Workers at a Turkish factory supplying clothing material for the Olympics have spoken out about a campaign of intimidation and union-breaking which cast a shadow over organisers' promises that London 2012 will be the most ethical games yet.
Employees of Elasteks, a clothing firm which until recently supplied material for official Olympic sponsor Adidas, say their attempts to set up a union and demand better conditions were crushed when the owner moved his factory 280 miles and sacked 22 workers.
Elasteks provided elastic material to Gelal, one of Turkey's largest sock manufacturers. Gelal used the material to make socks for Adidas. The German sportswear giant is one of the few Olympic sponsors to have published a list of its direct suppliers for the Games and says it carries out regular inspections of those factories. But the list does not include companies further down the supply chain or subcontractors.
So-called "model factories" like Gelal have been given a clean bill of health, but Turkish union chiefs say conditions can fall short of international standards, with 16-hour days, poor pay and harsh penalties for those who attempt to unionise. Sacked employees at Elasteks have launched legal proceedings against the company's owners.
Asalettin Arslanoglu, the organising manager of the Textile, Knitting and Clothing Workers' Union of Turkey (Teksif), told The Independent how his members were punished for demanding better conditions. "When the owner found out that his workers were trying to form a union he called them into the canteen and said he would only allow it over his dead body," he explained. "Those who refused to quit the union straight away were sacked."
Elasteks refused to comment. A spokeswoman for Adidas said the company had not sourced material from Elasteks since the first quarter of this year – about six months after the union-breaking allegations first surfaced.
"A decision was made by Gelal to discontinue their business relationship with Elasteks in Q1/2011 after Elasteks had refused to give access to the Adidas Group as well as to third-party auditors from the Fair Labor Association (FLA)," the spokeswoman said.
Photographs taken by Gelal workers last week show Elasteks material still inside the factory. The Adidas spokeswoman said "Gelal is still using the remainder of materials sourced" before the end of the first quarter.
Anna McMullen, from Playfair 2012, which campaigns for better working conditions in companies manufacturing Olympic goods, said: "Union busting, and insufficient pay to make ends meet, are common problems for workers worldwide producing 2012 goods. Companies who make huge profits from the games must do more to ensure human rights are respected throughout their supply chains."
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