Sportswear makers 'failing to improve working conditions'

Just weeks ahead of the World Cup, a report from Oxfam claims that top brands such as Adidas, Nike, Fila and Puma use suppliers in Asia where workers - mainly women - are forced to work long hours for low wages and face dismissal if they protest against their conditions.

The charity warned that the increased demand for replica shirts, shoes and other merchandise triggered by the World Cup was adding to the "outrageous behaviour" of some suppliers used by the multimillion-pound brands.

Oxfam found that while many companies had professed to improve workers' rights in their factories, some were cutting ties with suppliers which improved working conditions and moving to countries where unions are not recognised.

The Oxfam report found that Nike makes 38 per cent of its shoes in countries where workers have no legal right to freedom of association, compared with 52 per cent in 1998. In recent years, the company has also stopped working with suppliers who negotiate with unions, a move that can lead to a rise in wages and costs.

Adidas Predator Pulse football boots, worn by David Beckham, are made at a factory in Indonesia where 30 union workers were recently sacked for taking part in a legal strike for a pay rise to compensate for huge increases in the cost of living.

Workers at the factory receive as little as 30p an hour, while Adidas pays the French player Zinedine Zidane almost £1m in sponsorship. Adidas refused to respond to Oxfam about whether the sacked workers will be reinstated.

Umbro, a sponsor of the England team, is criticised in the report for being slow in developing a labour rights programme, although recent progress was praised.

The biggest criticism was reserved for the Fila brand, owned by the American company Sport Brands International. According to Oxfam, Fila had been using a factory in Indonesia which had denied workers basic rights, subjected women to sexual harassment and committed serious labour abuses. When confronted with the evidence in 2004, Fila said there was little it could do. The factory was closed last year, leaving its workers without jobs. Fila has declined to help them and refused to give Oxfam investigators any details of its other suppliers or what steps it is taking to protect its suppliers' employees.

While some companies such as Nike and Adidas were praised for making a start on improving the rights of workers, Oxfam said too little was being done, too late.

The charity's investigations of factories in Asia found that as demand increased during peak times such as the World Cup, working conditions worsened. At one factory in Indonesia, employees were forced to work from 7am to 11pm without breaks.At another, a union official was assaulted by five men and told to stop campaigning for workers rights.

Cause for concern

NIKE Revenue (2004): £6.07 billion

Made in: Suppliers in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bulgaria and Indonesia

Criticism: Has cut ties with factories that have become unionised and increased production in countries where labour rights are not recognised.

ADIDAS Revenue (2004): £4.41 billion

Made in: Suppliers in Cambodia, Japan and Indonesia

Criticism: More than half its production is based in countries where trade union rights are illegal or very difficult to obtain.

UMBRO Revenue (2004): £140.37 million

Made in: Indonesia

Criticism: Declined to answer questions about suppliers; not doing enough to ensure that its workers rights are protected in factories.

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