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ILO Focus vol.10 no. 1 Child Labor Pact

1998 ILO, WBO, Revised August 4, 1997


The Sialkot district alone produces nearly 75 percent of the world's hand-stitched soccer balls for an export market that generates $1 billion in retail sales annually. A recent ILO study estimated that as many as 7,000 children currently work in the industry.

The agreement follows an initiative to remove children from soccer ball production in Pakistan launched by the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry and the Soccer Industry Council of America. These groups together represent more than 50 sporting goods brands, including U.S. manufacturers Reebok and Nike, who were involved in discussions on the Sialkot agreement.

Pressure against the industry has been building during the past two years as a result of international coordination between trade unions and child welfare and human rights groups, extensive media coverage, and bipartisan efforts of members of the U.S. Congress and former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich.

FoulBall Campaign

An organized effort in the U.S. emerged on June 28, 1996, when the International Labor Rights Fund, with the support of the Child Labor Coalition, launched the "FoulBall" campaign at a "KickOff" news conference at the Labor Department. The event featured speeches by Secretary Reich, Sen. Harkin and Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), Joe Kennedy (D-MA) and George Miller (D-CA).

Kennedy followed up with a press release on August 16 presenting evidence that children were engaged in soccer ball production in Pakistan. "I hope today's announcement signals a recognition that the problem indeed exists and marks the beginning of a concerted campaign to eliminate the tragedy of child exploitation once and for all in Pakistan," Kennedy stated.

Four days later, then Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto announced that her government was devising a plan "to eliminate child labor in the country, including a campaign to label rugs made without the use of child workers."

Pakistan's National Commission for Child Welfare and Development had proposed amendments to existing laws "to curb abuse of child labor," according to the announcement. "Pakistan, faced with possible trade sanctions on use of child workers in the manufacture of carpets and soccer balls" would also launch a scheme for soccer balls like Rugmark, the Prime Minister said.

The news release noted that labor departments in the country's four provinces had conducted over 7,000 raids on businesses between January 1995 and March 1996 and had prosecuted 2,538 employers, of whom 395 had been convicted and fined. It also noted that Pakistan's Labor Minister Ghulam Akbar Lasi ordered raids on factories employing children after Kennedy reported that a quarter of an estimated 35 million soccer balls made each year in Pakistan were stitched together by children. Lasi had denied the charge, according to the Prime Minister's news release, and said children could not stitch the balls because the work needed the strength of an adult.

A second release from Kennedy asserted that "[p]ast denials by the Government of Pakistan that children are exploited in the soccer ball industry fly in the face of evidence compiled by human rights groups and industry experts."

Meanwhile sporting goods companies and trade associations were consulting with government officials and the ILO to find a way out of the dilemma. The world football federation, FIFA, declared in August that its governing body had agreed to an international code of conduct to stop child labor being used in the manufacture of footballs.

Reebok International announced in November its own program to label all its soccer balls with a guarantee that they are made without child labor. Reebok was taking this step "in response to a specific child labor situation that exists in Pakistan where most of the world's quality soccer balls are produced," said Peter Moore, senior vice president of Reebok's global soccer and rugby division.

The ILO/SCCI/UNICEF program in Sialkot aims to remove all children under 14 from work in soccer ball production by helping manufacturers and assemblers identify and remove child laborers from the industry and by giving the children educational and other opportunities.

The program's two main components are: 1) prevention and monitoring, and 2) social protection. Under the first, participating manufacturers will require the formal registration of all contractors who oversee stitching on their behalf, all stitching locations, and all stitchers, with certification that the stitchers are over 14 years old.

Independent Monitoring

Each manufacturer will establish an internal monitoring department, with trained employees, to verify compliance with the program. The manufacturers will also commit to independent third party monitoring. Furthermore, they will integrate their efforts to remove children from production with the work of the ILO and other organizations to provide the children educational and other opportunities.

The social protection phase includes rehabilitation of the children withdrawn from labor to ease their placement into appropriate schooling. Another component will aim to prevent children entering the labor market by making the education available to them more relevant and useful.

To sustain the elimination of child labor, a communications program will inform workers, community and religious leaders, parents, and children about the importance of education for all children and the harmful consequences of sending them to work instead of to school.

Families of children removed from work will be offered opportunities to replace lost income, including replacement of stitchers under age 14 with qualified, older members of their families.

A clause of the agreement commits the ILO to make every effort to secure additional resources from the Pakistani Government to improve education for all children in Sialkot and to help implement the social protection program.

The ILO is already known in Sialkot for its program to eliminate child labor in the production of surgical instruments, in brick making, domestic service and agriculture, and in other hazardous forms of work.

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