Games organiser to act on reports of labour abuses

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am

Olympics merchandise producers breaking rules will lose licences

Organisers of the Beijing Olympics have vowed to take seriously an allegation that makers of Olympics merchandise have abused labour standards and in some cases employed children, in order to protect the Games' reputation.

The Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) said it was investigating the allegations, made public on Sunday by Playfair 2008, an international alliance of trade unions and NGOs, and which involve four factories making Olympics bags, caps and stationery.

Playfair said children as young as 12 were producing Olympics-licensed products, and that employees worked up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week and earned only half the mainland minimum wage.

When contacted yesterday, all four companies named in the report denied the allegations.

In a lengthy statement, Bocog said it had a strict policy for manufacturers of Olympics-licensed products and the four companies mentioned in the report had licensing agreements with Bocog that covered labour policies.

'If Bocog finds the licensees have violated national laws and relevant terms in the licensing agreement, Bocog will deal with the issue seriously so as to maintain the image and reputation of the Beijing Olympic Games,' it said, adding that licensees that were found to be breaching agreements would have their licences revoked.

Speaking to foreign media at a lunch in Hong Kong yesterday, Bocog vice-president Jiang Xiaoyu said he got the news when he was on the way to Hong Kong from Macau.

'I know that Bocog is investigating the claim and we will handle it solemnly,' he said.

'It is against the law and regulations to use child labour in licensed factories. We will tackle the case once a discovery is made so that the reputation of the Olympic Games will be protected.'

Dominique Muller, a representative of Playfair, was sceptical.

'Really, there's been no dialogue, and they've given us vague promises, but so far we've seen no concrete action,' she said.

She said it was regrettable that conditions in officially licensed factories producing items bearing the Olympics logo had not been improved since the Athens Games.

'We did research at four factories, and we interviewed around 20 workers in each factory, except for one where we had a researcher that was actually working alongside them, and we found excessive overtime in pretty much all the factories.' She said there was no respect for basic maternity rights or compensation in any of the factories and workers received less than the minimum wage. Many employees worked 14 hours every day and did not get even one day off in a month.

'All of these things - it's not just against international standards, but it's also breaking domestic regulations,' she said.

Ms Muller also pointed the finger at the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC said it did not have direct control over all official products that carried the Olympics logo but had created policies on fair labour standards that it expected Olympics host cities and licensed manufacturers to follow.

'We want them to accept responsibility,' Ms Muller said.

'They should ensure that each contract has got adequate protection for workers, and they should try to establish some sort of mechanism to monitor that and to also work out how to address complaints and grievances if people find that the factories aren't actually living up to those standards.

'As a basic minimum, we really want the IOC to say it's their responsibility, and they just haven't been doing that.'

Liu Junning , a Beijing-based political analyst, said international pressure on mainland authorities was expected to rise as the start of the Olympics grew nearer.

Additional reporting by Associated Press