Workers’ rights are human rights. The public face of the Olympics are the athletes and competitors, but without the workers who build the stadium, mine the metal for the medals, and make the equipment and sportswear – there wouldn’t be an Olympic Games.
I believe that ensuring respect for the human rights of these workers should be at the heart of the Games. They shouldn’t have to put up with discrimination, their wages should enable them to live in dignity, and they should be free to come together in unions to bargain for better conditions.
It is frustrating to me that despite the Olympic Movement promoting values of ‘equality’ and ‘respect’, little is being done to challenge the powers that preserve the inequality and discrimination we see around us.
When I took my stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics as part of the Civil Rights Movement, and in solidarity with those living under Apartheid in South Africa and blue collar workers in the States, the International Olympic Committee said that this was “a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit”.
Violence comes in many forms. Evidence shows that workers making Olympic goods for the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics continue to be exploited. They are paid poverty wages, are forced to work excessively long hours, may work in hazardous conditions and have no voice in the work place. The International Olympic Committee has done virtually nothing to end this exploitation and abuse for decades and are effectively colluding with the systematic exploitation that is taking place in the name of the Olympic Games.
I’m pleased to learn that London 2012 has taken some steps to try to protect workers’ rights, and it’s vital we don’t lose this energy and momentum.
Stand together with me to call on the International Olympic Committee to ensure that the human rights of all workers involved in making the Games possible are respected – so we can have an Olympic Games that really does symbolise justice and peace.