CHILDREN as young as six years old have been employed in the manufacture of footballs bearing the Fifa World Cup logo in an apparent breach of the world governing bodyís regulations, investigators have found.
The footballs, which also feature the names of sponsors such as adidas and Coca-Cola, were stitched by children in Pakistani villages for around 70p a day, according to a campaign group based in Delhi.
Although many of the footballs appear to be destined for sports shops and company promotions, including one for The Economist magazine, the group claimed that some of the balls could find their way on to the pitch in South Korea next month.
Adidas-Salomon said that the company did not believe that official adidas footballs had been stitched by children and past experience showed a very strong possibility that the balls in question were counterfeits. Last night Fifa had not responded to a request for comment.
Coca-Cola GB said: "This is the first we have heard of these allegations, which we are certainly going to investigate. We do not condone the use of child labour. Anyone would be extremely concerned and very disturbed indeed if these reports were true."
A spokeswoman at The Economistís London headquarters said that the company would be looking into the allegations. "Thank you for drawing our attention to this," she said. "For many years we have been dealing with a reputable wholesaler in the region which supplies us with promotional items. We have asked them to acquire around 100 footballs to use as promotional tools for the World Cup."
Researchers for Global March Against Child Labour, who have just spent ten weeks in the Sialkot and Sangla Hill districts of Pakistan, found more than 50 children working up to 14 hours a day producing Fifa-branded footballs. They filmed children working from home or in local stitching centres for between 10 and 20 rupees (14p to 28p) a football.
In the village of Gujranwala, they visited a household where they found girls aged six and seven making holes in pieces of leather, which were then stitched together by their eight-year-old sister. The promotional ACME Enterprise footballs carried the World Cup 2002 logo and had the appearance of officially licensed merchandise.
The children told the researchers that they received 13 rupees (18p) per ball and stitched an average of four to five per day. Fifa, which with the International Labour Organisation has tried to establish a monitoring system for the stitching industry, sells officially branded footballs on its website for $91 (£64).
In three neighbouring villages around Sangla Hill, investigators found children aged eight to 14 making balls bearing the logos of Coca- Cola, a leading World Cup sponsor, and The Economist.
"Many suffer from eyesight problems from focusing intensively in dark rooms for long hours," the investigators reported. They identified children with "twisted fingers from pulling on the string" and back problems from sitting in the same position for long periods.
An adidas spokesman said: "A local monitoring body in which we participate has been operating successfully for more than three years in the area and our Sialkot operations team also checks compliance with the code of conduct that prohibits the use of child labour in the manufacture of our products. Our football production in Pakistan is conducted only in registered centres, which are visited regularly by us and by independent external monitors. But as soon as we see the report, we will investigate."
Philippe Roy, who led the investigation, said: "I am sure companies like The Economist are not using child labour on purpose, but a lack of monitoring ensures that the practice continues. The balls go through about eight middlemen, so it is unclear at which stage children are employed, as there is no effective monitoring.
"In the village of Gujranwala, I found an adult stitcher making an official adidas ball of the type being used during World Cup matches and he was under no kind of supervision. This was just one ball, so thereís no way of knowing that other adidas balls being used on the pitch have not been produced by children."
Investigators tracked the manufacturing process in the city of Sialkot, where, through an arrangement with a local middleman, large bags containing the football pieces and stitching instructions were sent by train to the Sangla Hill railway station. At that point the pieces were distributed among households in different villages. Once finished, the balls were sent back by train to Sialkot, from where they were delivered to established sports goods companies for export to Asia and Europe.
Pakistan and India are among the main centres for the manufacture of footballs and, according to the India Committee of The Netherlands and the All-Pakistan Federation of Labour, thousands of children are employed in the industry. Campaigners are concerned that they often earn less than the legal minimum wage and are denied basic employment rights.
An earlier investigation team from Global March found child employment widespread in Jalandhar, in the Indian state of Punjab, and photographed children as young as ten years old stitching footballs.
"I have been stitching footballs for as long as I can remember," its investigators quoted Geeta, a girl from Jalandhar, as saying. "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."
After child labour became an issue at the 1998 World Cup, Fifa said that it would ensure it was not used in products bearing its logo. That came after a code of conduct was agreed in 1996 between Fifa and international unions whereby child and forced labour would end and wages would be "sufficient to meet basic needs and provide some discretionary income".
Under the code, licensee companies pledged to "ensure that these conditions and standards are observed by each contractor and subcontractor", as most footballs in Pakistan and India are produced through intermediary contractors and subcontractors, in homes and other small production units. Crucially, the code contained provisions for effective monitoring.
In December Michel Zen-Ruffinen, Fifaís general secretary, wrote to Global March affirming that production of all equipment for this summerís tournament conformed with labour standards agreed by the International Labour Organisation and the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industries. "It is not correct to say that there are no monitoring systems in place," he wrote.
Global March sent its new findings to Fifa, adidas and the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industries. By last night it had received no response.
LIW IN 'T NIEUWS
WK VOETBAL 2002
KINDERARBEID & ONDERWIJS
Landelijke India Werkgroep