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Olympic torch bearer highlights worker problems

Olympic torch bearer highlights problems of sportswear workers

Brussels, June 21, 2004: Moments after running with the Olympic torch this afternoon as it passed through Antwerp, Belgium, Mike De Herdt, a young Belgian trade unionist, highlighted the abuse and exploitation of workers in the sportswear industry.

"The torch is a fantastic symbol of Olympic values - ethics and fair play in particular. The IOC should promote these values in the sportswear sector, which makes so much money out of international sports events like the Olympics. And for starters, they could reassure consumers that Olympics-branded goods are not made under abusive conditions."

De Herdt, a member of ICFTU-affiliated Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique (FGTB)*, was selected as a torchbearer to publicise the Youth Employment Network, an initiative of the United Nations, which highlights issues faced by young workers. "In the sportswear sector," De Herdt commented, "the workforce is mainly young women, and they face all manner of abuses - from forced overtime, to union-busting to sexual harassment."

De Herdt welcomed the role the UN's International Labour Organisation has played in encouraging sportswear firms, the International Olympic Committee and representatives of the campaign to work together to discuss ways in which the sportswear sector can address the serious workers' rights problems which continue to plague their supply chains.

The launch of the Play Fair campaign was accompanied by a 77 page report looking at how workers' rights are still frequently violated, in spite of efforts on the part of some companies to make improvements (the report is available at The campaign calls for sportswear companies to adopt a credible sector wide response to the problems highlighted, and for the IOC to make respect for workers' rights a condition in licensing and sponsorship deals at international, national and games level.

De Herdt's comments were made against the backdrop of a global chain of activity tracking the Olympic Torch as it makes its way from Sydney in Australia to Athens in Greece. Australia kicked off the 'alternative torch relay' on June 1st with a 'sew in' by masked workers in Sydney, while young athletes, garments workers and campaigners will be joining parades and rallies to greet the torch in destinations as far a field as the Netherlands and India.

According to ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder, "The International Olympic Committee marketing programme made over a billion US dollars from marketing and licensing from 2001 to 2004, and as a business it should acknowledge its responsibilities towards workers. While it admits that exploitation of workers is against the Olympic values of ethics and fair play, and it hasn't shown any willingness to reassure consumers that sportswear bearing the Olympic logo is free from such abuse."

The Play Fair at the Olympics campaign says that IOC continues to duck responsibility, stating that control lies with the National Olympic Committees, while the National Committees refer campaigners back to the IOC. As is stated in the Olympics Charter: 'all rights to the Olympic Symbol, Flag, and Motto belong exclusively to the IOC', giving them authority over licensing of National Committees and companies producing Olympics branded goods."

* The FGTB is part of a national alliance together with the Belgian branch of the Clean Clothes Campaign, Oxfam, and the CSC as part of the international campaign "Play Fair at the Olympics".

The ICFTU represents 151 million workers in 233 affiliated organisations in 152 countries and territories. ICFTU is also a member of Global Unions:

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