As more Australian manufacturing moves offshore, can you really know who is making your product?
Australian football manufacturer Sherrin, recently suspended its operations in Jalandhar, India, after discovering synthetic footballs for AFL’s program, Auskick, were made by underage workers.
An investigation has revealed that one of Sherrin’s sub-contractors breached Sherrin’s Code of Conduct and allowed balls to be stitched outside the facility, hiring children for the production of a small quantity of its footballs.
Investigations suggested that children as young as ten, and mostly girls, were being pulled out of the school to hand-stitch balls for ten hours every day, seven days a week.
The entire process of hand- stitching a ball for AFL took approximately more than an hour to finish, for which the children were paid only seven rupees, which is about 12¢.
The company was first made aware of this issue in an interview by Ben Doherty of Fairfax.
Sherrin claimed it knew nothing of the matter and took consumer safety extremely seriously, immediately ceasing all dealing with subcontractors in India.
Russell Corporation, Sherrin's parent company said it was extremely grateful the matter had been brought to its attention and that no balls would be allowed to be subcontracted out for stitching.
“We have a zero tolerance policy regarding the use of underage workers, and we are appalled that one of our subcontractors has used child labour in the stitching of our footballs. We have an extremely thorough global corporate social responsibility compliance program including prohibition of the use of underage workers. All manufacturers must be in full compliance with all applicable local laws and standards and they are continuously reviewed by a globally accredited third party auditing company,” Chris Lambert, Sherrin’s managing director said.
Lambert stated that “we have an exceptionally rigorous ongoing auditing process for all our contractors and subcontractors. In recent years over peak periods the supplier has outsourced approximately 5% of the stitching component only to four subcontractors.
“We believe that this fault is linked to the subcontractor recently discovered to be in breach of our manufacturing standards when they outsourced, unauthorised, the stitching of balls to families within the Jalandahar region.”
He went on to say that “less than 9,000 footballs were outsourced to this subcontractor and we believe that the vast majority of these would have stitched in his approved stitching factory facilities.”
Lambert mentioned “we are also recalling all balls sent to this subcontractor for stitching this year (approximately 9,000 balls) so we can be absolutely confident that there is no risk that any Auskick balls produced in the last two years have been made using child labour and/or are subject to this product fault.
"This is first time we have received evidence of the use of child labour. I was appalled to find this occurred. We're shocked by this absolutely," Lambert said.
The issue triggered further after a complaint from a Melbourne based father who claimed about a football with a needle in it.
Lambert stated that “the needle fault was linked to the sub-contractor who breached manufacturing standards. Another ball that did not reach a consumer was found with a needle in it.”
“All of our balls are put through rigorous quality control, including being subjected to metal detectors, and our subcontractors are also exposed to a stringent auditing process. In this instance, however, the process has clearly let us down,” he explained.
“To be safe and as a matter of extreme caution, Sherrin has decided to recall all the Auskick balls that have been produced in 2011 and 2012, and to ensure that no other balls stitched by this subcontractor will end up in the hands of consumers.”
Sherrin’s stated that the company’s main supplier has also leased a new factory facility adjacent to their own existing premises, and all previous subcontracted stitching will be undertaken in this new facility to ensure absolute control of the use of underage workers.
The company said it has also withdrawn the balls provided to the North Melbourne grand final breakfast and will replace them with a donation to World Vision.
Sherrin announced that profits from the sale of other speciality produced for the grand final balls will be donated to the Manav Sehyog Society, one of the largest charities in the Jalandhar region which focuses on health and education. It will also donate profits from Auskick to Manav Sehyog Society.
Daniel Mackey, program manager with Fair Trade Australia said "we are not surprised that child labour has been found, once again, making sports balls.''
''But [Sherrin] is an iconic brand and it's very disappointing our market here in Australia is supporting this practice."
Ten million balls were imported into Australia from India each year, he said.
According to Susan Mizrahi, a human rights and social responsibility advocate who has researched India's sports ball industry said "that companies might not know about the use of child labour in their supply chains is no longer a sufficient excuse."
She explained that poverty has been one of the main reasons for parents not being able to provide education to their children specially girls, forcing them to work full-time in order to support their families.
Mizrahi stated that "Many parents do not see the value of sending their daughters to school. I talked with a number of children, particularly girls, who sat in the same hunched position all day sewing balls. They got up only to undertake household chores. They suffered from back, leg and neck pain, cuts on their fingers that sometimes became septic and poor eyesight. The practice can also lead to severe depression and other psychological conditions.''
The AFL has issued Sherrin with a breach of agreement notice as the AFL's agreement with Sherrin contains a specific provision prohibiting the use of child labour. The league said it could sack Sherrin as its official ball supplier.
A spokesman for AFL said "we understand Sherrin is investigating these very serious claims and will continue to provide us with information as it comes to hand. The AFL has strict contractual regulations with licensees and in order to maintain these regulations we have formally provided Sherrin with a notice of breach of agreement while these investigations are ongoing."
Sherrin has offered alternative employment to the families previously sub-contracted to stitch balls in their homes and will provide them the opportunity to keep working, under improved conditions, at Spartan's factory, and for better wages.
"The balance of the previous adult sub-contracted workforce, predominantly women who do not wish to work in a factory environment, have been approached by Spartan to investigate other potential roles for them in the business,” Lambert said.
“Sherrin is sending an Australian employee to India to be based there for long as it takes for Sherrin to be confident that their instructions are being carried out as requested,” Lambert confirmed.
The company has stated that only Auskick 2011 and 2012 balls are being recalled.