06/11/2007, 00.00
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Child labour used in factories making Olympic merchandise

Trade union alliance slams labour practices that involve 12-year-old children working 15 hours a day for 2 yuan an hour in factories making Olympic merchandise. Working conditions are poor and pay slips are falsified. Companies deny allegations but the IOC says it will look into the matter.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A report by the Playfair Alliance titled No medal for the Olympics on labour rights alleges that children as young as 12 years old have been employed during school holidays for up to 15 hours a day making Olympic clothing and other merchandise for a pittance. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it would review the matter.

Playfair, an alliance of world trade unions, found “severe workers' rights violations” in four Chinese factories in Shenzhen and Guangdong. In one case one manufacturer of stationery employed more than 20 children, the youngest just 12 years old, hired during school holidays working from 7.30 am to 10.30 pm at two yuan an hour (25 US cents).

These factories make Olympic clothing and merchandise under license, including one Shenzhen company that was licensed to produce 50 different items for the games,

Even adults producing goods for the Beijing games had to put in 15-hours days earning as little as two yuan an hour, half the legal minimum wage in China.

Working conditions are often poor, including health and safety problems like fire hazards, skin problems from chemicals and respiratory problems from dust.

In one company fake salary slips are said to have been used to dupe inspectors sent to check wages and conditions.

In another one it is claimed that the company instructed employees on how to lie to inspectors about wages and conditions and sacked workers who told the truth.

Foreign multinational companies have been accused of treating their workers unfairly. Now many are becoming increasingly sensitive that their image could be damaged by adverse publicity about employment conditions.

Companies named in the report have denied any wrongdoing. Lekit Stationery, a Taiwanese company operating in Dongguan (Guangdong) making paper cups, notebooks and stickers adorned with Olympic motifs, stated that the factory's 420 workers earned a basic monthly salary of about 700 yuan (US$ 91) and overtime was paid at time and a half.

Headwear Holdings, in Shenzhen, said that its “employees enjoy a very good living environment and working conditions.”

In a statement the IOC said it will review the report. It said that it expected host cities follow guidelines on fair labour standards, and reiterated its commitment to be a “leader of the Olympic Movement that takes care of the Olympic brand in the best way possible” so that “sourcing is done ethically” and in conformity with China’s laws.

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