London 2012 Olympics sweatshop misery

For Londoners, the London 2012 Olympics will be a summer of misery. Their misery is as nought to those working in the sweatshops who supply the goods.

Workers making Olympic sportswear for London 2012 for top brands and high street names including Adidas and Next are being paid poverty wages, forced to work excessive overtime and threatened with instant dismissal if they complain about working conditions.

A worker at an Adidas Olympics supplier factory in the Philippines, working on minimum wage for 10 years without a pay-rise:

We are forced to take overtime work so at least it supplements our take-home pay. Otherwise, how can I survive with such meagre income, how can I pay rent for the small room where I stay, cope with my daily necessities, and send some money for my family in the province? At the end of the day it is zero balance; there are no savings left for whatever uncertain things may happen to me and my family.

A few examples of the continued systematic and widespread exploitation of workers in sportswear factories:

  • Poverty wages were found across the board. In Sri Lanka, some workers have to survive on around £1.78 a day, little above the UN’s official poverty line, and only 25% of the amount needed for a living wage, enabling workers to live in dignity. In the Philippines, 50% of workers were forced to pawn their ATM cards to loan sharks for pay day loans to get them through the month.
  • Workers had legal benefits systematically denied to them by repeated use of short term contracts. Employers used these to avoid paying social insurance including pensions, sick leave and maternity benefits.
  • Workers were forced to perform overtime under threat of losing their jobs.
  • In all 10 factories there was no recognised union or credible workers’ representatives, meaning workers had no voice on pay and conditions. In China workers were threatened with job losses for distributing leaflets that could ‘hamper employer-employee relationships; and in the Philippines all workers interviewed said that they were scared to join a union as they would lose their jobs.
  • Living conditions showed the poverty levels experienced by workers. Chinese workers shared cramped and overcrowded rooms with hot water only available after 23:00, when their shift finished.

Those making the consumer junk, the mascots and toys, fare no better.

A worker at a Chinese sweatshop making London 2012 mascots:

Consumers may feel the Olypmic mascots are fun and cute, they will never think of the hard work, low wages…..we have in the factory.

A few examples of working conditions in two factories in China producing the Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Manderville, and London 2012 pin-badges:

  • Poverty pay, in some cases below the legal minimum, where workers were not paid enough to cover their most basic needs, and benefit payments for pensions and medical insurance were not paid in accordance with Chinese law. For example, a worker making an Olympic mascot could be paid as little as £26 a week, while a mascot can retail for around £20. An average living wage is around £225 a month.
  • Excessive overtime, sometimes up to 100 hours a month, nearly three times the legal limit in China. Some workers were doing 24-hour shifts, while others were working seven days a week. Overtime was often compulsory.
  • Child labour was used in the factory producing pin badges.
  • Workers were locked into a five-year contract and had to pay a fine if they tried to leave beforehand. At one factory, workers were not given a contract of employment, and in the other factory, workers did not receive pay-slips. In both factories, workers did not fully understand how their wages and over-time were calculated.
  • Workers did not receive health and safety training in both factories, and would tend to forgo wearing protective equipment, when provided, so they could work faster and earn more – to top up their poverty pay.
  • Workers were prevented from joining unions in both factories, and it was made clear to them that anyone engaging in trade union activities would be dismissed.
  • Evidence of audit fraud – with workers coached on how to answer auditor’s questions, and in some cases bribed to give the correct answers.

An ethical Olympics?

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