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Soccer, or "football" as it is known in most countries, is the world's most popular sport. The Sialkot district in Pakistan is the principal global source of hand stitched sports balls, supplying over 70% of the world’s global demand.
Poverty is widespread in Pakistan with over 30% of the population estimated to live under the national poverty line. Sialkot is densely populated with around 40,000 people involved in the sports ball industry. Sport ball manufactures has been criticised for low pay, poor working conditions and illegal employment of children who are forced into work because adult wages are often too low to support a family. The Atlanta Agreement, signed in 1997, was a culmination of pressure from western consumers to stop child labour in the sports ball industry. The agreement which was formed between the International Labour Organization, the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry and UNICEF strives to combat high rates of childlabour in the Pakistani football industry through banning stitching in the home and supporting education in the region.
After researching the potential impact of Fairtrade in Sialkot, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) and national Labelling Initiatives launched Fairtrade Standards for Sports Balls in 2002. Fairtrade has an important role in combating child labour by tackling the root of its cause; poverty and lack of income due to adults not receiving a fair wage. In March of 2002 four sports ball producers in Sialkot (Tramondi, Talon, AKI, and Vision) received Fairtrade certification. Twelve years on, there are now six Fairtrade certified sport ball producers, including Silver Star Enterprises and Ali Trading Company. Currently there is one new applicant for certification.
The Fairtrade Sports Ball Standards include criteria that companies must meet concerning working conditions, wages and non-discrimination. The Fairtrade Standards can be found at www.fairtrade.net.
On top of stable prices, Fairtrade certified organisations are paid a Fairtrade Premium – additional funds to invest in social or economic development projects. This premium money brings change to the whole community. The use of this Fairtrade Premium money is decided upon democratically by
the workers and stitchers themselves according to their needs.
Fairtrade is making a difference to many workers and stitchers in Sialkot. However, in order to continue improving their living and working conditions, Fairtrade sales need to increase. In 2008 141,000 balls were sold under Fairtrade terms. For Fairtrade certified sport ball producers the average percent of sales on Fairtrade terms is less than eight percent. In order for producers to receive increased premium, security and other benefits from
Fairtrade increased sales are key.
At the same time, there are constant challenges to even keep the market share of sports balls on the conventional market for the region. Sialkot remains the soccer ball capital of the world, with exports of almost $200 million a year, and in 2008, three out of every four match-grade soccer balls sold throughout the world were meticulously hand-stitched in the city. But mounting pressure to compete with machine-stitching companies in other countries, who can produce balls for a fraction of the price of a hand-stitched ball, is starting to have a negative impact on the hand-stitched market.
In order to continue improving the lives of workers, stitchers and their families in Sialkot there must be consumer recognition and demand for the higher quality hand-stitched balls that are sold under Fairtrade terms. It’s a win win situation; but the ball is in consumers’ hands.