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Published in: OneWorld South Asia, 17-1-2002      

Kick Child Labor Out of Soccer, Groups Urge

by:
Kalyani

Five months before the world's top soccer players come together for a prestigious international championship in South Korea and Japan, campaigners are stepping up efforts to ensure child labor is kicked out of the game.

Child rights groups last week launched a new campaign calling on the world's soccer authority, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), to take tougher action to ban the use of soccer balls made by children, particularly in Pakistan and India.

"The June 2002 FIFA World Cup ... is the perfect occasion to make sure that all the promises made by the sporting goods industry over the past years will finally become a reality," said the Global March Against Child Labour, a New Delhi-based coalition spearheading the campaign.

The coalition has called on sports-goods manufacturers to release data on their production sites and produce independently-verified reports showing that their goods are not made with child labor.

"We feel that it's important, in our World Cup Campaign, to lobby the private sector since they deal directly with the labor force," said Philippe Roy, the coalition's international media coordinator.

After two years of discussions, FIFA issued an internal "code of conduct" in 1998 prohibiting the use of child labor and promoting fair wages for adults. The code applied to all companies involved in the production of FIFA goods.

But, said the coalition, thousands of children are still stitching soccer balls in India and Pakistan, two of the world's largest producers of the balls. A recent report by the India Committee of the Netherlands and the All Pakistan Federation of Labour said that adults involved in the trade earned less than the minimum wages set in both countries. Roy pointed out that most children were forced into low-wage work to supplement their parents low income.

"If parents could be guaranteed a minimum wage, children would not have to work to help their households earn a sufficient income, and they could go to school, thus eliminating the vicious cycle of uneducated labor," he said.

The campaign -- which has also won backing from the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry and the United Nations Children's Fund -- was officially launched in May 2001, to allow a year-long run-in to the World Cup.

The campaign involves a worldwide petition urging FIFA to "fully implement" its code of conduct and make the 2002 championship "the first international sporting event free of child labor."

The coalition reacted with alarm after sending a team to the football-making town of Jalandhar, in India's northern Punjab region, to study local working conditions.

The team -- which found at least one pre-teen-aged soccer-ball stitcher, with hands maimed by many years of work -- called for greater transparency on labor conditions in the industry.

While China was also a target for criticism over inadequate monitoring of labor conditions in its sports goods industry, Pakistan was praised for keeping a check on soccer-ball manufacturing.



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