Toying with workers' rights

The International Olympic Committee are today under pressure to take a stand on sweatshop labour as a report showing widespread exploitation of workers producing merchandise for the London Olympic games is released.

The dossier, Toying with Workers’ Rights published by the Play Fair campaign, shows evidence of child labour, excessive hours, poverty pay, dangerous working conditions and an absence of independent trade unions in Olympic production. It was compiled using undercover researchers investigating the treatment of workers at two factories in China’s Guangdong Province making London 2012 badges and Games’ mascots Wenlock and Mandeville.

This mounting evidence of worker exploitation in Olympic supply chains has been presented to the International Olympic Committee, who so far have failed to take a public stand against exploitative labour practices despite similar evidence emerging from previous Olympic games in Athens, Beijing and before.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has agreed to take some concrete steps to ensure that workers making goods for the London Games have their rights respected. Yet campaigners say steps to protect workers producing merchandise for the Games must also be adopted at an international level if change hopes to be sustainable.

Dominique Muller, of the International Clean Clothes Campaign said, “A clear steer from International Olympic representatives needs to be given to all future games hosts, that Olympic exploitation is not acceptable. The IOC so far has been resisting any moves towards creating and monitoring fairer conditions for workers – this must end”.

The PlayFair partners are now writing to IOC President Jacques Rogge asking him to meet and discuss the way forward to ensure these small steps are built into the preparation of future Olympic Games.


The London Olympics organising committee LOCOG has agreed to publish the names and locations of most of the factories producing London 2012 licensed products in China and the UK, make information available to the workers on their rights, set up a Chinese-language complaints hotlines, provide some training to workers on their rights, and work with partners in the Play Fair alliance to help stop similar exploitation for future Olympics.

Researchers found widespread evidence of exploitation including:

  • Low wages – in some cases below the legal minimum, where workers were not paid enough to cover even the most basic living costs and where factories failed to make benefit payments required under Chinese law for pensions or medical insurance. For example an Olympic mascot retails at around £20, but the worker who produced it may be earning as little as £26 a week.
  • Poverty pay forcing employees to work long hours, in some cases up to 100 extra hours a month, in violation of national laws. Workers complained to researchers of 24-hour shifts or of having to work seven-day weeks. Overtime was more often than not compulsory.
  • Instances of children being employed to make pin badges – in direct contravention of both Chinese labour law and the LOCOG code.
  • In one of the factories, workers complained they had no employment contracts and of non-existent wage slips, making it nigh on impossible for employees to know their rights or if they were being paid correctly. In the other factory, workers were locked into five-year contracts and were fined if they tried to leave before they were up.
  • Both factories had poor health and safety, with protective equipment either wholly inadequate or not compulsory. Workers received no safety training and back problems were commonplace – a result of hours and hours spent sitting on stools on factory production lines.
  • Workers were prevented from joining unions or coming together to complain about factory conditions, and an employee who had raised a grievance was fined for offending a supervisor. In addition not a single worker at either of the factories knew about the LOCOG code or what it meant for them. They were also in the dark about the existence of a complaints mechanism.
  • Widespread evidence of audit fraud where inspections announced in advance failed to uncover any evidence of ill-treatment and where workers were often coached, threatened or bribed to mislead auditors. Workers feared that if they told the truth about working conditions they would lose their jobs.