Child and adult labour in India's football industry

Find here a summary of a report on India's football industry. The full report can be e-mailed on request or can be found on the website of the India Committee of the Netherlands:

THE DARK SIDE OF FOOTBALL Child and adult labour in India's football industry and the role of FIFA
India Committee of the Netherlands
(June 2000)

Text and photos: Gerard Oonk Euro 2000 football photos: Hannelore Schultz Lay-out: Anton van der Vlis



Part I

Part II

  • Child and adult labour in India's football industry
  • Short history of the issue
  • The sports goods industry of India
  • Process of production of inflatable balls
  • The Sports Goods Foundation of India (SGFI)
  • Socio-economic position of stitchers' families
  • Child labour and its impact on education
  • Health problems
  • Wages below subsistence level
  • Stitching centres
  • Hiding production and child labour

Part III

  • The FIFA code of conduct and its follow-up
  • Short history of international involvement
  • Atlanta Agreement
  • From code to contract
  • Unresolved issues
  • Further developments


This report takes a close look at child labour and working conditions in the sport goods industry in Punjab, India. It also describes and discusses the various initiatives taken nationally and internationally to tackle these issues. In India the initiatives of the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) and the Sports Goods Foundation of India (SGFI) are among the most prominent. Internationally the World Federation of Sporting Goods Indus-try (WFSGI), FIFA and its licensing organization ISL (Inter-national Sports and Leisure), the International Confed-eration of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) as well as the major sports goods com-panies play an important role. The Interna-tional Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF are other major players in the field of child rights and labour rights.

This publication is the result of consulting many sources, not only written informa-tion but also a number of organizations who are closely involved in the issues at stake. A very important source of information has been the authori-tative report 'Child labour in the sports goods industry - Jalandhar, A case study' based on research conducted by the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute, India. Furthermore the knowledge, field experience and cooperation of the organization 'Volunteers for Social Justice - an NGO with a long experience on the issues of child labour, bonded labour and migrant labour in Punjab - has been invaluable for the preparation of this report. I also would like to express my sincere thanks to the Sports Goods Foundation of India and their 'stakeholders' who informed us in considerable detail about their efforts to eliminate child labour in the sports goods industry. Furthermore I want to thank the Interna-tional Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) who provided information on the results of their negotiations with FIFA/ISL on the 'FIFA Code of Labour Practice' and the contractual labour conditions between ISL and sports goods com-panies.

Finally I want to express the hope that this report, though critical on various aspects of present initiatives to elimin-ate child labour, will be seen as a constructive contribution to the efforts of all those who wish to see an end to child labour in the sports goods industry (and elsewhere) and who would like to see this combined with equally strong efforts to guarantee the internationally recognized labour rights of the workers in this industry.

June 2000 Gerard Oonk Co-ordinator, India Committee of the Netherlands


Executive summary
In 1995 the first reports appeared in the newspapers about the large scale use of child labour and exploitation of adults in the football industry of Sialkot, Paki-stan. A couple of years later it became clear that the same problem also existed in India which, after Pakistan, is the second largest exporter of footballs and other inflatable balls. From the moment the issue was highlighted by the media and NGOs, especially in the run-up to the 1996 European Football Champion-ship, not only national organiz-ations in Pak-istan and India but also several international organizations have been closely involved in the issue. Prominently among them are the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI), the Interna-tional Confed-eration of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the Interna-tional Labour Organization (ILO) and the international federation of football associ-ations (FIFA). Also major sports companies such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Mitre (UK) and others started taking a keen interest in the use of child labour in stitching footballs because - to men-tion at least one important reason - it was spoiling their brand image.

Whereas in Pakistan a programme to eliminate child labour from the football industry has been in place since 1997, a similar programme in India - implemented by the Sports Goods Founda-tion of India (SGFI) and funded by FIFA - started on January 1st, 2000. The South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) was the first to highlight the situation of child labour and unfair labour conditi-ons in the Indian sports goods industry in 1997. SACCS initiated discussions with the sports goods industry which broke off when the British organiz-ation Christian Aid published a report with the help of SACCS which estimated that 25,000 to 30,000 children were working in the sports goods industry. The manufac-turers strongly objected to this figure and started the Sports Goods Foundation of India (SGFI) with-out the cooperation of SACCS.

The Christian Aid report did however prompt an independent research study funded by ILO-IPEC and FICCI (a national emplo-yers' association). The research was done by the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute (NLI). Their report, 'Child labour in the sports goods industry; Jalandhar, A Case Study' (further called the 'NLI report'), came to the conclusion that around 10,000 children are stitching footballs in the district of Jalandhar. Other producing areas were not included. The report, published in Septem-ber 1998, also provides a wealth of information on the socio-economic conditions of the stitchers. It is therefore the main source of the following description of these conditions.

Stitching footballs is largely a home-based industry in which the manufacturing-/-exporting companies produce the 'panels' of the balls in their factories and hire contractors who act as middlemen between them and the home-based workers who stitch the balls. Almost half of the stitchers are living below the 'poverty line' and four out of ten households are headed by illiterate adults. About 90% of the house-holds belong to the so-called 'untouch-ables', or Dalits as they prefer to call them-selves. Their human rights are violated in many spheres of life especially when they dare to assert and organize them-selves. Dalits, including their children, are the main victims of bonded labour and child labour.

The NLI report estimates the average daily earning of an adult male in the sports goods industry to be around Rs.20 (less than half a US dollar) which is about one third of the present minimum wage of Rs.63 a day. Stitchers are normally not aware of the concept of minimum wage and are not organized by any trade union. Any protest or attempt to organize themselves can be easily crushed as they are dependent on the contractors for work. The piece rates for stitching a football are not determined on the basis of time needed to stitch a ball in relation to the right to earn at least a minimum income. Furthermore the stitchers are routinely cheated by the contractors. The NLI advises doing away with the contrac-tor system and making the manufac-turers/exporters responsible for the payment of wages.

It is estimated that 10,000 children are working in the pro-duction of sports goods in and around Jalandhar, 1,350 of whom are 'only working' (OW), while the rest are both working and going to school. Stitching of footballs is being done by children from five years and older. Of all the full-time working child-ren 37% are between five and twelve and the rest are thirteen or four-teen. Of the working-and-school going (WSG) children two-thirds are between five and twelve, indi-cating that most children are starting to stitch footballs when they are quite young. The combination of school and work leads most children to drop out around the age of ten. The work inten-sity of the stitching children is high. A six year old 'only working child' spends on average 7.5 hours stitching balls while a thir-teen year old child spends 9 hours. 'WSG children' even have to shoulder a bigger work burden: 9 hours when they are six and almost 11 hours when they are thirteen. A quarter of the OW children work at night compared to 14% of the WSG children. Almost half of the 'only working' children and less than a third of the 'WSG children' report some health problem. The most common problems are joint pains and back-ache.

The NLI report was to become the basis for an initiative by the SGFI, the WFSGI, Save the Children and ILO-IPEC, the child labour programme of the Interna-tional Labour Organization (ILO). ILO-IPEC would supervise the external monitoring of stitching locations and US$3 million was to be funded by the US government for the monitoring system and the rehabilitation of the children. The 25 exporter-members of the SGFI promised to start an internal monitoring system on child labour and to ensure that the workers would earn at least the official minimum wage. The Indian government however refused to accept ILO-IPEC as the external supervisor. They also refused the money from the USA for the project and, just like most exporters, did not want SACCS to be part of the new initiative.

After the 'expulsion' of ILO-IPEC, the SGFI went ahead with a programme to prevent and rehabilitate child labour in the sports goods industry. SGFI, under the guidance of the WFSGI, ISL and major sports goods com-panies, hired the well-known auditing company SGS (Societé General de Surveillance) to do the external monitor-ing of the stitching locations. The list of these locations is provided by the manufac-turers on the basis of their internal monitor-ing. The external monitor-ing is now funded by FIFA, while the manufac-turers contribute 0.25% of their export earnings for the rehabilitation of the children. In a period of two years the SGFI plans to concentrate all stitching in registered centres with more than eight workers or units with at least three workers. Elimination of child labour and fair wages should be the result. In addition SGFI has hired the Indian Council of Child Welfare (ICCW) to create awareness among the stitchers' families on the child labour issue. ICCW has recruited students of a girls' college to do this work, joined by some wives of exporters. A 'social protection programme', for which Save the Children and UNICEF would make further plans and possibly provide funds, has not started yet. During the first round of external monitoring by SGS only one working child was found, which makes it unclear for Save the Children, UNICEF and other stakeholders if and how to start a programme.

Combining the results of the NLI report, local research and recent meetings with most of the organiz-ations involved in the issue the following additional points emerge (see also the con-clusions and recommendations):

  • Stitchers are still earning wages far below the official minimum wage. This fact is being denied by the Sports Goods Foundation of India, not checked as part of their internal monitoring and not externally monitored and verified by SGS.
  • Stitchers are not organized in a trade union. Their abso-lute dependence on the contractors for work makes this almost impossible. Not the stitchers themselves but the contrac-tors 'barga-in' with the employers about the piece rates for stitching.
  • Consider-ing the health problems of children stitching footballs it can be concluded that stitch-ing foot-balls is an hazardous occupation.
  • The su-c-ces-sful elimination of child labour depends on an effective 'social protecti-on programme' which now seems to get stuck because 'no children are found'. An essential part of this social protection should be the will-ingness of the indus-try to pay living wages, at least the official minimum wages.
  • The newly set up stitching centres are exempted from the Factory Act. This act gives employees a number of rights, including a labour contract, an annual bonus, double pay for overtime etc., which are now being denied.
  • There is strong evidence that a few members of the SGFI are hiding a part of their production from the monitoring system, in particular the largest exporter Mayor & Co. This company is supplying balls to Adidas, Mitre and Mundo, as well as to other FIFA/ISL-licensed companies. Mayor & Co also sup-plies footballs with a Euro 2000 design for the European market, imported under FIFA/ISL-license by 'Mookie Toys' (see photos).
  • The contractual agreements between the ISL (the licensing organization of FIFA) and all licensed football import-ing companies who buy their balls in India are violated on the issues of (hiding) child labour, wages below the offi-cial minimum, misuse of advances paid to workers, obstacles to the right to organize, exemption from existing labour legislation and lacking health standards and sanitary facilities.

Conclusions and recommendations

1. All available evidence points to the fact that most stit-chers in India, either working at home or in stitching centres, do not earn even half the minimum wage of Rs.63 a day or Rs.1,753 a month. The sports goods exporters who have joined the SGFI do have the responsibil-ity - to which they agreed in November 1998 - to ensure that the workers at least earn the minimum wage for an eight hour day of work. This responsibility should at least result in: - paying piece rates that make it possible for stitchers working eight hours a day to earn at least the official minimum wage (see also point 2); - informing all stitchers orally and on paper about piece rates. This should not be done by the contractors but by persons appointed by the SGFI and/or its Steering Commit-tee; inform-ation on piece rates should be available in all stitching loca-tions; - including questions about number of balls produced and real wages paid in the internal monitoring system of the SGFI and registration of piece rates and real wages paid in the registers of all stitching centres and units.

2. There is strong evidence that the SGFI and individual exporters are overstating the number of balls that can be stitched in a normal working day. This leads them to claim that stitchers can easily earn the minimum wage or more, while in reality they can produce much less and earn far less than the minimum wage. In order to fix piece rates in a way that leads to payment of at least the official mini-mum wage, the recommendation of the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute that a scientific study should be under-taken to determine the real time needed to stitch differ-ent types of inflatable balls, is still extr-emely valid.

3. At present the stitching centres set up by sports goods exporters are exempted from the Factory Act which stipu-lates that working units with more than twenty employees should be registered under it. The Factory Act gives employees a number of rights, including a labour contract, an annual bonus, double pay for overtime etc. It is unacceptable that the stitching centres are exempted from the Factory Act.

4. There is strong evidence that at least some members of the SGFI are deliberately hiding a considerable part of their production from the monitoring system. This implies that there is no check on child labour and working conditions in the area where this production is found: the district of Gurdaspur. Especial-ly India's largest sports goods exporter, Mayor & Co, seems to be involved in this. A pro-gramme designed to monitor child labour has no credibil-ity when part of the production is hidden by some members of the SGFI. It is not only a blatant violation of the system but, if unchecked, also leads to additional movement of stitching outside the area which is monitored. Internal and external monitors should therefore make sure to include all stitching locations of the SGFI-members.

5. It is clear from the NLI report that both full-time and part-time child labour is violating the right of the child to recreation and to full-time educa-tion until he or she is at least 14 years of age. Though some efforts are undertaken by the SGFI, the present approach is not likely to be sufficient to eliminate child labour effec-tive-ly and give these children the right to full-time education. The success of creating community awareness on the need to eliminate child labour in the sports goods industry as well as monitoring of this industry on child labour, depends to a large extent on involving the commun-ity and local NGOs in the effort. Against this background the present awareness raising efforts by the Indian Council of Child Welfare do lack the necessary credibility. College students and wives of exporters cannot be expected to make a real impact in this situation. The SGFI and its Steering Committee have to co-operate with local communities and credible local NGOs who should take the lead on this.

6. The su-c-ces-sful elimination of child labour also crucially depends on an effective 'social protection programme' which now seems to get stuck because 'no children are found'. An essential part of this social protection should be the will-ingness of the indus-try to pay living wages, at least minimum wages. This would also create trust with the stitchers' families. It would show them that the industry is serious about their welfare and the education of their children. Furthermore a programme of transitional educa-tion centres, as earlier decided upon by the SGFI and their stake-hold-ers, should be implemented in order to prepare full-time working children for govern-ment schools. Similarly, tutorials for part-time working children to catch up in school should be provided. UNICEF and Save the Children would be in a position to prepare plans for this and generate the necessary resources.

7. Eliminating child labour in the sports goods industry can be an important first step to eliminate child labour in other sectors. For this to happen a combina-tion of specific measures to phase out child labour through a targeted regional approach in combina-tion with improving the system of primary education is of crucial impor-tance. Strategies and programmes should therefore be devel-oped to keep children in school until they finish 10th grade of elementary educa-tion. Impro-ve-ment of the quality of education is essential to reach this goal, but also social mobiliz-ation to establish and enforce the social norm that no child should work. The SGFI and other organizations, like UNICEF and Save the Children, can play an important role in stimulat-ing the local and state government to take up its responsibil-ity to offer every child the right to full-time elementary education.

8. Considering the health problems of children stitching footballs it can be concluded that stitching footballs is an hazardous occupation. Further research should estab-lish the character and magnitude of the health problems. Also in the case of adults it is recommended to undertake a scientific study into the health hazards of manufacturing sports goods. On the basis of this research a plan of action to protect the health of sports goods workers should be formulated and implemented.

9. The contractual agreements between the ISL and their licensees (including all major football importing com-panies) are violated on a number of points: - The contract states that no child who is less than 14 years old shall be employed. There is however ample evidence that some members of the founda-tion are hiding a part of their production - and thus the use of child labour - from the monitoring system funded by FIFA. - The contract has the provision that 'workers should be paid at least the legal mini-mum legal wage or a wage that is consistent with local industry standards, which-ever is greater'. It is quite evident that the wages of most stitchers are below the legal minimum wage. - The contract states that 'advances on and deductions from wages should be carefully monitored'. No such monitoring exists so that contrac-tors can use the advances to take deductions from the wages without any form of third party monitor-ing. - The contract recognizes that 'the right of workers to join and organize associ-ations of their own choosing should be respected'. The present contract system makes it de facto almost impossible to use this fundamental labour right as the stitchers are absolutely dependent on the contractors. - The contract states that 'factories ['and those who supply them'] shall comply with all applicable laws and regulations regarding working conditi-ons'. The fact that the stitching centres are exempted from the Fac-tory Act is at least a violation of the spirit of this provision. - The contract states that 'standards and procedures should be elaborated to protect workers from fire, accidents and toxic substances'. Stitchers do work with and in-hale toxic substances (like ink and glue), but there are no standards and pro-cedures to protect the workers. - The contract states that 'workers should have access at all times to sanitary facili-ties'. Observations show that such facilities are lacking in several stitching centres.

10. The mandate of the external monitoring company SGS does not at all reflect the provisions of the present con-tracts between ISL and their licensees. The terms of reference for monitoring are largely confined to child labour. This might not be a violation in letter of the contract, but it certainly is in contradic-tion with the spirit of the provision in the contract that ISL 'may request evidence of compli-ance with the code'. The best way to provide this evidence is to include it in the terms of refer-ence of SGS as the appointed external monitoring organiz-ation.

11. The SGFI and its Steering Committee of the SGFI, in consultation with local commun-ities, NGOs, unions and others, should find ways to implement the import-ant conclusion of the NLI report that the contractor system should be replaced by a system with effective monitoring and regu-lation by the state, employers and trade unions. In addition the idea to form labour co-operatives should be further studied and imple-mented with the help of NGOs and unions.

12. Bringing an end to the use of child labour and guaran-teeing basic labour rights in the sports goods industry of course goes beyond the influence of FIFA and other football associations alone. Therefore all companies should, regardless of their relation to FIFA and ISL, have a code of labour practice which is at least as good as the original FIFA Code and is independently monitored and verified.

13. It is strongly recommended that football importing com-panies do not stop sourcing from their existing suppliers in India. They should rather use their influence to make sure that the present contracts between ISL and them-selves as ISL licen-sees are imple-mented in letter and spirit and are being improved upon. For this to happen they have to pay prices that makes it possible for the Indian suppliers them to establish and pay for the working conditions agreed upon.

14. The Code of Labour Practice initially agreed upon by FIFA and the Interna-tional Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) - if signed, incorporated in the ISL agreements, implemented and effectively monitored - would be an important instru-ment to improve labour conditions in the sporting goods industry worldwide. The present contrac-tual arrange-ments fall considerably short of that as there are still a number of unre-solved problems in terms of both the content and the implementa-tion of the ISL arrange-ments.

15. An active role of the ILO - not only ILO-IPEC like in the case of Pakistan - in the monitoring and verification of FIFA Code would be highly desirable. This would not only give an important impetus to the status and credi-bil-ity of the FIFA Code, but could also be a pilot for the involvement of the ILO in giving guidance to the content and implementation of other codes of conduct which are (partly) based on ILO Conven-tions.

The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) is an independent non-governmental organization, which aims to contribute to a more humane life for the poor and oppressed in India. ICN cooperates with organizations in India and elsewhere with a similar objective. It informs the public, particularly in The Netherlands, about social, economic and political developments in India and how they relate to such developments in western countries. ICN takes up campaigns in the areas of human rights, economic relations and interna-tional cooperation. Its main strategy is to influence public opinion and decision makers in the Nether-lands, Europe and possibly elsewhere. It does this, among other means, through research, lobbying, mobilization of the public, generating publicity and organiz-ing meetings. ICN is not a funding organization.

India Committee of the Netherlands Mariaplaats 4 3511 LH Utrecht, The Netherlands tel. 00-31-30-2321340 fax. 00-31-30-2322246 e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it website:


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