The sport giants and child labour
Off the long run
After a year-long investigation, a report released last week by Sydney Morning Herald journalist Ben Doherty, revealed that two sports apparel companies have been using child labour to stitch footballs together for a dollar a day.
Canterbury Clothing Company (CCC), one of New Zealand's best-known clothing labels, is one of the companies named, yet there has been next to no publicity here about it.
I discovered this story because of the furore on Australian media websites last week. The SMH is a Fairfax Media title, like Stuff.co.nz.
The other company involved, Sherrin (which produces balls for AFL), is undergoing a lot of scrutiny.
Established in Christchurch in 1904, CCC is a global sports apparel leader. It sponsors numerous professional rugby teams around the world, including the NZ Warriors rugby league team, and recently began sponsoring England's Portsmouth football club.
Canterbury's global recognition was helped by its sponsorhip deal with the All Blacks, which ended in 1999.
The majority of CCC manufacturing is done overseas but the company's image is still closely linked with New Zealand. The logo, of course, depicts three Kiwis.
So, why has this been a non-story in New Zealand?
Sherrin is dealing with the possibility of losing its rights to supply the AFL and the subsequent revenue. If the media chose to pick this up in New Zealand what would the reaction be? What would be the ramifications in terms of lost sales and negative impact on the CCC brand? In terms of sponsorship, no other sports apparel company invests as much here at all levels of competition.
According to a message on its website, from Canterbury global CEO Chris Stephenson, CCC is extremely concerned about the allegations and the use of child labour is expressly prohibited by the company. An internal investigation was underway. But when was the last time our media left a company to do internal investigations? Where is the accountability?
The lack of coverage is the most mystifying part of this whole situation.
Is it because they believe that the New Zealand public wouldn't find a story about child labour relevant?
Considering the increasing demand for ethically made goods, I would say people do care about this issue.
Social enterprises like Fair Trade, Trade Aid and Freeset have brand recognition which wasn't there a decade ago. The public also show their concern for global human rights with their money. A recent study found that Kiwis were some of the most generous givers to charities in the world. Many people would at least know someone who sponsors a child through World Vision.
Is it because these kinds of stories don't sell advertising, the main source of revenue for the media sites the aren't running them? But when did news media sites become solely about producing entertaining articles? Is it the fact that reporters are spread too thin and therefore busy trying to fulfil the public's insatiable desire for entertainment?
Another way of looking at it is: what do they have to lose if they published this story? It certainly wouldn't be credibility.
Or is it us, the consumers? Are we more excited by media outlets producing entertaining stories than actual news? Is it the same people who do World Vision 40-hour famines who made an article about an eel stuck up a man's backside the most-read article on the NZ Herald website for three days straight last week? Are we afraid of knowing the truth? Would we be bound to act on that knowledge once we had it?
Sometimes it seems far too easy to hide yourself away from issues which are a reality only halfway across the world.
There are evidently people in New Zealand who do care about social and ethical issues. Do they even visit media sites anymore? Why do people have to rely on overseas media sites such as The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald to cover issues like this? Maybe the majority of them are overseas with the ''brain drain''?
The Government has the ability to make this a pressing issue.
Officially, the Government is against child labour after signing and ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child in 1990. So why wouldn't they speak up about something which they are supposedly opposed to? Do governments have too much to lose if the public becomes well-informed about supply chains, imports, taxes and the like?
In 2009 the National Party and the Act Party opposed an amendment to the Customs and Excise Bill which would ban imports of slave-made products into New Zealand.
Their reason for not supporting it was our existing legislation was sufficient to prevent such importation. The time to use that legislation may be at hand. Will we see the government stand up for the supposed ideals it aspires to in this country?
This story deserves to be given more time and attention than it is has received her so far. We are viewed around the world as a progressive nation. Should we be taking an honest look at our companies, our media, our government and ourselves? What more can we do to combat injustice in the world?
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