Fair Trade in Football?


A Fair Deal Football

In 1879 the football club Darwen in Lancashire shocked polite Victorian society by employing and paying Fergie Suter and James Love, two Scottish footballers.

In private players had been paid in kind for a while – some in cash, others in food and drink.

By 1885 professional footbal was legal and six years later a  £4-a-week wage limit was nervously introduced as the Authorities were afraid that the Corinthian ideal of the gentleman footballer was in danger of disappearing.

By 1922 the maximum wage had grown to £8 a week (£6 in the summer), and clubs also gave a loyalty bonus of £650 after five years.

In 2009 John Terry of Chelsea was earning £130,000 a week. It’s reasonable to suspect that he’s put in for a wage rise since.

By way of contrast, in 1908 Walter Tull was apprenticed as a printer and playing for his local  team in Clapton. He was an outstanding talent and was quickly discovered by a Tottenham scout. Spurs paid Walter the maximum signing on fee permitted at the time – £10 – and his wages were £4 a week. Walter was only the second man of mixed race (after Arthur Wharton) to play professional football in Britain.

Walter Tull at Spurs

He played at the highest level for Tottenham and then Northampton Town (a club much more prestigious then than now). His inspiring story has been told by me in another post. He gave up football and a chance to sign for Rangers in 1914 to join the Army, going to Italy and then France. He didn’t return.

Football has become about big money and small characters. Even the ball itself has become a metaphor for big business and exploitation.

In 1995 first reports started to surface about the structural abuse of child labour and exploitation of adults in Sialkot, Pakistan. Children and women were working for long hours in poor conditions for a pittance. Footballs were made in Pakistan and to a lesser extent, India for many years by people with no cultural link with the game. They were paid laughable sums and were prevented from having employment protection in law.

Footballs to this day are still hand-stitched, assembled one-by-one in primitive conditions where 5 to 6 balls a day is the average worker’s output.

Major brands like Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Mitre (UK) have recently discovered a conscience in these matters because links with child labour are not a great football association in the hothouse supersales arena of world soccer.  

Research done by the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute (NLI) captured in the paper –  ‘Child Labour in the Sports Goods Industry – Jalandhar, A Case Study’ 1998 (known as the ‘NLI report’) concluded that around 10,000 children were engaged in stitching footballs in the district of Jalandhar.

A Child Worker in Pakistan

Stitching footballs is a home-based industry in which the manufacturing-exporting companies produce the panels of the balls in their factories and hire contractors who act as middlemen between them and the home-based workers who stitch the balls. Almost half of the stitchers are living below the poverty line and four out of ten households are headed by illiterate adults. About 90% of the households belong to the so-called ‘untouchables’, or Dalits as they prefer to call themselves. Their human rights are violated in many spheres of life, especially when they dare to assert and organise themselves. Dalits and their children are the main victims of bonded labour and child labour.

The NLI report estimates the average daily earning of an adult male in the sports goods industry to be around Rs.20 (less than half a US dollar) which is about one third of the present minimum wage of Rs.63 a day. Almost half of the working children have health problems, the most common of which are joint pains and backache.

Since 2006, meanwhile, a British company, led by young co-director James Lloyd in Brighton has designed a range of balls that do not depend on exploitation and child labour to make a profit.

Fair Deal Trading is based on rigorously monitored Fair Trade principles, paying fair wages for sensible hours of work and providing a hinterland of benefits and health cover for workers employed in Pakistan.

Imran Khan is one such worker. He has been working in the Ethletic factory, Vision, since 2005, manufacturing sports ball bladders. He currently earns Rs. 7000 – much more than the minimum wage.

Because of his employment, most of the benefits of the Vision Fairtrade projects are available for him and members of his family. He does a significant amount of his shopping in the Fair Price shop, saving about 3% on the grocery bill – significant savings for a family of ten (parents, six sisters, two sons) on a silly budget.

He can use the Vision pick-up and drop bus purchased with Fairtrade Premium money – saving up to 1000 Rs/month: His daughter has benefited from the Fair Trade health care scheme in place.

The footballs produced are of premium quality, unlike the factory produced, machine stitched Adidas balls used in the last World Cup to universal derision, not least from players. The sponsorship pumped into the competition secured their place on the pitch. Players watched in bemusement as these balls ballooned their way around the pitch, completely out of control.

In the meantime, Ethletic balls, which have fair wages and a future for the indigenous economy sewn into them, can’t even break into the squad of approved balls used in the Premier League, much less the European Championship or World Cup.

So while most Premiership players earn above £50,000 a week, workers in Pakistan are being paid 1/50,000 of this in order to protect the positions of the major football sponsors. Yet, the high street is going bananas for Fair Trade. The Industry is worth £1.4 billion per annum. It just hasn’t reached Football yet.

If you read this and feel ashamed, lobby your local club. Better still, get them to buy their footballs from Fair Deal Trading.  http://www.fairdealtrading.com/

That way, given a level playing field and a fair wind, everyone wins.

A fair day's pay for a fair day's work?

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