Labor Groups Trying To Keep Beijing Olympics Contracts Alive

Foreign companies accused of unfair labor practices should eliminate abuses, rather than pull out of factories, says Toronto-based labor advocacy group.

TORONTO (CP) - International labor groups are calling on the organizing committee of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to keep its manufacturing contracts with Chinese factories that have been accused of poor labor practices, fearing that killing the contracts will hurt workers the most.
A recently released report by PlayFair, a group concerned with workers' rights, noted four Chinese factories that manufacture products with the Olympic logo were found employing child laborers, enforcing long work hours and paying wages far below minimum wage.
''We're not calling on companies to pull out of the factories when abuses are found, we're actually calling on companies to take steps to make sure that those abuses are eliminated,'' said Bob Jeffcott, a policy analyst with Maquila Solidarity Network, a Toronto-based labor advocacy group.
''A movement that is concerned about fair play basically in the stadium also has to be concerned about fair play in the factories that make their products.
''If companies want to use the Olympic logo, they should be providing pretty clear assurances that their products are made under decent conditions.''
PlayFair believes getting rid of existing contracts will not solve the problem.
''Unilateral action will not work,'' the organization said Monday in release. ''It will only mean that workers lose their jobs, and there is no guarantee that the next lot of factories would respect workers rights either.''
With the 2010 Winter Games inching closer, the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) has already implemented a policy for companies that are manufacturing its Olympic goods.
Ann Duffy, the committee's program director of sustainability, said staff examined the best practices in the business world and adapted them to an Olympic context.
While the committee already has licences with some Chinese factories, Dennis Kim, the director of licensing and merchandising, said none of the companies listed in PlayFair's report will be manufacturing products for the 2010 Olympics.
Despite having a policy in place, Jeffcott said Vancouver should treat PlayFair's findings as a warning about what happens when policies aren't stringent or transparent enough.
Jeffcott said the Vancouver committee should also pay particular attention to reports that auditors are being duped by factory management.
Although he said Vancouver's licensing code has its share of shortcomings in terms of wages, hours of work and transparency, he said its policy could set a precedent.
''If VANOC moves forward in implementing this policy, it could set an example for the rest of the Olympic movement,'' Jeffcott said.
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