These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the Southern Premier - just seven leagues below the Premier League. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton. After nearly 14 nomadic years we finally have a brand spanking new home in Slough.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Stitched Up

Printed in the Ryman Premier League match v Margate 21st January 2006

Forget tabloid headlines about footballers bad behaviour, one disgrace that should be plastered across the back of the sports pages is the use of sweatshop labour to produce goods for our national sport. Take footballs; while premiership stars earn thousands each week and football is rolling in the money, those that make the balls get paid a pittance. Most stitched footballs are normally made by hand rather than by machines in countries like India and Pakistan, where children as young as five have to work to make them. It’s a hazardous job - many child stitchers suffer from poor eyesight, chronic back and neck pain, and sometimes deformed fingers. They often don’t get proper treatment for these conditions, leaving them affected for life. Wages are incredibly low and many children never get the chance to go to school. However, many families could not survive without the income these children bring into the home.

So what can be done about it? Well, just like you can get fair trade tea and coffee you can now buy fair trade footballs from the Fair Deal Trading Partnership. The company have signed up to a pioneering scheme where football stitching is organised into small work units in the villages. As part of Fair Trade, the working conditions in these units, such as ventilation, lighting and access to safe drinking water are gradually being improved.

The key component of Fair Trade criteria, however, is that the workers in these centres receive a substantially increased wage, which is calculated to meet the basic needs of a family, allowing the children can go to school instead of having to work. A basic health scheme is also provided. And in order to reduce the dependency of the workers from the ball-export-production, micro-credits (a bank for the very poor) are offered to improve the village level economy and to provide alternative or additional income opportunities.

To finance all this, a Fair Trade premium is placed on the price of each ball. In the case of fairdeal footballs, this adds just $2 to the cost. As with all other products that carry the Fairtrade label, compliance with these criteria is subject to constant independent monitoring.

The cost to the buyer is negligible but the benefits to the producers is immense. Take 18 year old Sameena Nyaz, who lives in Chak Gillan near Sialkot, Pakistan the 'world capital of football production'. Sameena stitches footballs for a living, and the Fair Trade wage pays a decent income which enables her to properly provide for her family. Recently Sameena has had to undergo a thyroid operation with all medical costs paid for by the Talon Fair Trade Welfare Society - the health care scheme made possible by the Fair Trade premium.

Unfortunately FIFA won’t endorse any football with a Fairtrade label on it. Jamie who helps run the Fair Deal Trading Partnership told me “I don't think this is going to change and if you want to open up a can of worms it appears the international ball standard is being changed so that only the new crap machine moulded balls will pass e.g. the Adidas Rotario that was used in the European cup that the players complained about being too light and soft. It transpires that the person in charge of football standards in FIFA used to also be very high up in Addidas so the whole thing stinks really.”

However, some clubs have been supportive. AFC Wimbledon used the footballs in their pre season friendly against FC United of Manchester. The company also sponsor FC United and hope to be selling their footballs in their gift shop. And Jamie from Fair Deal Trading told me “If ever a football club would like a sample ball they are more than welcome.”

Just like buying fair-trade tea and coffee might cost a bit extra, the benefits to those producing the goods should mean it’s a choice we should all make. So the next time you need a new football make sure it’s one where people get paid a living wage.

To get hold of fair trade footballs call 0870 7665196 or go to www.fairdealtrading.com

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