The 2012 London Olympics may be looming over the horizon, but Adidas, Nike, and Puma are playing anything but fair, according to War on Want, an anti-poverty charity accusing the sportswear giants of exploiting their workers in Bangladesh. In Race to the Bottom, a report released on Monday, the organization documents evidence of illegal work hours, dismal wages, sexual harassment, and physical violence in six factories contracted by Adidas, Nike, or Puma. All three companies have a heavy stake in the Olympics. Adidas is the official sportswear of the London games, while Nike will be providing footwear and apparel to the U.S. athletes. Puma’s logo, of course, has prime real estate: the chest of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt.
By forcing their workers to toil for more than 60 hours a week at less than statutory minimum wage, Adidas, Nike, and Puma are falling short of the Olympian ideal, says John Hilary, executive director of War on Want. “No companies should be allowed to wrap themselves in the Olympic ﬂag unless they guarantee basic rights to all their workers,” he says.
In one Adidas factory, the lowest-paid employee received a miserly 14 cents an hour.
Hilary cites as one example a factory that makes baseball caps for Adidas. One in five employees interviewed clocked in more than 90 hours a week—in breach of Bangladeshi law—with the lowest-paid staff receiving a miserly 9 pence (14 cents) an hour. Four in five workers described verbal abuse from their managers, two in five said they’ve been pushed, and half claimed public humiliation. Sexual harrassment of female workers was just as widespread.
“They have slapped, kicked and pushed me often,” says Hajera Khanom, who works in a factory that supplies goods to Puma. “Calling us by abusive names is frequently done. This hurt us emotionally and mentally.” Poppy Akter, from the same factory, has been scolded with “very bad language, slapped, pulled by the hair, made to stand on the table and threatened to be fired and sent to jail.”
Although Sebastian Coe of the London Olympics organizing committee, has asked Adidas to uphold ethical standards at factories directly making Olympic-branded goods, such as the Stella McCartney-designed uniforms for Olympic volunteers, he does not seek the same of the company’s other factories.
“Lord Coe has called the Games ‘a powerful lever of change, improving lives across the world,'” says Murray Worthy, a sweatshop campaigner at War on Want. “Yet this research shows the appalling abuses committed by a company the games have endorsed. If the London 2012 organizers are serious about improving lives across the world they must demand that their official partners respect basic human rights wherever they operate. We hope they will make clear that they believe these conditions are completely unacceptable.”