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Forced labour claims dent image of London 2012

[Independent.co.uk, Sunday, 6 May 2012 08:16 No Comment]

They were supposed to be the most ethical Games yet, but research in Asian factories supplying official clothing has led to allegations of sweatshop conditions

Official Olympic clothing sold by Next is claimed to have been produced in sweatshop conditions in Sri Lanka. The allegation comes days after the high street chain unveiled the formal outfits that Team GB will wear at the opening ceremony.

Workers at the company’s factory in Sri Lanka allegedly receive poverty wages and are forced to work excessive overtime and to meet unrealistic, ever-increasing targets. Next denies the claims – which undermine pledges that the 2012 Games will be the most ethical yet – but has launched an investigation into conditions at the factory.

The claims emerged in a wider investigation into Olympic brands that found "widespread abuse of the human rights of workers" in eight factories around the world. Research by the Playfair 2012 campaign also cited allegations of mistreatment of staff working for the sportswear manufacturer Adidas in the Philippines and China.

Next’s Sri Lanka factory employs 2,500 people making, among other items, London 2012-branded jackets, blazers, shorts and T-shirts. Employees claim they are routinely forced to work 60 hours of overtime a month.

Staff also claim they have no contracts and frequently face being laid off with no notice, with management threatening to sack them if they join a union. Workers who have protested were victimised, researchers found.

Typical wages for working 12-hour days were found to be about 12,000 Sri Lankan rupees a month (£58). Other abuses cited included agency staff made to work for 18 hours at a stretch – day shifts at the Next factory, followed by overnight shifts in a different factory next door. Such workers also say that their wages are often paid irregularly. Playfair says there is evidence that staff are deliberately recruited from poor areas to ensure an illiterate and compliant workforce.

Playfair’s research into Olympic supply chains examined eight factories in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and China, with 175 workers interviewed.

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