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Child Labour in Football

FIFA and child labour elimination

FIFA, itself, has been and continues to be a generous and active supporter of global development programmes for children and vulnerable communities. Following the football-stitching scandal of the mid-1990s, it became involved in a major child labour project in collaboration with the ILO and others in the industry in Sialkot, Pakistan, which removed thousands of children from dangerous workplaces and helped them and their families through education and access to social and health protection and micro-financing schemes. Although the project has  ended, it  leaves behind an independent monitoring body that continues to work with most of the football-stitching companies in Sialkot and tries to ensure that children are not involved in this activity. The programme also succeeded in raising significant awareness of child labour throughout Sialkot and its surrounding areas and in highlighting the importance of education.

The activities involved local and international partners. It helped in developing a better understanding of what can  and needs to be done through good practices and lessons learned. While appreciative of the positive impact of the project, Global March also recognises that by itself it is not enough and there remain significant challenges and problems. Most, but not  all companies have signed up to the monitoring programme. Because of this, there have been  media reports indicating that there are still children stitching footballs in the Sialkot area. And, of course, stitched footballs are not only produced in Pakistan. There are also major production centres in India where the monitoring programmes are limited or non-existent. And what of other countries producing footballs? And what of the footballs that are not necessarily produced for professional games around the world, but the cheap footballs that children kick around the street or on fields or even in a school playground? Under what sort of conditions were these products made? Do we really know?

The problem and challenges are undiminished

Therefore, the problem has not gone away and it would be vital to conduct a renewed effort to tackle child labour in all football-stitching locations in all relevant countries to clean the industry as a whole and not in one or several locations. At the same time, there is the challenge of efforts to withdraw and prevent child labour in one industry leading to children reappearing in other sectors which are not being monitored and possibly in more hazardous and dangerous conditions. This reinforces the need for an area-wide approach that would seek to ensure that all children are not in any workplaces and rather are benefiting from an education while their parents and older siblings can access decent employment.

And, of course, the world of football does not just include the actual balls themselves. What of the huge amounts of clothing and promotional products that flood shops, street corners and markets at the time of the World Cup? Many of these products will not be officially licensed by FIFA or major multinational brands that are involved in the event, but they will be in South Africa and other major urban centres for sale to anyone who will buy of that we can be sure. There is probably a larger market for unlicensed and therefore cheaper products than there is for those which are licensed. And yet it is only through formal licensing and certification that some level of control can be exercised over the conditions under which products are manufactured. It is not unlikely that goods made by children may then be sold by other children on the streets at the time of the World Cup. The challenge of grey and black markets is significant, and not only for football.

Trafficking into World Cup venues

Unfortunately, there is another more sinister shadow of an event like the World Cup – an occasion which brings together significant numbers of people, including those who would be willing partners in the exploitation of children. Trafficking of persons, particularly women and children, at the time of major global events, including sporting events, has been a concern for a number of years, including the previous World Cup in Germany in 2006. Although a study by theInternational Organization Migration (IOM) on human trafficking and the 2006 World Cup in Germany found inconclusive evidence of an increase in trafficking for sexual exploitation, nevertheless trafficking is a growing challenge worldwide and an appalling violation of human rights that must be identified and tackled urgently and decisively. In addition, it should be kept in mind that the border controls and legislative framework in and around South Africa are probably not as comprehensive and developed as those in Europe.

For 2010, the IOM has lent its support to a major international campaign aimed at preventing trafficking in persons during the World Cup in South Africa. The campaign was launched in Italy, Brazil, Botswana and South Africa and was  initiated by Talitha Kum, an international network of religious sisters from 19 different congregations. As part of the campaign, public service announcements will be broadcast on radio and TV channels. Flyers featuring IOM’s helpline number – 0800555999 – are being distributed in high visibility areas and transport hubs such as bus stations and at the Johannesburg international airport.

The campaign will also seek to address community leaders to enlist their support in raising awareness among football supporters. The IOM points out that although there is no empirical evidence linking an increase of trafficking in persons to such events, the campaign aims to take advantage of the momentum built around the World Cup to increase awareness of trafficking and the need for adequate protection mechanisms. In the same way that Global March and its partners are using the same momentum to draw attention to the issue of child labour in Africa and the global sporting goods manufacturing sector.
IOM’s work in South Africa aims to address gaps in protection mechanisms that often create opportunities for the exploitation of the most vulnerable. In addition, it has recommended that future event organisers and host cities widen the scope of counter-trafficking activities to include forced labour, particularly within the construction industry, criminal activities and begging, and advocate more strongly for adequate reporting by the media on the true nature and scope of human trafficking. This is also important for children who are trafficked for their labour.

The IOM-backed campaign is one of many targeting trafficking of human persons in and around South Africa at the time of the World Cup. Global March welcomes these initiatives and encourages its members, partners and all civil society actors to offer their support through advocacy, lobbying, awareness-raising and socially responsible action.