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Published by: Africa News Service, 17-1-2002      

Global March Against Child Labour

Child Labour in the Shadows of World Cup


With only 5 months left until the 2002 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Japan and Korea, activists from around the world are putting increasing pressure on FIFA and national football teams to make this championship the first international sporting event free of child labour and in compliance with fair labour standards. This international campaign has been initiated by the Global March Against Child Labour.

India and Pakistan are the largest football producers for the world football championship. According to a recent report by the India Committee of the Netherlands and the All Pakistan Federation of Labour (APFL), thousands of children in Pakistan and India are involved in the production of footballs. Moreover, workers in both countries are earning wages much lower than the legal minimum wage and many basic labour rights are routinely neglected. Their life of exploitation is shared by another 250 million working children around the world and many of their families. Recently, a team from the Global March left for Jalandhar, in the Indian State of Punjab, and captured pictures of children as young as 10 years old stitching footballs.

"I have been stitching footballs for as long as I can remember," confided Geeta, a young girl from Jalandhar who estimated her age to be between 1O and 12 years old. "My hands are constantly in pain. It feels like they are burning. There is nothing I can do -- I have to help my older sister complete the order."

Most children are forced into labour to help their families earn enough money to survive. Hence, football stitching becomes home-based family work where a middleman, who acts on behalf of a sporting goods manufacturer, provides the football pieces for in-home production. A normal working day does not often provide the workers with even the legal minimum wage. While helping their families, many of the children miss out on their education, creating a vicious circle of poverty and uneducated labour.

Mohan Lal, a local stitcher, said that his own children and neighbours' children were involved in stitching footballs for the 2002 World Cup. He maintained, however, that children were not involved in the production of sporting gloves.

In 1998 FIFA established a Code of Conduct to prohibit the use of child labour and to require decent working conditions and wages for adult workers in all FIFA-licensed products. However, available evidence points to routine violations of the Code by the manufacturers.

In response to Global March's enquiries last May, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, General Secretary of FIFA, in an official letter dated 7 December 2001, declared that "it is not correct to say that there are no monitoring systems in place, although we have been in talks with our partners in the last two weeks to improve this aspect of the project." He also affirmed that all football and referee equipment is produced in full conformity with the current labour standards.

The Global March acknowledges the efforts by sporting goods producers and ILO-IPEC in Sialkot, Pakistan, which establishes a monitoring system for football production and provides education opportunities for children. "In India, an industry-led monitoring system exists, however it lacks transparency as there is no public information about its functioning or results," says Gerard Oonk, author of The Dark Side of Football report on labour conditions in the football industry in Punjab, India published in 2001. Oonk also says that in other countries where footballs and sporting goods are manufactured, such as China, there is no credible monitoring system in place. None of the current monitoring systems enforces key labour rights for adult workers, most notably wages.

"A game that is supposed to inspire youth and entertain the world must not be played with footballs sewn with the sweat of children. Children must be given pens to study and toys to play," said Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson of the Global March.

To celebrate the Global March Anniversary, as part of the World Cup Campaign 2002, football stars will be participating in a friendly game with child labourers in South Africa and Japan will be hosting a public discussion on the appeals made to the Planning Committee of the World Cup to take child labour out of the game. Internationally, an on-line petition campaign calling on FIFA to fully implement their Code of Conduct will be launched at www.globalmarch.org, reaching out to thousands of youth and football fans to voice their opinions for fair play.

The World Cup Campaign is one of the main campaigns led by the Global March in the year 2002. The movement was born out of a foot-march that commenced four years ago today, when thousands of people took a journey over 80,000 kilometers, in four continents to mobilise worldwide action against the worst forms of child labour. Some 2,000 partners in over 140 countries have joined the movement.
    



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