When London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics, their aim was to make it the greenest, cleanest and most sustainable games ever held. However, in spite of the positive reports issued in advance of the Games, there is now a suspicion of greenwashing hanging over the event.
A few years ago, I was appointed the Olympic representative for the UK Fair Trade Leaders Forum. I had read the procurement guidelines of LOCOG, organisers of the London 2012 Games, and was encouraged by the tendering information which suggested that Fair Trade was a desirable criteria for uniform procurement.
As far back as November 2003 in the document Bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games: A contribution from the London Assembly it was stated in article 2.16 "Finally, procurement should support local sourcing and fair trade as well as environmental best practice". The Olympic bid uniforms were designed and sourced by Jeff Banks, with whom we have worked on past occasions, producing uniforms for Tour de France officials. I am convinced that, had Jeff Banks won the bid for the Olympic uniforms, the sourcing would have met ethical standards and would certainly have been Fair Trade wherever possible.
The Mayor of London’s Responsible Procurement Report was issued in February 2008 which complemented the government’s Sustainable Development Strategy of March 2005. It recognised the role that procurement can have in delivering the sustainable development agenda and set a target for the UK to become one of the leaders in the EU on sustainable procurement by 2009.
The Responsible Procurement Policy consists of seven themes:
• encouraging a diverse base of suppliers
• promoting fair employment practices
• promoting workforce welfare
• addressing strategic labour needs and enabling training
• community benefits
• ethical sourcing practices; and
• promoting greater environmental sustainability.
Finally, the London 2012 Sustainability Plan: Towards a one planet 2012 was produced which stated under the heading of Procurement and Materials that there should be 'ethical procurement and fair employment'.
It seemed at the time that the groundwork had been laid and policies and recommendations put in place within the tendering guidelines to ensure that all textiles and uniforms met high ethical and sustainability standards. Encouraged by what I had read, I approached Next the week after they had won the tender for the Olympic uniforms. As the representative of the UK Fair Trade Leaders Forum, I was representing a number of the leading Fair Trade companies in the UK, some of whom had experience of producing uniforms and many of whom were involved in producing textiles using Fairtrade cotton. As for my experience, not only had we already supplied Panama hats for many sporting occasions (Wimbledon, Tour de France), but I had also co-founded Clean Slate, the UK's first Fair Trade School Uniform supplier. So, in August 2010 I contacted the relevant people at Next who were working on the uniform procurement by email, letter and phone … and heard nothing more from them.
I was sceptical as to how well the ethical procurement and fair employment would be adhered to, particularly in the light of their disinterest in even commencing dialogue with the leading Fair Trade companies in the UK, but tried to remain positive. That is, until the stories of exploitation and sweatshop labour started to filter through.
In May I received an email from Labour Behind the Label about a new report: Fair Games? Not for workers making Olympic branded kit. The report showed that abuses still existed in Olympic supply chains, with the workers making Olympic 2012 branded sportswear for brands including Adidas and Next were being paid poverty wages, forced to work excessive overtime and threatened with instant dismissal if they complain about working conditions. The report investigate working conditions in 10 sportswear factories in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, uncovering systematic and widespread exploitation. You can read more about the report here
A further message from Labour Behind the Label later in May said that, although the pressure from the Playfair 2012 campaign had meant that LOCOG had gone further than any previous Games in trying to protect workers' rights within the supply chains, it was now time for the International Olympic Committee to take responsibility and end this exploitation, if not in time for London 2012, then for Rio 2016.
And so to the headlines I read in the Independent on 27 June, the day before writing this blog, as I travelled to London by train to the Business in the Community Awards to recognise responsible business practice (neither Next nor Adidas was in attendance, needless to say) The headlines really say it all: Forced Labour Claims Dent Image of London 2012.
According to the Independent, workers at the factory in Sri Lanka producing official Olympic clothing for Next are alleging poverty wages, forced overtime and unrealistic targets. This is not an isolated incident, arising as it did out of a wider investigation into Olympic brands which found "widespread abuse of the human rights of workers" in eight factories around the world.
Next weekend Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 July, the War on Want High Street re-brand will take place. War on Want have printed alternative price tags, which you can order from them in advance, which expose the real cost of Adidas clothing - exploitation.
It needn't have been this way. The clothing could so easily have been ethical, Fair Trade, recycled, organic - truly sustainable for the workers and the planet. But, as usual, profits get in the way and the principle of the Greenest, Cleanest, most Sustainable Games ever certainly seems unlikely to be achieved on the fashion front.
In terms of the construction of the Olympic Park and facilities, the facts appear more promising, including re-used and recycled materials, 58% fewer carbon emissions than comparable sites, rainwater collection and extensive use of renewable energy. The food too has been a success story, with Fairtrade coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, bananas, wine and oranges available in Olympic venues and Fairtrade flowers for the winners. Belize will be supplying 10 million sachets of Fairtrade certified sugar which is great news for their sugar farmers!
Let's hope that Rio can set higher ethical standards in 2016. There is strong support from the Brazilian government for Fair Trade, evidenced by their support in hosting the World Fair Trade Organization conference next year. But can they convince companies who win the tenders play fairly?
I believe that nothing is likely to change until they tighten up tendering for the Olympics and choose companies on their commitment to sustainability and ethical working practices, rather than the highest bidder winning the privilege of making the uniforms.
In the meantime, Pachacuti is delighted to be working with Jeff Banks and the Belize Olympic Team to provide Fair Trade Panama Hats for their Great Gatsby inspired Opening Ceremony uniforms. The Panama hats are Fair Trade Certified from our women's association in Ecuador and have been trimmed in Scotland by Yvette Jelfs. Fair Trade and Sustainable.
I may well be biased, but I honestly do think they look a lot nicer than the Team GB uniforms.
Now all I need is a ticket to see them process around the stadium ….