Monday, June 19, 2006

Extreme close-up on workers' rights

France 1 - South Korea 1

After the trauma of watching Italy held to a draw by nine Americans (forgot how to counterattack, inevitably), it was a delight to sit down to game with plenty of excitement and colour, but which had even less potential to emotionally scar me than the eviction of Grace from the Big Brother house.

But in a match where the Korean crowd alone were worth the license fee, singing non-stop from kick-off to whistle, your grumpy correspondent's enjoyment was curtailed by endless extreme close-ups every time the ball was still long enough for a cameraman to get a bead on it. This behaviour, presuably a clause in the World Cup sponsorship deal, threatened to make the game little more than set decoration in a ninety-minute Adidas Teamgeist commercial.

Still, if it's Herren Blatter and Heiner's wish that we should focus on Adidas products, I'm happy to oblige. Adidas has refused to provide the addresses of the factories that supply the world's second-biggest sportswear brand, which makes it really very difficult to know if their good words on labour rights translate into real action. 75% of the world's footballs are made in and around Lahore in Bangladesh, where many are painfully hand-stiched by child workers. But the Teamgeist has no stitching, so it's hard even to hazard a guess at where and under what conditions it is made.

One Adidas plant we do know of is PT Panarub in Tangerang, Indonesia, where Adidas shoes, including football boots, are manufactured. Panerub was one of the factories outed by the 2002 Oxfam Australia report We Are Not Machines. At Panerub, unions were crushed by the sacking of leaders, women were forced to undergo embarrassing company examinations before they could claim statutory menstruation leave, and pregnant women suffered an increased incidence of miscarriage due to working long hours standing up.

In truth, this campaign changed a lot, so it might be a little churlish to pick on Adidas. Oxfam's follow-up report, Offside!, notes that, since 2002, Adidas have had union organiser Ngadinah Binti Abu Mawardi reinstated and co-operated with the Workers' Rights Consortium, who produced a report (PDF) that has seen almost all of its recommendations implemented. Although Adidas always denied Oxfam's findings that managers used or threatened violence on Panarub staff, Oxfam now reports the growing strength of the Perbupas union helped to halt this practice.

However, in October last year, Perbupas was effectively dismantled at Panarub by the dismissal of 33 members, including almost all of the leadership, for activities linked to a strike action. The Indonesian Human Rights Commission has decided that the factory's owners have not shown any legal basis for the dismissal, which looks very much like the latest tactic in a campaign by the owners against Perbupas and in favour of another, more biddable, union. The loss of Perbupas threatens to undermine, or even reverse, improvements at Panarub - it is with good reason that labour rights organisations stress the importance of the worker's right to join a union of their choice.

Adidas has, as yet, failed to take any action to defend the right to assembly of its workers at Panarub. My view is that this kind of relapse is inevitable when the pressure comes off. So, my blog friends, for your homework I'm asking you to keep the pressure on Adidas to continue with pro-worker reforms at Panarub.

You can do that by sending an email to Frank Henke, Global Director of Social and Environmental Affairs, at frank.henke@adidas.de. The key point is to ask that Adidas insists that Panarub management immediately reinstates all employees sacked in connection with union activity to their former positions and that all wages lost during the time of suspension are paid in full. You can find a sample letter on the Clean Clothes Campaign site, but it does have slightly too many exclamation marks for my taste.

You might also like to add that you prefer close-ups of dancing fans to stationary footballs, thanks all the same.

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