x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Olympic stress for Indonesian labourers who allege they endure sweatshop conditions

Games organisers are ‘deeply concerned’ as workers say they are underpaid and forced to work overtime, and inspections are a farce.

JAKARTA // Mirna works up to 60 hours a week in an Indonesian factory, stitching tracksuits and T-shirts for adidas, the official sportswear partner of the London Olympics. While the German company expects to make tens of millions of euros from this summer's Games, Mirna earns just 8,125 rupiah (Dh3.28) an hour, and has had to send her son away to be looked after by grandparents.

Adidas, which is supplying gear to 11 Olympic teams, including Australia, Greece and the hosts, Great Britain, manufactures most of its products in developing countries. In Indonesia, where nine locally owned and managed factories are producing kit for athletes, Games volunteers and fans, many workers - mainly young women - allege they endure sweatshop conditions.

In a cafe in Tangerang, just outside Jakarta, earlier this month, the employees told of being forced to work overtime and having to skip meals to save money. They also said they were subjected to verbal and physical abuse and punished for not reaching production targets.

The London 2012 organising committee (LOCOG) - headed by the former Olympic athlete Sebastian Coe - has claimed that the Games will be most the ethical ever staged, with suppliers of goods and services required to adhere to an internationally recognised code of labour practice, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code.

However, the conditions of many Indonesian workers appear to contravene the ETI Base Code. None of the nine factories supplying Adidas, one of the world's best known sportswear brands, pays its employees a "living wage", estimated by international NGOs to be just over 2.1 million rupiah a month.

For Mirna, a 39-year-old widow, life is a daily struggle. She lives in a tiny, bare room in a narrow alley in Jakarta, cooking on a gas hotplate and sharing a bathroom with two other families. Her 13-year-old son, Madrim Maskuri, is away in her hometown, near Cepu, in East Java.

"It's difficult," she says. "Every month I have to borrow, so I'm getting more and more into debt. And I really miss my son - I only see him once a year, at Idul Fitri, because the travel is so expensive."

Conditions at her factory, PT Golden Castle, are less than ideal. Employees have to eat their lunch outside, squatting on the ground, near a rubbish tip. "It's really smelly sometimes, and it's near the port, so it's very dusty," said Surati, one of Mirna's co-workers. "When the wind blows, the rice gets mixed up with the dust."

In one Tangerang factory, PT Shyang Yao Fung, meanwhile, ten workers were suspended six weeks ago - because of their trade union activism, they believe. Employees say they are sometimes asked to work five hours of overtime a day.

"The management says that overtime is compulsory," said Sobirin, 32, who earns 1.53m rupiah a month. "And there's many times when workers are working without payment on overtime, or are not paid properly. Every day there's a worker who passes out because they're exhausted or unwell."

At PT Panarub Industry - adidas's main global supplier of football boots - workers are proud to have shod David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Lionel Messi and Zinedine Zidane. However, they say they face intense pressure to meet production targets. "It's hard to get permission even to go to the bathroom," said Yuliani, a 23-year-old seamstress.

"If you're forced to go, the pile of work becomes so high that you get shouted at by the production line leader. They call you a dog, brainless, uneducated." Her colleague, Ratna, added: "If the leader gets really angry, they throw the shoes in front of the workers. Once on my line I saw a worker get hit by a shoe."

At PT Pancaprima, also in Tangerang, supervisors use a loudspeaker to berate production lines hourly for failing to meet targets. "It's humiliating," said Margi Wibowo, 41, who works in the warehouse.

In recent years, and in response to public pressure, adidas - and other sportswear brands such as Nike - have tried to improve their monitoring of suppliers in the developing world. Adidas says it conducts hundreds of factory audits every year. However, the Indonesian workers claim the audits are farcical.

"They're always announced beforehand, so we have to clean, we have to sweep," said Jamiatun, who works for PT Golden Continental. "The First Aid box is filled, and we're told what to say if the inspector speaks to us. We have to tell them we're paid the minimum wage, and we mustn't tell them we work overtime at weekends."

Adidas said in a statement that only one of its Indonesian suppliers paid less than the garment industry minimum wage, that excessive working hours were "an exception, not the norm", and that overtime had to be voluntary. It added that it was only aware of isolated cases of harassment or abuse in the factories.

In relation to Shyang Yao Fung, Adidas said it had learnt that "several" union officials had been laid off, along with 150 other workers, "due to a factory downsizing".

The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, which monitors ethical practises, said it was "deeply concerned" by the allegations. "The priority for LOCOG must be to investigate these issues and act accordingly to protect workers' rights and improve working conditions," it said.

LOCOG said: "We have spoken to adidas and they have assured us that they are investigating these allegations, the conclusions of which will be made public."

None of the Indonesian factories responded to a request for comment.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae