The TUC and the organisers of the 2012 London Olympics today signed a ground-breaking agreement designed to put into practice the employment rights of workers making goods for this summer’s Olympic Games. This is a story about how good intentions and fine words mean nothing without trade unions.
Nearly four years ago, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) went further than any previous Olympic organising committee in promising workers in their supply chains the employment conditions set out in the Ethical Trading Initiative’s base code. Essentially this means the rights set out in ILO core labour standards, as well as healthy and safe working conditions and a living wage. LOCOG also agreed a complaints procedure to deal with any breaches of those rights. These were all proposals from Playfair 2012, the UK alliance of unions and NGOs (like the TUC and Labour Behind the Label) that is part of the decade-old International Play Fair Alliance.
But LOCOG did not commit – as we asked – to disclose publicly the factories where their goods were being mad; and did not agree to inform workers in their own language about what their rights actually were. So workers did not know that their employers had signed contracts with LOCOG (or its licensees) that guaranteed minimum wage rates, prohibited child labour and allowed them to join a trade union.
Our research has now convinced LOCOG that we were right to demand these things, and they have now undertaken to disclose factory locations so that local unions and workers’ rights groups can help workers enforce the rights that they will now know they are entitled to. Of course, there are only weeks to go until production of London 2012 goods ends. But we have also agreed with LOCOG to put pressure on the International Olympic Committee and the organisers of the next games, in Rio in 2016, to start from the position LOCOG have now reached.
We are already working with Brazilian unions to transfer our knowledge and experience, and their own national Play Fair campaign was launched last year. So the workers making goods for Rio 2016 shouldn’t have to suffer what workers making Wenlock and Mandeville have. And maybe some of the workers in London’s supply chain will be able to benefit too, with higher wages, shorter working weeks, and better health and safety.