Campaigners uncover sweatshop labour at Olympic factories

27 February 2012

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27 February 2012 | Angeline Albert

Workers are toiling under sweatshop conditions at factories producing merchandise for the London Olympic games, according to a report.

Low wages, excessive working hours, child labour, dangerous health and safety conditions and audit fraud are among the findings reported in a dossier published by the Playfair campaign.

Toying with Workers' Rights, was compiled using undercover researchers investigating the treatment of workers at two factories in China’s Guangdong Province, which produce badges and mascot toys for London 2012. Investigators found workers received below the legal minimum wage that failed to cover their basic living costs. Workers making the toys, Wenlock and Mandeville, earned as little as £26 a week – each mascot retails at around £20.

Lord Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), said: “As soon as we were made aware of the Playfair 2012 report, we instructed our independent monitor to carry out a comprehensive investigation and review. The outcome of this will be made public as soon as it is concluded.”

The report’s researchers found that employees were working up to 100 extra hours a month, which is in violation of national laws. They told the researchers of 24-hour shifts or of having to work seven-day weeks. Children were also found to be making pin badges, which is in direct contravention of Chinese labour law and LOCOG's code of practice.

Both factories had poor health and safety, with back problems common as a result of hours sitting on stools on production lines. Workers were prevented from joining unions to complain about factory conditions.

Widespread evidence of audit fraud was also found, involving advanced warning of inspections and workers being coached, threatened or bribed to mislead auditors.

As reported in SM, LOCOG agreed to publish the names and locations of most of the factories producing London 2012 licensed products in China and the UK, make information available to the workers on their rights, set up a Chinese-language complaints hotline, provide training to workers on their rights and work with partners in the Playfair alliance to help stop similar exploitation in future Olympics.

Campaigners said steps to protect workers producing merchandise for the games must also be adopted at an international level. Dominique Muller, of the international campaigning group Clean Clothes Campaign, said: “A clear steer from International Olympic representatives needs to be given to all future games hosts that Olympic exploitation is not acceptable.”

LOCOG’s Lord Coe said in a statement: “We place a high priority on environmental, social and ethical issues when securing goods and services… We have taken a lead in ethical sourcing and supply chain management, but there is always more to do and we are committed to making a real difference to workers’ lives and creating a valuable legacy that we can share.”

Shaun McCarthy, chairman of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, said in a statement: “The commission does question why it has taken the release of an undercover dossier to push LOCOG into action. The commission has pressed LOCOG for months over core issues including full disclosure of its supply chain. We advised LOCOG to require full disclosure and to improve communication of their complaints mechanism in our review of merchandising last summer, but LOCOG had insisted at this point full disclosure was an impossibility. While it has now done the right thing and is collaborating with Playfair to see what can be done, it would have been more effective to have tackled this earlier in the programme.”

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