New report exposes sweatshop conditions in factories making NFL jerseys

by Ron Moore

Women paid 10 cents to sew $80 NFL jerseys; forced to work overtime, cheated of wages, constant harassment, trapped in abject poverty in a Salvadoran sweatshop

Sunday’s Super Bowl will feature talented players, technicians and referees all who benefit by working under the gold standard of teamwork; collective bargaining. But there’s a dark underbelly to the lucrative sports industry that is as plain as the jerseys on the player’s backs. NFL jerseys have been sewn under illegal sweatshop conditions at the Chi Fung factory in El Salvador for at least the last four years, according to a new report by the National Labor Committee. Often forced to work 12-hour shifts, workers were at the factory 61 to 65 hours a week, including 12 to 15 hours of obligatory overtime, which was unpaid. The workers were paid a below-subsistence wage of just 72 cents an hour, which meets less than a quarter of a family’s basic subsistence needs for food, housing, healthcare and clothing.

According to the report an assembly line of 28 workers had a mandatory production goal of completing 2,300 NFL jerseys in the regular nine-hour shift, from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The production goal was 255 jerseys per hour, which meant that each of the 28 workers in effect had to sew nine jerseys per hour, or one jersey every 6.6 minutes. The workers were paid just 10 cents for each $80 NFL jersey they sewed. This means that their wages amounted to just a little more than one-tenth of one percent of the jersey’s retail price.

“It does not have to be this way,” said National Labor Committee director Charles Kernaghan. “If the NFL and Reebok doubled the wages, so the workers and their families could climb out of misery and at least into poverty, the direct labor cost to sew the Peyton Manning jersey would still be just 20 and a half cents, or less than three-tenths of one percent of the shirt’s retail price.”

“The $250 million NFL-Reebok licensing mega-agreement has done nothing to lift workers across the developing world who sew NFL garments out of abject poverty,” said Kernaghan.

Any of the NFL-Reebok workers daring to exercise their legal right to organize a union would be immediately fired and blacklisted.

“We always knew they were cheating us,” one Salvadoran woman told the NLC. “We knew they weren’t paying overtime, but we don’t have any other choice …many of us were trapped without any alternatives.”

Classic sweatshop conditions are created when workers desperate for any income will accept deplorable conditions lacking any other options. They know that walking out will not change anything as other workers are grateful for any job. This process is known as ‘sweating’ the workforce. The group says Reebok and the NFL should keep their production in Chi Fung and use their considerable power and influence to improve factory conditions.

“If the NFL showed half as much concern for human and worker rights as they do about the counterfeiting of their jerseys, this factory could be cleaned up overnight,” Kernaghan said. “There is not a consumer in the United States who does not believe that if the NFL and Reebok really wanted to clean up the factory, it would be done quickly and correctly. If great athletes like Peyton Manning would speak out, it would have a tremendous impact.”

Ron Moore is a freelance writer living in Silver Spring, Maryland with decades of service in the grassroots community as a local union president, union organizer, national AFL-CIO staff, and writer for the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Contact Ron at ron_e_moore@yahoo.com

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One Response

  1. I won’t credit all the numbers you’ve provided; simply because numbers are very easy to manipulate.

    However, I have to say that I reject labor practices which demean thehuman being. Wages should be fair -by the way, I do not buy any of these NFL, MLB, NBA garment, or brand. I don’t like to promote a name for which I have to pay to wear.

    Anyway, I would also like that you take a close look at what happens in China and Vietnam. There is not the big names who make decision, is their respective government, and do the same or worse.

    Than you

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