The Other Side of World Cup Footballs

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

The Other Side of World Cup Footballs

by
Zofeen Ebrahim

In a report published just before the FIFA World Cup this year, the ILRF unveiled new research that pointed disturbingly to workers being paid about one to two U.S. dollars per ball they stitch. Each ball retails for one hundred dollars or more. (photo by Flickr user Tasayu Tasnaphun)

KARACHI, Pakistan - England
coach Fabio Capello has bemoaned the unpredictable trajectory of the
Jabulani World Cup ball, calling it "the worst ball"in the history of
the
tournament. But labour rights groups have a greater complaint.

The workers producing the footballs are seeing little improvement in
their
lives, say labour rights groups, who decry that only a small fraction of
the
profits trickle down to those toiling away in factories, stitching
centres and
homes.

Up till the late 1990s, Pakistan was commanding as much as 85 percent
of
the world's market in football production, employing a workforce of
85,000
to produce 60 million balls per year worth 210 million U.S. dollars,
said a
report in English-language daily ‘Express Tribune'.

The South Asian country is now down to just getting between 30 to 40
percent of the world's orders for footballs.

While Pakistan failed to qualify for the last FIFA World Cup in
Germany, it
still made its presence felt in every match. The footballs used in the
2006
FIFA World Cup were hand-stitched in Sialkot, a city in the north-east
of the
Punjab province famous for manufacture of sports goods and surgical
instruments.

For the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, however, Adidas decided for
the
Jabulani footballs - the official match ball -- to be machine-made in
China.

Arshid Mehmood Mirza, executive director of Bedarie, a
non-governmental
organisation working for the protection of women's rights, has been
working
for the rights of workers in the football trade for over 15 years. "It
is
unfortunate the Pakistani football industry has not keep pace with the
technological advancements," he lamented.

However, it is the use of child labour that has been cited as the
major factor
in bringing the football-production industry in Pakistan crumbling down.

In 1996, the world learnt through an exposé in ‘Life' magazine that
Pakistani children were stitching soccer balls for six cents an hour.

Assessments by the International Labour Organisation - International
Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC) and the Punjab
Labour Department revealed that there were some 7,000 children engaged
in
soccer manufacturing processes, informed Mirza.

Mortified, the Pakistani government, along with sporting businesses,
joined
labour and other groups to try to put the house in order and eliminate
child
labour from the industry.
In 1997, a agreement was signed between the ILO, the Sialkot Chamber
of
Commerce and Industry and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to
centralise workers and eliminate children from the industry.

"Contracting work to home-based workers did not allow monitoring of
child
labour, so in 1998, the government in collaboration with the
industrialists
opened up stitching centres in a bid to phase out home-based work,"
recalled
Khwaja Zakauddin, former chairman of the Sialkot Chambers of Commerce
and Industry and chief executive of Capital Goods Industry. To date,
some
130 big industries have joined this programme.

While acknowledging a marked decrease in child labour in the football

stitching, the Washington-based International Labour Rights Forum (ILRF)

insists child labour still exists where stitching is outsourced to
home-based
work.

In a report published just before the FIFA World Cup this year, the
ILRF
unveiled new research that pointed disturbingly to workers being paid
about
one to two U.S. dollars per ball they stitch. Each ball retails for one
hundred
dollars or more.

In interviews with 218 workers in seven supply chains in Pakistan,
the ILRF
found that 70 percent of them were casual workers and "almost all of
them
were paid below the legally required minimum wage". The study also
pointed
to gender-based discrimination, where female home-based workers were
paid the least.

Forty-year-old Josephine Francis, a mother of five, is a home-based
worker
who has been stitching balls for more than 10 years, but has not signed
any
contract for her employment. She does not know who her employer is,
where
her wares are sold, and for how much.

"All I know is that I get 35 rupees (40 cents) for stitching one
ball. I am told
these balls are sold in the market from between 300 to 600 rupees (3.5
to 7
dollars)," she said, speaking to IPS in a telephone interview from
Sialkot. "Till
a few months ago, I got 25 (29 cents) per ball and this rate persisted
for
years."

Francis is able to stitch four in a day after she has done the
housework.

Taslim Bibi's predicament is no different.

Unlike Francis, she only gets 30 rupees (35 cents) per ball. "The
rates vary,"
said Bibi. She dares not say anything to the middleman who brings them
the
business. "He will go elsewhere if we complain too much. There are so
many
others who will work for less," she explained.

But some have questioned the ILRF's report. Ghazanfar Ali Awan,
director of
the Awan Sporting Goods Industry, claimed that his 450 or so workers
are
paid a minimum wage of 6,000 rupees (70 dollars) per month with all the
benefits including overtime, social security, old age benefits, and
health.
The few cases of children working, said Awan, were found in un-
regularised, small-scale industries that even the ILO would be unable to

eliminate.

"A rigorous auditing and monitoring system should be in place for
fair
wages, rights and entitlements" for all workers, Mirza said.

Along with eliminating child labour and regularising the casual
workforce,
Pakistan's football-making industry will have to keep pace with newer
technology to make a dent at the next World Cup.

A government-funded Sports Industries Development Centre is soon to
open up, says Khwaja. "Once in place (in 2011), we will be in a
position to
produce over 3,000 balls in eight hours including volleyballs and
basketballs," he said.

More in: