Where €59 a month is hidden side of the beautiful game
Date of publication: June 7, 2010
Source: Irish Times
Hordes of Pakistani workers are paid a pittance to produce footballs for big brands, writes ROB CRILLY in Sialkot
THE NARROW back streets of Sialkot are a world away from the razzmatazz of the World Cup. Barefoot children play beside open drains clogged with thick black sludge, and children peck at piles of rubbish.
This is home to thousands of Pakistani workers who produce the footballs that sell for more than $120 (€100) a time in western sports boutiques. Despite a long campaign for better pay, many of the handstitchers, inflaters and sorters say they are still struggling to live on less than $3 a day.
One 23-year-old explains how he earned 6,000 rupees a month – about €59 – at a factory producing balls for a global brand.
“The basic problem is pay. It’s very hard to live on 6,000 rupees,” he says, sitting in the front room of a friend’s house, sharing a steaming pot of curry. “People buying these balls should understand more about how they are made and insist the workers are looked after and well paid.” His friend nods and says he is looking for another job.
“In Sialkot there’s nothing else apart from the sports factories. There’s no choice, no chance of another job. It’s like the managers can blackmail ordinary people,” he says. “Unemployment in Pakistan is very high. If they sack one person then there will be 10 in the queue next day for the job.”
Other workers explain that they are on piece rates, earning less when the factories are quiet.
Sialkot is the city that football built. A gaudy, golden statue topped by a ball adorns a congested roundabout at its centre, where banners proclaim: “Welcome to Sialkot, city of exporters.”
Local legend has it that the city began making sporting goods in the 19th century, when a British officer needed his tennis racquet repaired. It was not long before factories were churning out cricket bats made from imported English willow.
European companies arrived in the 1970s, seeking to avoid rising labour costs at home. Today, the road from the centre is lined with smart factories. Most make sports goods, but a growing number are producing surgical supplies.
Between them, the factories account for about 70 per cent of the world’s production of handstitched footballs – about 30 million balls. However, the city has watched its overall share decline as football associations look to China, where balls are heat bonded – rather than stitched – for a more uniform performance. This year, the World Cup match balls will come from China, although Adidas is producing six million replicas of its Jabulani ball in Sialkot.
There are other strains too. In recent years, wages have increased under pressure from western consumers. Where once the factories were described as sweatshops, and child labour was common, now many are endorsed by Fairtrade and provide lunch and transport home for staff. Salaries have increased by 50 per cent at some plants.
It is still not enough, according to a report published today by the International Labor Rights Forum. More than half of the 218 workers it surveyed said they did not make the 12,000 rupees (€118) a month that an average family needed to survive.
Rob Cameron, chief executive of Fairtrade Labelling Organisations, admits more needed to be done.
“We are not fully satisfied with where we’re at with Fairtrade and sports balls, and we are planning a review of sports balls standards at the end of this year,” he says.
“For a product meant to bring joy, we want to make sure it is not being made with pain.”
William Anderson, Adidas’s regional head of social and environmental affairs, says: “These people have a hard life because they live in rural Pakistan. They themselves don’t think that they are living in poverty, but we are doing all we can in that economy to support them.”