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1 Dec 2022

Elizabeth Paton, The New York Times

Asia: Garment workers making adidas football kits struggle to make ends meet amid low wages & union busting

"Who Made Your World Cup Jersey?", 1 December 2022

As the World Cup in Qatar kicked off last week, millions of fans pulled on jerseys costing $90 to $150 that were sold by Nike and Adidas, the official outfitter of this year’s tournament. Players, wearing new, brightly colored uniforms, slipped into shiny cleats and shoes that can retail for more than $200.

But what did the people who made these items get paid?

In the case of 7,800 workers at the Pou Chen Group factory in Yangon, Myanmar, a supplier of soccer shoes for Adidas, the answer is 4,800 kyat, or $2.27, per day...

After workers began a strike in October, demanding a daily wage of $3.78, factory managers called soldiers into the complex and later fired 26 workers. They included 16 members of the factory’s union, who were believed to have led the strike of more than 2,000 employees.

In interviews last week, several workers said they believed the factory was using the opportunity to punish workers engaged in organized labor, at a time when Myanmar’s ruling military junta is looking to dismantle democratic structures.

At the same time, rising inflation and a weakened currency are putting pressure on the livelihoods of people in Myanmar...One worker, already in poor health, said she had gone three days without food until fellow workers bought her some...

In an emailed statement from Pou Chen’s headquarters in Taiwan, the company said that it followed local laws and regulations in handling employees’ salaries and personnel matters and that it respected workers’ right to bargain collectively.

“We are going through an arbitration process with the claimants as per Myanmar’s legal procedure,” the email said, referring to the fired workers.

Adidas also provided a statement. “Adidas has objected strongly to these dismissals, which are in breach of our workplace standards and our longstanding commitment to upholding workers’ freedom of association,” the company said. “We are investigating the lawfulness of the supplier’s actions, and we have called on Pou Chen to immediately reinstate the dismissed workers.”..

Trax Apparel, a factory in Cambodia where 2,800 workers make soccer shirts for Adidas as well as for the British soccer team Manchester United, laid off eight workers in 2020 after they formed a union to seek better working conditions. The factory’s management said it would reinstate only four of the eight, and only if the union agreed not to fight for the others’ reinstatement or full back pay. Seeing no alternative, the union signed an agreement surrendering these rights.

“I kept waiting for a call, but it never came,” said Sophal Choun, 41, who earned $7 a day at a sewing machine at the factory. “It took a year and a half to find another job — I had to ask my siblings to help support my two young children and take out a loan to keep going with a very high premium which I am now struggling to pay.”...

Trax Apparel, whose owners are based in Thailand, did not respond to a request for comment...

“While there has rightly been significant coverage of the conditions facing migrant workers in Qatar, there has been a complete absence of focus on the serious rights abuses of garment workers making World Cup kits,” said Thulsi Narayanasamy, director of international advocacy at the nonprofit Worker Rights Consortium. “The ability of workers to collectively stand together to ensure better conditions in their factories is a basic human right.”