Child labour is a growing problem in the Caribbean, particularly Belize, Guyana and Jamaica. In Russia, approximately 1 million children are engaged in the worst forms of child labour; in Turkey 87% of all rural children are unpaid family workers.
In 1994, Indian and European campaign groups introduced an independently-monitored ‘child-friendly’ labelling scheme, ‘Rugmark’; this denoted that child labour had not been used. The scheme was designed to force the Indian carpet industry to employ adults instead of children. Support came from consumers, particularly in Germany, and this led to the expansion of the scheme to Nepal and Pakistan. By 1995 the Rugmark label was estimated to have covered one in nine of all carpet looms in India.
Pakistan accounts for 75 percent of total world production of soccer balls, the remainder is mostly in China, India and Indonesia. An International Labour Organisation study in the Sialkot region of Pakistan estimated that more than 7,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 stitched balls on a regular, full-time basis; some worked as long as 10 to 11 hours a day. In addition, large numbers of children worked part-time and some were working in debt bondage. In 1996, the International Labor Rights Fund began a campaign called "Foul Ball" to call attention to their plight.
The campaign mobilised soccer players and consumers around the world; this led to the establishment of an international programme to eliminate child labour from the Pakistan soccer ball industry, and to establish schools to ensure that these children received an education. The initiative was organised in December 1997 by the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Children’s Fund, Save the Children, and the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It led to a number of sports companies, including Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Umbro, Mitre and Puma, pledging to phase out child labour within 18 months, and to allow independent monitoring of suppliers. Unfortunately, independent researchers have discovered that child labour persists and the programme is beset with a number of problems. These include: Many manufacturers who signed up to the programme have not paid dues or provided any details about their stitching centres.
Even participating employers are still using children in their stitching centres. In home-based employment the International Labour Organisation is not empowered to apply any sanctions.
Soccer ball production may be shifting from Sailkot to unregulated regions of Pakistan, and some children may be moving from production of soccer balls to production of surgical instruments.
In short, we should all be deeply concerned that soccer ball manufacturers and retailers may be using their participation in the programme to claim that their balls are "child labour free," without actually taking sufficient steps to remove children from the production. Why not raise the issue in your organisation, write to your elected parliamentary representative, and contact your soccer ball supplier.
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