To us, sports balls mean an afternoon of fun on the field, but in the factories that make them fun isn’t part of the workers’ days. Instead, it’s more like to be forced or indentured labour, long hours, harsh conditions, and very little pay.
The industry in countries such as Pakistan and India has long been notorious for its treatment of workers, including child labourers, and has operated with little oversight by using webs of subcontractors and opaque supply chains to hide violations of labour guidelines.
The Sialkot district in Pakistan is the main source of hand-stitched balls, producing roughly 70 percent of the global supply. But suppliers often subcontract the work and stitchers can work from their homes, hiding child labour or exploitative wages from view, even if the businesses buying the balls try to implement higher labour standards.
Fairtrade makes sure working conditions are third-party certified to meet Fairtrade and International Labour Organisation standards.
But when stitchers are paid a fair price under the Fairtrade system, the benefits don’t stop with one person.
Nasir works as a stitcher for a Fairtrade certified ball manufacturer in Pakistan, and unlike so many families that have had to pull their children out of school to work so they can afford to live, the Fairtrade Premium has instead helped pay for his two children to go to school.
The Education Assistance Program provides workers’ children with school bags, notebooks, pencils and other educational items. The workers themselves get transport to and from work, subsidised meals and groceries, and safe working conditions.
Other initiatives funded by the Fairtrade Premium and decided on by a committee of workers – including Nasir – include free eye checks and diabetes testing for employees, and donations to local schools of fresh water coolers.
If consumers watched the supply chain of sports balls as closely as they watched the games being played with them, together we could work towards a world without child or exploitative labour. Look for the Fairtrade Mark and help kick a goal for workers in developing countries.