From the TUC

The alternative opening ceremony

27 Jul 2012, By

I gave a version of this speech at the Playfair2012 alternative opening ceremony party in Shoreditch tonight, organised by Philosophy Football.

Welcome to the alternative opening ceremony from the Playfair2012 campaign and the Trades Union Congress. We represent people at work in Britain, but we’re also part of a global workers’ movement.

The Olympic Movement says that it aims to “build a better world through sport.” It says that fair play, respect and equality are core Olympic values. They’re our values too.

They should apply to the workers competing over the next two weeks and at the Paralympic Games later on, many represented in the sports federations that are part of UNI-Global.

They should apply to all the workers – and the volunteers – who will deliver the Games, who built the stadiums, who are transporting people to and from the Games on planes, trains and buses, some of them in dispute just recently, some of them on strike next week.

And they should apply to the workers, mainly women, making Olympic-branded goods and sportswear who are being exploited behind the scenes of the “greatest show on earth.”

Playfair 2012 is calling on the Olympic Movement and sportswear industry to take responsibility for the working conditions in their supply chains and ensure that the human rights of workers producing their goods are respected.

Our research into workers making Olympic mascots, badges and sportswear in countries like China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka found wages too low to meet basic needs like food, accommodation and medical expenses. Wages in China as low as 80 pence an hour, workers in the Philippines who had to pawn their ATM cards for pay day loans.

Yet Adidas sales reached record levels of £10.6 billion last year. It would take a Sri Lankan sportswear worker 10,000 years to earn the £7 million Nike’s CEO got in 2011.

We also found excessive overtime, way above legal limits, rarely voluntary; child labour; hazardous conditions with no safety training; and in none of the factories studied did workers have a union to give them a say over their pay and working conditions.

Playfair 2012, bringing together unions here and abroad with NGOs and students, have been campaigning hard.

We have made progress. London 2012 contractually required companies supplying goods to respect workers’ fundamental rights such as paying a living wage. They developed a complaints mechanism so that workers could report violations. And in a ground-breaking agreement eventually signed in February, they publicly disclosed the majority of their global supply chain – opening up production to public scrutiny for the first time at any Games.

Sportswear brands definitely don’t live up to their advertising slogans when it comes to workers’ rights. Progress has been painfully slow. But last year we got the major brands to sign an agreement with Indonesian trade unions, NGOs and suppliers that will let unions negotiate better pay and conditions.

It’s true that London 2012 didn’t act quickly enough or go far enough to protect workers’ rights in its supply chains. But it’s also true that they have now gone further than any previous Games to protect those rights.

Our Brazilian colleagues will use this to press the organisers of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Globally we’ll press the International Olympic Committee to make workers’ rights part of the Olympic values. And we will keep up the pressure on the big sportswear brands.

On your table there are action torches – please write your message to the IOC calling on them to respect the human rights of all workers who help to make the Games possible. There are more materials on the stand, and an online action aimed at 11 sportswear companies at the Playfair2012 website.

So enjoy the evening, enjoy the Games, and do something to help the workers around the world who made it all possible. Just do it! Although for obvious reasons, don’t say that anywhere in Stratford…