Author Profile Picture

Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more about Cath Everett

Workers making official Olympics sportswear are abused, claims charity


Workers in Bangladeshi sweatshops are being exploited and abused while making clothes for Olympic sponsors, Adidas, Nike and Puma, an anti-poverty charity has claimed.

War on Want in its report entitled ‘Race to the Bottom’ attests that the lowest-paid staff in factories that supply Adidas, the Games’ official sportswear partner, are given just 9p an hour, which is less than the statutory minimum wage in the country.
Employees also allegedly have to work exhausting and illegal hours as well suffer bullying and violence at the hands of factory managers.
At one site, which makes baseball caps, for instance, one in five people interviewed by the charity claimed that they worked more than 90 hours per week, while two thirds attested that they had clocked up more than 40 hours of overtime during the previous month.
At the same factory, four in five staff accused their managers of verbally abusing them, two out of five alleged that they had been physically pushed, while about half claimed that they had been publicly humiliated. Women workers located at various sites also attested that sexual harassment was widespread.
One of the problems, said Murray Worthy, War on Want’s sweatshops campaigner, was that the London Organising Committee only asked Adidas to uphold ethical standards at those factories that directly made Olympic-branded goods such as volunteer uniforms. The same did not apply to their Olympic partners’ other factories, however.
“[Chair] Lord Coe has called the Games ‘a powerful lever of change, improving lives across the world. Yet this research shows the appalling abuses committed by a company the Games have endorsed,” Worthy said.
Audits and investigations
If Lord Coe and the London 2012 organisers were serious about their claims, they had to insist that their partners respected human rights and made it clear that current working conditions were “completely unacceptable”, he added.
But an Adidas spokesperson told the Guardian: “All our suppliers in Bangladesh are subject to regular audits, including monitoring visits by a women’s NGO, which interviews workers and examines workplace conditions. We also run a telephone hotline to address worker complaints.”
The company had identified and resolved “critical issues at one of its factories last year relating to working hours and wages, but was “deeply concerned about reports of harassment or physical abuse of workers”.
As a result, it intended to launch an immediate investigation into the situation and was also “working closely with Nike and Puma to coordinate efforts and to respond to War on Want’s report,” the spokesperson said.
The study also attested that two thirds of staff who made goods for sportswear manufacturers, Nike and Puma, worked for more than 60 hours per week in breach of Bangladeshi law in order to earn enough money to buy basic essentials. Most of the workers lived in a single room with their families, sharing a kitchen and toilet with neighbours.
Nike has sponsored around 25 national Olympic teams such as China, the US and Germany, while Puma sponsors a number of national teams including Jamaica and defending 100m and 200m runner, Usain Bolt.
The former said that it took working conditions at its contract factories ”very seriously” and was investigating the allegations, while the latter said that it had found evidence of illegal overtime at one of its supplier factories, but the facility had assured it that the issue would be tackled.
War on Want is calling on members of the public to email STOP to [email protected] in order to support its campaign, which is intended to halt all sweatshop exploitation of Olympic sportwear companies.
Author Profile Picture
Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.