organisers LOCOG, Adidas continues to refuse to implement the payment of a living wage to workers producing Olympic sportswear, or any Adidas goods.”

The work, sadly, continues. The refusal of companies like Adidas to treat their workers with a base minimum of respect opens their factories up to the possibility of worker abuse and the risk of child labour. There's no reason that we as consumers, as human beings, should stand for this. It's thanks to charities like War On Want and Playfair that we don't have to.

None of which answers Gerry's question. I don't really have a definite answer. But bearing in mind that an estimated 215 million children work in some capacity across the globe, and based on the past record of companies that have Olympic contracts, I'd have to say that there's a very good chance that child labour has been used to produce some of these goods. A sobering thought on the eve of an event that's supposed to be about fair play.

For more, I recommend a browse around the PlayFair 2012 website.

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