Anti-sweatshop pressure groups are protesting against sporting goods manufacturer, Adidas, being one of the major sponsors of Euro 2000, the European Football Championship that kicks off here Saturday.
Representatives of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) in Belgium and the Netherlands, the host countries of Euro 2000, say the manufacturer is in violation of conventions that the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) is bound to.
They accuse Adidas of employing textile workers under conditions that violate the International Labour Organisation (ILO) core conventions.
According to the CCC, last year UEFA agreed to include the International Federation of Football Associations' (FIFA) code of conduct on fair labour conditions in all contracts with sponsors for Euro 2000 -- including Adidas.
The FIFA code is based on the core conventions of the ILO. It prohibits child labour (under 15), forced labour and excessive working hours, while prescribing decent working conditions, wages sufficient to cover the worker's basic needs and freedom of association and collective bargaining.
"But Adidas, the official supplier of Euro 2000, is not complying with these conditions," says Frieda De Koninck of the Belgian CCC.
Together with their sister organisations in Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and Switzerland, the Dutch and Belgian CCC say they have collected evidence of continuing violation of labour rights by subcontractors of Adidas.
However, Adidas Director for Social and Environmental Affairs, David Husselbee, says; "The FIFA-code of conduct does not form part of the agreement we signed with the Euro 2000 committee.
"We are concerned as much as the CCC -- if not more -- about fair labour conditions -- we deal with sports and we want to promote fairness not only on the field.
"There is no such a thing as an ideal factory. But we are checking our subcontractors and we do react when things appear to be wrong. We have our own team of independent observers for that and we receive the reports of the CCC. Sometimes their reports are right, sometimes not," Husselbeen told IPS.
Last year, the Belgian and Dutch branches of the CCC launched a media campaign to highlight the poor conditions and terms to which textiles workers are subject to, placing open letters to the companies and football associations in local newspapers.
Several politicians and prominent football players from both host countries spoke out in favour of better wages and conditions in the sporting goods industry.
In December 1999, exactly six months before the official kick- off for Euro 2000, the CCC announced a victory for worker's rights.
Under public pressure, UEFA had agreed to subject the production of merchandise on sale during the tournament to the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industries (WFSGI) code of conduct.
But with the tournament about to start under intense media coverage that always accompanies the event, the CCC faces an uphill battle to get out its message.
In the Savina factory in Bulgaria, a South-eastern European country that did not qualify for the European championships this round but which produces goods for Adidas in Dec 1999, the CCC says that worker's wages appeared to have been calculated according to almost unattainable production targets set by the management.
Savina workers were receiving about 50 Euro a month in real terms, half the national average, without receiving overtime pay and a management hostile to union membership.
"That's why we are going on (with the campaign) during Euro 2000," says Esther De Haan of the Dutch CCC.
However Husselbeen says:"There are two factories in Savina, the CCC visited one of them and reports about that one, but Adidas has its products made in the other," he told IPS.
Husselbeen says Adidas agreed that the legal minimum wage in Bulgaria was too low. "Therefore we ask our subcontractors to pay well over it. We also make sure that they pay the right rates for overtime work."
In the four Dutch cities hosting Euro 2000 matches, the Dutch federation of trade unions FNV is distributing some 300,000 posters reminding football fans of the plight of sweatshop workers.
Signatures on various petitions actions targeted at the Dutch football association KNVB, the Euro 2000-committee and Adidas "are returning by bags," says De Haan.
The Dutch CCC has also opened an account to which Dutch people are asked to transfer the symbolic amount of one Euro as an incentive for the big companies to start ensure that the workers of their subcontractors receive better wages.
If the Belgian or the Dutch team fail to qualify for the quarterfinals -- the secret wish of some activists here -- there might be more attention to their needs again.
"We'd better lose soon. But that is not what I should be saying. Of course, the Netherlands will reach the finals," she says.
CCC's De Koninck doesn't see the Belgian team pushing through to the finals on July 2, but isn't overly concerned about that, stressing that "The goal is human rights."
In Belgium as well, the CCC appears to be eclipsing, after getting good media exposure in May by organising youth tournaments in the Walloon, the French-speaking part of the country and an 'injustice doesn't score'-tournament in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking half, with an exhibition match between politicians.
The Minister of Health Magda Aelvoet and local Belgian celebrities such as Jean-Marie Pfaff, who played for the top German team Bayern M|nchen in the 1980s, threw their weight behind the 'clean clothes' campaign.
On June 3, the Belgian activists handed over 50,000 pictures of Belgians asking for better wages in the sportswear industry to the representatives of Adidas at their headquarters in the German town of Herzogenaurach.
Adidas reacted by promising to change it's own code of conduct to include the need of a 'liveable wage' -- a step up from the local minimum wage the company has required subcontractors to pay.
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