BRUSSELS - Organisers of the Beijing Olympics launched an investigation Monday into claims that Chinese factories making the official merchandise were abusing their workers and using children as young as 12.
The allegations came in a report by the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which accused four factories in southern China of abuses including child labour and payment of wages at half the legal minimum.
Olympic officials in Beijing confirmed that the four factories cited in the report were licensed by the BOCOG organising committee to produce 2008 Games goods.
"BOCOG is investigating and if the issue really exists then BOCOG will tackle this issue very seriously," said Jiang Xiaoyu, vice president of the organising committee.
Jiang insisted that more than 60 firms licensed by BOCOG had signed contracts pledging to abide by Chinese labour law and regulations outlawing practices such as child labour, forced overtime and payment of wages below the legal minimum.
"To use child labour is also clearly against government laws and regulations," he told reporters in Hong Kong.
"BOCOG strictly abides by government laws and regulations on labour laws so if the issue you mentioned really exists we will investigate them and tackle these issues very strictly to maintain the reputation of the Olympic movement and the Beijing Olympic Games."
Sunday's labour report, entitled: "No medal for the Olympics on labour rights," said investigators collected evidence last winter from the factories -- Lekit Stationery Co, Mainland Headwear Holdings Ltd, Eagle Leather Products and Yue Wing Cheong Light Products.
It also accused them of using forced overtime, ordering workers to lie about wages and conditions to outside inspectors and poor health and safety conditions.
The report recorded testimony from one 13-year-old girl required to work long hours of forced overtime in one factory, and also quoted other workers complaining of being exposed to dangerous chemicals that resulted in burnt hands.
The factories make Olympic-related goods such as bags, caps and paper articles. It was not immediately clear what percentage of Olympic merchandise the four companies were responsible for.
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BOCOG said that all factories applying for licensing contracts had faced a rigorous vetting process that included key questions on labour rights and social responsibility.
Jiang said any firms found guilty of violating regulations could lose their BOCOG licences.
"If they breach our regulations then we will tackle these problems very seriously and if there are very serious breaches of these regulations they will no longer work as our manufacturers," he said.
Eagle Leather Products denied the abuse. "Of course it's not (true)," Kenneth Chong, the general manager of the Hong Kong-based parent company, told AFP.
Patrick Wu, Hong Kong-based manager at Lekit Stationery Co, said he planned to investigate the matter further but that the allegations were most likely false.
"I strongly believe that our factory wouldn't do such things. Otherwise we wouldn't have survived from 1977 until now," Wu said.
Peter Ho, the chief executive of Mainland Headwear Holdings, rejected the report as "totally groundless."
The firm would welcome "an open and objective assessment of our labour practices... which to our knowledge was not conducted by this organisation," he told AFP in a statement.
The fourth firm, Yue Wing Cheong Light Products, was unavailable for comment.
The union confederation's report, produced with other labour rights groups, called on the International Olympic Committee to stamp out such abuses.
"It brings shame on the whole Olympics movement that such severe violations of international labour standards are taking place in Olympics-licensed factories," said Guy Ryder, general secretary of the ITUC, in a statement.
© 2007 Agence France Presse