National Sections of the L5I:

Olympic exploitation, Olympian oppression

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The Olympics mean big profits for big business, particularly the global sportswear brands and, with less than a year to go, China’s capitalists have been trying to squeeze the maximum profits from this bourgeois carnival of elitism and chauvinism.

Play Fair 2008, an alliance of NGOs, trade unions and campaigning groups, has produced a damning report on the working conditions in factories producing goods for the Olympics. Investigating just four factories out of the hundreds producing goods, they found violations in working hours, pay scales, the hiring of minors and children, and health and safety conditions.
Violations of health and safety standards already mean a death sentence for many workers. In 2005, over 127,000 industrial deaths were recorded. A recent report estimated that as many as 200 million workers suffer from one sort of occupational disease, while at least 700,000 have incurred some form of disability due to work injuries.

Employer abuses
In all the factories examined, workers were forced to work in excess of 13 hours a day, 7 days a week and were paid on average 50 per cent less than the required minimum wage, which itself is wholly inadequate. In two factories, workers were instructed to lie to inspectors when they came to the factory and were given detailed instructions on how to do this, along with fake documents like doctored wage slips to fool auditors.

Lekit Stationery hires primary and secondary school children to work in its factories during the holidays and forces them to work 13 hour days alongside other workers. The company hired children as young as 12 to package Olympic brand stationery products, regularly working them from 7:30am to 10:30pm daily. When auditors visited the company, they were simply assigned to jobs outside the warehouse that the auditors did not visit.

One 13 year old girl working at Lekit told the investigators: “I worked from early in the morning until 2am the next day! This happens not just once, but 2 or 3 times a month. I was exhausted but I was still required to go to work as usual the next day.”

None of the workers at Lekit were ever given a contract. None of the companies investigated allowed female workers any maternity leave and all imposed unhealthy working conditions on the workers, ranging from extremely long hours with no breaks, to exposure to toxic chemicals with no safety equipment. Yet, all the companies investigated were licensed to produce products by the International Olympic Committee and one also produced goods for famous sportswear brands like Puma, Adidas, Nike and major sporting organisations like the NBA and NFL.

State repression
Alongside massive violations of workers’ rights, the Olympics is also providing China with a reason to crackdown on dissent and introduce repressive and draconian laws in the name of “stability and security” ahead of the Games.

Ethnic minorities, religious organisations and activists have all faced massive repression. Human rights activists have been regularly placed under house arrest and subject to police surveillance, many of those who have been protesting against the demolition of homes by the Beijing government to make way for stadiums and Olympic facilities have been arrested and charged with subversive behaviour. Many tenants are being violently evicted to make way for planned Olympic developments and have received little, if any, compensation.

Organise for struggle
For the leadership of the Communist Party of China, the Games represent not only an international recognition of their status as the leaders of a world power but an opportunity to whip up a chauvinist and patriotic campaign to strengthen their grip at home. Faced with the prospect of a further increase in inequality, further suppression of their rights and further erosion of their security, the workers and poor peasants of China should take the opportunity to organise themselves and raise their own demands while the whole world is watching.