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Adidas, Reebok, Rockport, Fila & Other Brand Name Bullies Slammed for Sweatshop Labor Practices

SAN FRANCISCO - Major international footwear companies would be wise to pay as much attention to the plight of their workers as their marketing campaigns during the World Cup, said the international human rights group Oxfam, which ranked each of the world's major sportswear companies for a new report, ''Offside! Labor Rights and Sportswear Production in Asia.'' According to Oxfam, workers making clothes, shoes, and other goods for global sports brands have been dismissed or threatened with violence when they have organized unions to lobby for better pay and conditions. The report said a majority of Asian sportswear workers are women from poor communities, many supporting children and families.

''If we were giving these companies a grade, none of them would receive a passmark,'' Oxfam's Tim Conner told OneWorld. ''If they were competing in the World Cup of labor rights, none of them would get past the preliminary rounds.'' Top on Oxfam's list is Adidas, which has spent an estimated $200 million dollars on marketing toward soccer fans this year. On the strength of World Cup hype, the company's sales rose 47% in the first quarter of 2006. Net profits rose 37% to $183 million.

But Oxfam charges those profits aren't trickling down to the people who make Adidas' soccer shoes. Their report catalogues abuses at a giant factory in Indonesia that dismissed 30 union workers who took part in a legal strike demanding more than their current salary of 60 cents an hour.

Some 11,000 people work at the Panarub factory near Jakarta, which makes Adidas' Predator Pulse boots promoted by soccer stars in the lead up to the FIFA World Cup including England's David Beckham and Frank Lampard, France's Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Viera, Spain's Raul and Brazil's Kaka. The factory also produces the +F50.6 Tunit boots promoted by the Netherlands' Arjen Robben, Germany's Kevin Kuranyi, and Brazil's Ze Roberto.

''We've been very disappointed with Adidas' response to the firings,'' Oxfam's Conner said. ''Rather than taking a firm decision to support the workers' right to strike they've allowed the case to drag on. Those workers have been without salary for many months now. We're strongly urging Adidas to make sure those workers are reinstated.'' Representatives from Adidas (which also owns Reebok and Rockport) did not return calls seeking comment for this story. But a statement on the company's Web site presents a complicated picture of labor relations at the factory, which is owned by an Indonesian subcontractor.

According to Adidas, strike organizers were dismissed because of ''violence, rude behavior, inciting others to act illegally, damaging company property, and placing themselves and others in danger.'' Nonetheless, the company said the incident remains under investigation. ''PT Panarub is an important and valued supplier. Nonetheless, the standards and expectations of the Adidas Group, its shareholders and other key stakeholders and, most importantly, the rights and welfare of the workers who make our product, are paramount. Adidas Group will provide an update on this case as soon as it becomes available,'' the statement said.

In its report, Oxfam saved its biggest wrath for FILA, a major U.S.-based sponsor in world tennis. Unlike other major athletic gear companies including Nike, Adidas, and Puma, FILA refuses to disclose which subcontractors it works with and where its products are made.

Through investigation, however, Oxfam discovered a FILA sport shoe supplier in Indonesia with an appalling record of worker abuse including long hours of compulsory overtime, verbal abuse, and sexual harassment.

In 2005, the factory closed suddenly and without warning. A year later, none of its 3,500 workers have received any back-pay or severance pay. Oxfam says FILA refuses to reveal its role in the closure or take responsibility for the workers.

Like Adidas, FILA refused to comment for this story. The company's Global Public Relations Director Amy Dimond would only send a statement reading: ''FILA believes strongly in fair labor practices. The company has and will continue to take any and all allegations regarding unfair labor practices issues seriously and will investigate as appropriate.'' Oxfam's Tim Conner says ultimately it may be up to sport stars who receive millions in endorsement deals to stand up for the rights of the workers who make their gear.

''Although the footballers are very busy at the moment, we're hoping that when the World Cup is over some of them will raise the issues quietly with these companies,'' Conner said. ''The footballers themselves are very well represented by players associations. We believe workers should have the same rights to represent themselves in trade unions.'' Copyright © 2006