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.

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There’s nothing like a billion-dollar, media-happy, corporate-sponsored international event like the Olympics to shed some light on human rights. We at Autonomie are proud and pleased that thousands of protesters have taken the streets across the globe to raise awareness of the ongoing presence of sweatshops and labor rights abuses that remain the popular way of doing business for America’s favorite import buddy and host of this summer’s olympics, China.

Even as the Fair Trade and green movements grow larger and stronger, our country still cannot resist the cheap (and cheaply made) goods that flow freely out of China and into our Wal-marts. Even with lead paint in children’s toys and the mainstream ‘going green’, the behemoth of export goods remains king of the American marketplace.

You’ve probably already read about these protests in your local newspaper (they are getting quite the media play) and we hope that you’ll take the streets too and join the movement to encourage China to use this attention-grabbing opportunity to clean up its act. The Olympic torch arrives today in San Francisco and police have been preparing all week to keep the estimated masses at bay (following the queue of the protests – and arrests – already happening in London and Paris). Check out these brave American protesters who scaled the Golden Gate Bridge (yikes!!), and now face charges of trespassing and conspiracy, in order to show their support of Tibet:

For those of you who don’t know, China is a one-party state without free elections, lacks an independent judiciary, censors the media and the internet, and bans independent trade unions (which is a matter at the heart of their worker rights and sweatshop issues and abuses). Their monopoly on export manufacturing has also led to the economic down slide of other countries, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and even our own USA, as more and more factories close up shop, lay off workers, and become victims to the Chinese love of the Corporate bottom line.

So join our friends at Human Rights Watch, Global Exchange, and Code Pink in bringing human rights to the Chinese people, and remember to always support the small worker groups under Fair Trade!

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