We in the US are avid sports fans. Whether watching, playing, or cheering for our favorite sports teams, we make sports a central part of our lives. And after years of mild interest, it appears that US citizens have finally added soccer to their list of favorite sporting events. An estimated 19 million viewers tuned in to watch Saturday’s US v. Ghana game, the highest rated game in US history; and according to Neilson ratings, viewership is up by 68% from the previous World Cup. Local cafés, restaurants, and retailers are all cashing in on the “soccer fever” that has gripped the US consumer and the world.
Major soccer brands such as Puma and Adidas are reporting huge sales. Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, in an interview with Reuters, stated, “Our football sales definitely will increase this year, and from that perspective the World Cup will be a success. Every time there is a World Cup, it has an impact on our soccer business, and we have seen that this year as well.” Likewise, Adidas is attributing its 26% increase in soccer-related sales for the first quarter of 2010 to the increased interest among consumers in the World Cup. These major brands are hoping to cash in, as they did in 2008 during the European Championship, which boosted annual sales to a record setting 1.3 billion euros ($1.92 billion). Unfortunately, some of the merchandise sold during this year’s World Cup may have been produced by child or exploited laborers.
Nearly 15 years after sporting goods companies signed the Atlanta Agreement to eliminate child labor in soccer ball production, the root causes that perpetuate labor rights abuses continue. The soccer ball industry remains reliant on temporary workers, which has led to poverty wages, barriers to workers organizing and forming independent unions, and gender-based discrimination. In some cases, child labor has been identified in soccer ball production, which signifies a need for companies to continue to develop and maintain clear policies and procedures concerning child and forced labor.
To help consumers who are eager to purchase the latest and greatest soccer ball, the Free2Work site has been updated with its own power rankings on how these products are being manufactured. Ten different soccer ball producers were rated on their corporate policies, their implementation of labor protocols, and their effectiveness in supply chain monitoring. Soccer enthusiasts can use Free2Work.org to educate themselves on how their favorite sports apparel is produced. Of those companies rated, Adidas was the overwhelming frontrunner with an A-, edging out Nike, which received a B. The majority of companies received grades ranging from C to D-, with Calle Primero and Tachikara receiving F ratings because of their lack of information on their code of conduct and their insufficient efforts to monitor their supply chains.
The US hopes of becoming 2010 champions might be dashed, but consumers still have a chance of winning. Before buying that new FIFA branded soccer ball, be sure to checkout Free2Work.org to discover your favorite company’s power ranking!
Kilian Moote is the Director of Advocacy for the Not For Sale Campaign. He directs the Free2Work initiative as well as the campaigns advocacy efforts and annual Global Forum on Human Trafficking.