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Exploitation – the reality behind London 2012’s Adidas clothing

by Murray Worthy, campaigner at War on Want

Adidas this week comes under pressure to tackle the sweatshop conditions in its supplier factories as War on Want launches a new campaign ( over the exploitation of its workers. Our campaign demands the official sportswear partner of London 2012 and Team GB takes responsibility for the abuse of workers’ rights in its supply chains and has launched a video ( highlighting the reality of life for workers making Adidas goods.

For the London Games there are 25 official corporate sponsors and another 28 official corporate suppliers across industries as diverse as food, cars, banking and electronics. However, the Olympics are of particular significance to the global sportswear industry, where sponsorship of the Games, individual teams or athletes is worth hundreds of millions of pounds and is vital to maintaining a company’s brand image. Not only do the Olympic Games offer a chance for sportswear companies to adorn athletes with their logos in front of an audience of up to four billion people, it is the association with the Olympic values of human achievement, fair play and respect that are worth most to sportswear companies like Adidas.

However, the “respect for universal fundamental ethical principles’” set out in the Olympic charter is far from reality for the workers producing Adidas goods. More than 775,000 workers in 1,200 factories across 65 countries make Adidas goods - almost all of these jobs are outsourced. But, through its code of conduct and relationships with suppliers, Adidas has enormous influence over their working conditions, and ultimately their lives.

Earlier this year researchers visited a factory supplying Adidas in Indonesia and found workers producing goods for Adidas earning as little as 34p an hour – far less than a living wage. Some Indonesian factories supplying Adidas do not even pay the legal minimum wage. Employees are verbally abused, slapped in the face and told to lie about their conditions during Adidas factory audits.

These conditions are not unique. In China researchers for the Playfair 2012 campaign ( found people regularly working from 8am to 11pm. In Sri Lanka researchers found people being forced to work overtime in order to meet production targets. In the Philippines, more than half the workers interviewed said that in order to cover their basic needs they are forced to pawn their ATM cards to loan sharks for high-interest loans. At all of the factories Playfair 2012 researchers visited, workers reported that they were not paid a living wage that covers their basic needs.

This is exploitation. It would never be acceptable for Adidas to treat workers like this here, and it should not be OK simply because they source from factories in poorer countries. Respect for workers’ rights and people’s basic dignity must be universal.

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