Behind the media hype, pomp and excitement leading up to the London 2012 Olympics lies am exploitative world of Bangladeshi slave labour providing sports wear for the big brands such as Nike and Adidas for as little as 72 pence a day or £3.60 a week. This is the real price of the London 2012 Olympics.
Whilst many of us will be watching Jamaica’s Usain Bolt racing in the 100 metres, hoping to see a spectacular feat of human physical performance in this year’s London 2012 Olympics, far from the glare of the media cameras and the watching British public, Bangladeshi workers are working 12 hour shifts for a mere 72 pence a day making sports wear for the big brands advertising at the Olympics such as Nike and Adidas.
According to War on Want, an organisation that “campaigns for human rights and against the root causes of global poverty, inequality and injustice”, in a report titled, “Race to the Bottom“, Bangladesh has the lowest minimum wage in Asia, which is why many multinational companies are swooping in to exploit the cheap labour force.
The report states, “Nike and Puma all publicly state that their suppliers must pay any national minimum wage, but none have yet committed to implementing a living wage for their workers.” (p.6)
War on Want said that their researchers visited six factories in Bangladesh where the local workers provided clothing for Adidas, Puma and Nike, and at five of the factories visited the minimum wage was not even met.
The researchers said that the average worker was working for a mere 16 pence an hour, worked over 60 hours in contrary of Bangladeshi labour law, and worked compulsory overtime.
85 percent of women make up the over three million Bangladeshi slave labourers that work in the garment industry. There is no maternity leave or provisions for child care.
The report refers to 21 year-old Rahima, a mother of one child who worked at one of these factories.
“Rahima came to the capital when she was 16 in search of a job to contribute to the family’s income. In 2007, she started work at a factory and soon after married a rickshaw van driver and has one child.“
“The factory requires her to work for more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week and so she cannot spend time with her child. Working overtime is mandatory; her colleagues are beaten if they refuse to work more hours. Sometimes the factory does not pay the employees for three consecutive months, and if during this time a worker resigns they are not paid for that time at all. She says the managers constantly verbally and physically abuse the workers at the factory.” (P.6)
At the end of the report War on Want urges readers and supporters to write to their MPs, write to the CEOs of Nike, Puma and Adidas, and join them in their campaign for fair wages on a global scale.
War on Want lists as one of their funders, the Department For International Development (DFID), a UK government department which in itself is suspicious as the role of this department is to promote British business overseas.
In a Socialist Worker article titled, “Aid money flows to the water privateers” (2 April 2005), Kelly Hilditch explains how the DFID has been promoting the privatisation of water overseas. How can War on Want reconcile receiving funding from such a dubious source?
They also list Comic Relief as one of their funders, who are linked to corporate sponsors like Sainsburys. Does this even make sense? How can working with the very companies which pursue cheap labour represent workers in Bangladesh?
The problem with existing non-governmental organisations and charities is that they have a cosy relationship with the government and businesses which cause misery for millions of people around the world. Can they be trusted to deliver equality and fairness? Or are they a front for big business to ensure any change is implemented with their consent?
After discovering that Amnesty International could have been infiltrated by MI6 agents as according to an ex member (read Peaceful Assassins: How non-governmental organisations are the new agents of Western imperialism), activists interested in changing the world must tread carefully and be vigilant regarding joining organisations and taking part in their campaigns.
What is needed are grassroots, genuine non-governmental groups with no ties to big business to tackle these issues without the compromising links which most if not all of these existing organisations have.
Boycotting Nike, Puma, and Adidas goods would just be the beginning, but that alone is not enough to address the global inequality caused by big business. Big business must be stripped of their power to make decisions on behalf of citizens who suffer the consequences of their greed. In order for this to happen, the movements or groups that is formed must be divorce from government and business ties.
Genuine movements could improve Rahima’s situation, and many like her who are in similar positions.
It is also disgusting that athletes conveniently ignore the fact that many people are exploited so that they can secure lucrative sponsorship contracts worth millions. It takes the innocence out of the Olympics and makes watching the events uneasy once you are aware of the situation.
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