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23 Feb, 2012

UK Unions Win Fair Deals for Workers Making London Olympics Merchandise

UK Trades Union Congress

LONDON 23 February 2012 – The organisers of London 2012 are to introduce new measures designed to protect workers producing merchandise for this summer’s Olympic Games, following allegations of exploitation by researchers working for the TUC and the Labour Behind the Label-led Playfair 2012 campaign.

As a result of the research findings published Thursday – which include child labour, excessive hours, poverty pay, dangerous working conditions and an absence of independent trade unions – and subsequent negotiations with the TUC, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has now agreed to toughen conditions for factories in its supply chains.

Last month Playfair 2012 handed LOCOG its dossier Toying with Workers’ Rights, compiled using undercover researchers investigating the working conditions at two factories in China’s Guangdong Province, which were producing London 2012 badges and Games’ mascots Wenlock and Mandeville.

Following representations from the TUC and Labour Behind the Label that urgent action be taken, LOCOG has agreed to take concrete steps to ensure that workers making goods for the London Games have their rights respected. This agreement includes:

  • The publication of the names and locations of factories in China and the UK covering over 70 per cent of the licensed products produced for London 2012, with a focus on those licensees with production still remaining.
  • Making information about employment rights – based on national laws and on LOCOG’s ethical code – available in Chinese and English, and establishing a Chinese language hotline so that workers who feel they are being treated unfairly can either call or text to complain about their treatment.
  • Providing training to some of the workers in the various Olympic supply chains to make them more aware of their rights.
  • A commitment to work with Play Fair 2012 and to transfer the lessons learned to the International Olympic Committee and future Games organisers to ensure that subsequent Games are able to benefit from any lessons that are learned in London.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘LOCOG had gone further than any previous Games’ organisers in adopting an ethical code and complaints mechanism, but as our research shows this hasn’t been nearly enough to prevent abuses from taking place.

‘However it’s not too late to make a difference for workers producing goods for London. We welcome LOCOG’s acknowledgement that further action is necessary and its commitment to act immediately to ensure that factory owners can no longer exploit workers in the name of the Olympics.

‘We’re hopeful that a marker has now been set for all future Games and that the International Olympic Committee will play a leading role in taking this work forward so that the exploitation of workers in Olympic supply chains can become a thing of the past. This groundbreaking agreement should also help lead to better working conditions throughout the sporting industry.’

LOCOG Chair Seb Coe said: ‘We place a high priority on environmental, social and ethical issues when securing goods and services. As soon as we were made aware of the Playfair 2012 report, we instructed our independent monitor to carry out a comprehensive investigation and review. The outcome of this will be made public as soon as it is concluded.

‘We have taken a lead in ethical sourcing and supply chain management but there is always more to do and we are committed to making a real difference to workers’ lives and creating a valuable legacy that we can share.’

Labour Behind the Label campaigner Sam Maher said: ‘Although this agreement is long overdue, we welcome LOCOG’s willingness now to take action. We hope to see these good intentions translated into concrete steps that will genuinely make a difference for workers.’

Researchers working on behalf of the Playfair 2012 reportedly found :

  • Low wages, in some cases below the legal minimum, where workers were not paid enough to cover even the most basic living costs and where factories failed to make benefit payments required under Chinese law for pensions or medical insurance. For example an Olympic mascot retails at around £20, but the worker who produced it could be earning as little as the equivalent of £26 a week.
  • Poverty pay forcing employees to work long hours, in some cases up to 100 extra hours a month, in violation of national laws. Workers complained to researchers of 24-hour shifts or of having to work seven-day weeks. Overtime was more often than not compulsory.
  • Instances of children being employed to make pin badges – in direct contravention of both Chinese labour law and the LOCOG code.
  • In one of the factories, workers complained they had no employment contracts and of non-existent wage slips, making it impossible for employees to know their rights and find out if they were being paid correctly. In the other factory, workers were locked into five-year contracts and were fined if they tried to leave sooner.
  • Both factories had poor health and safety conditions, with protective equipment either wholly inadequate or not compulsory. Workers received no safety training and back problems were commonplace – a result of hours spent sitting on stools on factory production lines.
  • Workers were prevented from joining unions or coming together to complain about factory conditions, and an employee who had raised a grievance was fined for offending a supervisor. In addition, not a single worker at either of the factories knew about the LOCOG code or what it meant for them. They were also in the dark about the existence of a complaints mechanism.
  • Evidence of audit fraud where inspections announced in advance failed to uncover any evidence of ill-treatment and where workers were often coached, threatened or bribed to mislead auditors. Workers feared that if they told the truth about working conditions they would lose their jobs.


– Pictures from Toying with Workers’ Rights are available at www.tuc.org.uk/tucfiles/235/factoryphotos.zip

– A copy of the report is available at www.tuc.org.uk/tucfiles/234/Toying_with_Workers_Rights.pdf

– A copy of the agreement between the TUC/Playfair 2012 and LOCOG can be found at www.bit.ly/playfair2012agreement

– For more information about Playfair 2012 visit www.playfair2012.org

– LOCOG’s sustainable sourcing code includes labour standards set out in the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code modelled on internationally-recognised standards www.london2012.com/documents/locog-publications/sustainable-sourcing-code.pdf

– Any worker producing goods for the Olympics can call the LOCOG complaints line +44 (0) 845 267 2012 or send an email to sustainability@london2012.com with the specific details of the case.

– Playfair 2012 is co-ordinated by the TUC and Labour Behind the Label, and supported by unions and campaigning organisations. Playfair 2012 is part of the international Play Fair campaign, set up prior to Athens 2004, and includes the International Trade Union Confederation, Building and Woodworkers International, the Clean Clothes Campaign and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation.

– As part of the negotiations with LOCOG, the TUC has also been speaking to mascot licensee Golden Bear about improving working conditions at the factory researched.