Published on Thursday, November 23, 2000 in the Guardian of London
Adidas Attacked For Asian 'Sweatshops'
by Andrew Osborn in Brussels
Indonesian factory workers producing clothes for the German sportswear giant Adidas are subject to forced overtime, physical abuse and poverty-line wages, the European parliament heard yesterday.
In a controversial hearing organised by a British Labour MEP, Richard Howitt, an Indonesian non-governmental organisation described how workers toiled in Dickensian conditions which it said breached the company's own code of conduct.
"Wages are still below the legal minimum set by the government, the number of hours people work exceeds the legal maximum and people are paid less than a dollar a day," Rainy Hutabarat of Urban Community Mission (UCM) said after the hearing, which Adidas did not attend.
Underpayment and poor conditions for child workers in the developing world is not confined to Indonesia. The problem is severe in India where, according to aid organisations, children are making sports goods in appalling conditions.
The new allegations against Adidas centre on the Tuntex factory in Jakarta, where 1,700 workers, most of them women, produce jackets and socks.
A UCM investigation into conditions at Tuntex and two other factories - Tainan and Nikomas Gemilang - alleges that employees face "extraordinarily high financial sanctions" if they make mistakes or are late for work.
UCM also claims that sexual harassment and verbal and physical abuse are rife. Workers at the Tainan factory are, UCM says, threatened with the sack unless they work overtime, and are locked up if they refuse. It also alleges that children as young as 14 are working illegally.
Adidas yesterday denied the vast majority of the allegations. "These allegations are based on old facts. We don't use child labour and we pay above the minimum wage," Jan Runau, the company spokesman, said. "We have nothing to hide and we are confident that our suppliers are following our business practices."
He added that Adidas was maintaining a special team to check that suppliers adhere to the firm's code of conduct.
But later he appeared to admit that problems persisted. "We know that everything is not perfect with our business partners which is why we are continuing to carry out audits."
MEPs also heard allegations concerning Nestlé, the food multinational, which has has long been criticised for the way it markets baby milk products in Pakistan and elsewhere. No one from Nestlé was present at the hearing.
Mr Howitt, who is keen to bring in a binding code of conduct for European multinationals, said that the companies were guilty of "astonishing arrogance".
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000