Fair Trade Sports, Inc. is a sports equipment company in the US that offers a full line of eco-certified, fair trade sports balls and apparel. They focus on ensuring fair wages and healthy working conditions for the workers who make their products–all of them adults.
According to their about page, they have committed all profits after taxes to children’s charities, both domestic and international. “Sound familiar?” they ask. “It’s a similar idea to the one behind the Newman’s Own brand you see in the grocery store.”
Give them a look over. This is especially relevant in light of a report earlier this month from The International Labor Rights Forum about the extensive use of child labor and debt bondage in the production of soccer balls in India, which then make their way to the US.
After over a decade of promised reforms from the sporting goods industry, child labor in soccer ball production continues. Efforts in the 1990’s to expose abuses in the assembly of soccer balls in Pakistan pushed businesses into India, where children continue to work in this industry. The report shows that industry initiatives have failed to improve the lives of thousands of children forced to work in Meerut, India to pay off the debt of their parents. For years, companies have said that they have extensive monitoring programs to make sure child labor is not used in the production of soccer balls and yet in plain sight, children walk through Meerut every morning to deliver their finished balls to the local subcontractor and pick up the supplies for that day.
In poverty-stricken Jalandhar and Meerut, children can be found working 10-15 hour days for pennies a day and sometimes for no pay at all. The children revealed their overworked hands, covered in cuts and gashes, and complained of severe back pain and strenuous conditions. When asked their dreams for the future, children voiced their desires to go to school or even get to play with the soccer balls they spend hours stitching. Even these simple dreams are out of reach, since families are forced to put their children to work in order to pay off a debt.
The major U.S. sporting goods companies need to be held responsible for human rights violations in the production of their goods. It is essential for the soccer ball industry to again reconfirm its commitment to eradicate child labor from its production. This time the commitment from the soccer ball industry must be more than a piece of paper and must include full transparency of its supply chains, fair pricing to their suppliers, and independent monitoring throughout the entire supply chain.