Millions of football fans are looking forward to the European Championships Football (EURO 2000) that will take place in the Netherlands and Belgium in June. Football is by far the most popular sport in Europe, and especially during an event like EURO 2000 nearly everybody claims to be an 'expert'. Where the footballs come from, is far less known. India is the second largest producer of footballs, Pakistan being the world leader. In 1998 the Netherlands imported 'inflatable balls' from India worth nearly two million Dutch guilders (Rs. 4 crore). Great Britain imported worth Rs. 80 crore. The total value of Indian sports goods exports amounts to Rs. 300 crore a year, most of which come from Jalandhar (Punjab). Gerard Oonk from The India Committee of the Netherlands visited this major production area and came across child labour and low wages.
A mother and her daughter are deeply concentrated on their work. They are stitching together the 32 panels that make up a football. This work earns them together a meagre Rs. 40 for a twelve hour working day; less than one third of the official minimum wage. 'This is the general picture', says Mr. Jai Singh from the Jalandhar based organisation Volunteers for Social Justice (VSJ) during a visit to some quarters in Jalandhar and villages in the to surrounding countryside. The fact that this region in Punjab is the heart of Indian sports goods industry finds its cause in partition. In 1947 many hindu artisans moved from neighbouring Sialkot in Pakistani Punjab - traditionally a major centre of sports goods industry - to Jalandhar.
Football industry is conspicuous in Jalandhar and its surroundings. Several children, varying in age from approximately 10 to 15 years, are assembling footballs. At this moment however children are not massively at work. At busy times, when orders pour in, the picture is very different. 'It's off season now, so relatively few children are engaged', tells Jai Singh. Many inhabitants confirm this statement. According to an old woman 'everybody joins forces when enough work is available'. Demonstrating the height of a child with her arm she indicates that even small children do work then.
But apparently also at off season there is a lot to hide. It turns out that just after we have met him, the contractor who delivers the exporters' orders to the producers in the villages, has rushed off on his scooter to the next village to warn the people about the coming of 'guests'. Everywhere doors are being closed.
According to a survey conducted by the Indian National Labour Institute (NLI) some 10 thousand children are employed in sports goods industry in the Jalandhar area. The majority of the children work part-time and attend school as well, but around 1350 children work full-time. Child labour is partly caused by low wages that induce the parents to have their children work in order to earn some additional income. The poor quality of education is another important factor. Many children drop out before the age of eleven. In a third of these cases education is not considered worthwhile, as becomes evident from interviews.
Jai Singh estimates the total number of working children at around 30 thousand. The fact is that production has fanned out over several other districts in Punjab, whereas the NLI survey is restricted to Jalandhar and immediate surroundings. According to a former contractor, in Batala and its surrounding villages at least ten percent of the total population of 1 lakh are engaged in sports goods manufacturing. India's main exporter, Mayor & Company, had many footballs produced here. In Gandhi Camp neighbourhood, nearly all adults and also many children work in the football industry. But also in Gandhi Camp it is off season; in many houses only loose parts of footballs and the jams that hold the panels together during stitching, are to be seen.
Stitching of footballs is the work of children aged six years and over. According to the NLI-report Child labour in the sports goods industry stitching by very young children (under ten) is however exceptional. Most working children are thirteen or fourteen years old, a quarter of the children are between ten and twelve years old. The shares of boys and girls are more or less equal.
Stitching is nevertheless a far from innocuous occupation. The NLI has ascertained that nearly half of the full-time working children suffer from health problems like joint problems, headaches, and pain in stomach and back. Nearly a third of the children who combine work and school meet the same health disorders. According to Jai Singh the work is very unhealthy. Most people live and work in one room, in which they consequently also have to stitch footballs. The synthetics most footballs are made of, have been treated with chemicals and printer's ink. Also a specific type of ammonia is used that gives the covering its shine and the thread is first rubbed in special glue. The workers inhale poisonous vapours and especially children are very vulnerable. Yet the Indian Child Labour Prohibition & Regulation Act of 1986 doesn't consider stitching of footballs a hazardous industry. And even if it did, then it still wouldn't affect child labour in the football industry since the law allows homework in all industries, without any restrictions.
According to the NLI the children who combine work and school make long days. On average a six-year old child spends nine hours a day on school and work, a fourteen-year old even eleven hours! Fourteen percent of the children who combine work and school work at night, as do a quarter of the children who don't attend school.
The organisation of football production in India is comparable to that in Pakistan. The number of permanently employed is very limited. Companies avoid permanent appointments as much as possible. The majority of the work is subcontracted, at piece rate. The (sub)contractors of the exporters distribute 'football kits' among small workshops and households in slums and the surrounding villages. There the footballs are assembled and subsequently recollected by the subcontractors.
Three female homeworkers report that they earn less than 20 Rs a day. Also the NLI report states very clearly that wages are far below minimum level: 'The average daily earning of an adult male in the sports goods industry is estimated to be in the range of Rs. 18 - Rs. 24, much below the prescribed minimum wage.' The legal minimum wage in Punjab is around Rs. 70 a day.
The official piece rate varies from Rs. 5 up to Rs. 25, depending on quality and size of the football. On an average football the worker earns a piece rate of Rs. 12. An adult worker can make four footballs a day. The NLI remarks in its reports rather wryly that 'the piece rates in home production are not always fixed in a scientific manner' and adds 'piece rates fixed do not seem to be based on any concrete data on production time'.
It is therefore impossible to earn the minimum day wage at the current piece rates. But the real difference between minimum wages and the wages workers earn in reality is even bigger. Subcontractors use tricks to prune away a considerable part of the piece rates for themselves. Most stitchers assemble two halves of a football, but are not given the opportunity to give their work a finishing touch by stitching the two halves together. Consequently they get half of the piece rate for the two or three hours they invested in producing the two halves. The other half of the piece rate is paid for stitching the two halves together, a job that takes only twenty minutes. The subcontractor either does this work himself or subcontracts it again at his own discretion.
Financial advances given by subcontractors to homeworkers are a widely used way to bind people and manipulate piece rates. Homeworkers, especially those who live far out of town, are mostly not informed about exact piece rates for the different types of footballs. They accept any rate offered to them by their subcontractor. Many of the workers are landless agricultural labourers, nearly all of them dalits, who stitch footballs on a part-time basis. 'Often we have to wait from two up to six months for our money and sometimes the subcontractor doesn't pay at all', says a female homeworker.
A few years ago the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) exposed child labour in the Indian sports goods industry. Jai Singh's VSJ is a member-organisation of SACCS. After reports in the Indian press, some meetings with SACCS and a revealing report by the British development organisation Christian Aid that was widely covered in both Indian and British media, Indian exporters seemed to be prepared to take steps.
Firstly they commissioned the NLI to carry out a thorough investigation, supervised by employers, trade unions, non-governmental organisations and civil servants. The NLI made some strong recommendations, including payment of higher wages, abolition of the subcontracting system in its current form, and making the exporters responsible for the payment of the fixed wages. In addition the NLI advises to set up labour co-operatives for home-based production and credit systems in order to eliminate intermediaries. Also education should become 'interesting and meaningful' . An independent monitoring mechanism, in which workers, employers, government and non-governmental organisations participate, should effectively keep out child labour.
Following the example set in Pakistan, the exporters decided together with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Unicef and SACCS to set up a foundation with a monitoring system and with education for the children concerned. The NLI recommendations for higher wages and better labour conditions however were shelved. Nevertheless a substantial number of exporters were not very enthusiastic about SACCS's role in the foundation. At the last minute the deal with the ILO was cancelled because the Indian government, partly due to exporters' resistance, refused its co-operation. The government rejected ILO-supervision on the project and SACCS was not welcome in the foundation's board.
Meanwhile a foundation has been set up after all - the Sports Goods Foundation of India (SGFI) - with in its board only exporters. According to SGFI's director, Mr. Ravinder Purewal, a well-known, originally Swiss, monitoring firm will be responsible for external monitoring. Unicef and Save the Children will take part in rehabilitation and education of former child workers. This year the foundation is supposed to start up its activities. It is the intention to accommodate within two years all home work in registered stitching centres, employing at least three workers. By now the firm Soccer International has already set up three of such centres, says Ravinder Purewal.
As for labour conditions in the football industry Purewal disagrees with Jai Singh. He doesn't know of wages of Rs. 20 a day, as many home workers claim to get paid, and he is also unfamiliar with the observations on wages in the NLI-report. According to the SGFI director wages are fine. He says on average they are Rs 500 above the official minimum wage of Rs. 2600 a month.
According to Purewal the monitoring system will be restricted to Jalandhar and its immediate surroundings, because outside this area no footballs are produced. He doesn't know of any production elsewhere - for example in Batala - for Jalandhar based exporters. In addition child labour is supposed to be limited to stitching of inflatable balls, so SGFI needs stick to this sector only. Production of other sports goods is factory based, says the SGFI director, and no child labour is used here at all. According to the NLI report however, eight percent of the child workers in Jalandhar and its surrounding do make other sports goods such as shinpads, cricket balls, rackets and shuttles.
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