While Adidas, Nike and Puma make millions out of the Games, their employees are claiming exploitation
Gethin Chamberlain, for The Observer, 3 March 2012
Workers producing sportswear for Olympic sponsors Adidas, Nike and Puma are beaten, verbally abused, underpaid and overworked in Bangladeshi sweatshops, a shocking investigation has discovered.
Workers for all three companies had been physically abused. In one Puma supplier, two thirds of the workers interviewed had been beaten, slapped, pushed or had their hair pulled by their managers.
Women working for all Adidas and Nike factories reported sexual harassment and workers for all three companies had to work illegally long hours for less than the minimum wage.
Some Adidas workers were paid as little as 9p an hour, with the average worker in all six factories investigated earning just 16p an hour.
Working with the charity War on Want and researchers in Bangladesh, the Observer found that many workers had been beaten, kicked or pushed, and publicly humiliated. In one Adidas supplier factory, one in three had to work more than 80 hours a week. Workers for all three firms said they faced cruel punishments if they tried to stand up for their legal rights. Aside from the beatings, they said they were sworn at, pushed, forced to undress, humiliated by being made to stand on a table, locked in the toilet or refused permission to use the toilets.
Hajera Khanom, 32, a worker in a factory supplying Puma, said: “They have slapped, kicked and pushed me often. Calling us by abusive names is frequently done. This hurt us emotionally and mentally.”
Poppy Akter, from the same factory, said: “I have been scolded with very bad language, slapped, pulled by the hair, made to stand on the table and threatened to be fired and sent to jail.”
Fazlul Huq, from an Adidas supplier, said managers swore at staff using “obscene” language. “I have been addressed with very bad words and names. I have been hurt by my senior colleagues. The supervisors and line-chiefs do very bad things to the girls,” she said. Many of the other women said managers made them remove the dupatta (scarf) they use to cover their breasts.
Most of the workers are women. Many of them despair of ever fighting their way out of poverty.
Jorina Begum, 35, who works for a Nike supplier, said: “When I was a little girl, I dreamed of getting a decent education and leading a happy married life with a husband and children. Now I do not know what is in store for me in the future. My seven-year-old son always complains in tears about me not coming to drop or pick him up from school. But I have to be at work all day. My daily routine starts at 4 am. I wash up, then cook breakfast and lunch for the family, get my son ready for school and finally set off for work. Reaching the factory gate before 7am is compulsory. Work starts half an hour later. For nine hours I toil, with a one-hour lunch break, and start for home in the evening. It takes me more than an hour to get home on the bus.”
Adidas is the official outfitter of the London 2012 Olympics, supplying UK team uniforms designed by Stella McCartney and the uniforms for the 70,000 volunteers who will be helping to run the Games. It also sponsors many of the high-profile athletes expected to compete at the Games, including David Beckham and Jessica Ennis.
Adidas hopes to sell £100m of Olympic-themed sportswear. Nike has about 18% of the £4bn UK sportswear market, just ahead of Adidas, which has 15 per cent. Nike is reported to have sponsored about 25 national teams, including those of the US, China and Germany. Puma sponsors defending 100m and 200m champion Usain Bolt, along with several national teams, including Jamaica.
Greg Muttitt, the campaigns and policy director at War on Want, said: “Companies such as Adidas, Nike and Puma make huge profits from this abuse, while soiling the Olympic flag in which they wrap themselves. Let’s focus on what’s great about the Olympics and end the corporate free-for-all. If companies want to benefit by sponsoring teams, athletes and the Games themselves, they must ensure their workers are treated with respect.”
Investigators found that at the two factories supplying Adidas the basic salary of the lowest paid workers was an average of 72p a day. The minimum wage is equivalent to 94p a day.
The legal limit for a working week in Bangladesh, including overtime, is 60 hours, with at least one day off. Two-thirds of the workers interviewed said they worked more than this. Some workers who refused lost the whole day’s pay. Some worked overtime but were not paid.
Factories supplying all three companies broke the law on overtime. A Nike spokeswoman said: “Nike takes working conditions in our contract factories very seriously. All Nike suppliers must adhere to our code of conduct. We are investigating the allegations you have presented and will be back to you as soon someone in our sustainable manufacturing team has made an assessment.”
Adidas said: “All our suppliers in Bangladesh are subject to regular audits, including monitoring visits by a women’s NGO, which interviews workers and examines workplace conditions. We also run a telephone hotline to address worker complaints.”
The company said it had identified “critical issues” at one of the factories last year relating to working hours and wages, which resulted in enforcement action. It said the underpayment of minimum wages had been resolved by the factory. It said it was “deeply concerned about reports of harassment or physical abuse of workers” and would immediately launch an investigation “to verify the allegations which are being made and to safeguard worker interests”.
“We are working closely with Nike and Puma to coordinate efforts and to respond to War on Want’s report,” a spokeswoman said.
Puma said it had found evidence of illegal overtime in one of its supplier factories named in the War on Want report, but said the factory had offered assurances that it would tackle the problem. The company said it had found no evidence of any other breaches of the law. It said it paid the legal minimum wage, but WoW said it had evidence from workers that the lowest earners in the factory were paid below the legal minimum. Puma said it had was not currently using the Benetex factory as a supplier, although it confirmed that it had previously used the factory. However, Benetex appears on Puma’s own current supplier list and the factory also says that it manufactures for Puma and is audited by the company.
War on Want is due to release its own report into the findings later today, under the title “Race to the bottom: Olympic sportswear companies’ exploitation of Bangladeshi workers”. The group urged readers who want to support its campaign to email STOP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Names have been changed