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Published in: Business Standard (New Delhi), 21-1-2002      

Child Labour in the Shadows of World Cup


New Delhi, 20 January
With only 5 months left until the 2002 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Japan and Korea, activists from around the world are increasingly putting 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.
     An international campaign has been initiated by the Global March Against Child Labour. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has also launched its "Red Card to Child Labour" campaign this week to coincide with the start of the 2002 African Cup of Nations that began on January 19 in Bamako, Mali.
     While ILO's new campaign against the use of child labour is symbolized by the red card handed out by referees for serious violations of rules on the soccer field, Global March Against Child Labour will start an online campaign against a game that celebrates the team spirit but uses goods that are produced by children and families who do not get a minumum wage.
     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.
     A team of volunteers from Global March visited Punjab recently and found that even 10 year-old children were engaged in stitching footballs.
     "I have been stitching footballs for as long as I can remember," confided Geeta, a young girl from Jalandhar who said she was 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 elder 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 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.
     "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.



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India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - 24 april 2002