Last weekend, you undoubtedly caught at least a glimpse of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Summer Olympics. Just as in the past, the media hoopla and never-ending commercials featuring our favorite USA athletes make sure the event is seared in your brain and your television is tuned into the 24/7 coverage.
Unlike past Olympics, though, this year’s games have arrived in tow with a worldwide protest against the widely-known and wide-spread human rights abuses, aggression with Tibet, and environmental hazards that China is notorious for.
As the Olympic torch, traditionally known as a symbol of peace and international unity, made it’s way around the globe last spring, thousands of protesters hit the streets in Paris, London and San Francisco (among other cities) aiming to raise awareness amongst the mainstream media about these pressing issues, in particular China’s take-over and occupation of Tibet and their role in the Darfur conflict. To refresh your memory, check out our past blog post on the topic.
Shortly after that, the Play Fair campaign issued a press release announcing the findings of a new investigative report shaming Olympic sponsors and suppliers Nike and Adidas. Based on over 300 interviews with garment workers in China, India, Thailand and Indonesia, the report (titled Clearing the Hurdles) shows that violations of workers rights, excessive overtime hours, and poverty wages are still the norm of the sportswear industry. “While the profits of major brands like Nike and Adidas are soaring through the roof, the workers sewing their garments continue to make poverty wages and work under indecent conditions,” says Liana Foxvog, the national organizer of SweatFree Communities, one of the organizations that is supporting the Play Fair 2008 campaign. “Behind the rhetoric of corporate responsibility, very little has changed.”
According to the International Olympic Committee (or IOC), the Beijing Olympic Games are set to be the most profitable in the games’ history, with almost $100 million dollars alone coming from the garment sponsors. And yet the workers at the bottom of the chain are still being squeezed. A worker at a New Balance factory in Dongguan, China explained to the report interviewers: “I am exhausted to death now…none of us have time to go to toilet or drink water…we are working without rest and are always afraid of not working fast enough to supply soles to the next production line.”
The Play Fair Campaign has put together a “campaign statement” which outlines steps that sportswear companies, the International Olympic Committee, and national governments should and can take to follow up on their responsibilities to improve conditions for the working people of China. You can help out by sending a protest letter to the IOC and the guilty sportswear companies and continue to shop with companies legitimately working in the realm of Fair Trade. After all, what’s more in the spirit of the Olympics than encouraging and engaging its hosts to clean up their act and truly play a fair game.