Child labour

Combating child labour in football production
Establishing mechanisms for monitoring, awareness raising and remediation
Sporting goods
Sialkot, Pakistan (North-East of Punjab Province)
ILO, UNICEF, World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry, Sialkot Chamber of Commerce, Soccer Industry Council of America, International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA)
Number of Manufactures:
66 manufacturers, representing 95% of the total production of footballs in Sialkot
Further information:

Dilemma: Restructuring of football production leads to growth in child labour

During the 1970 and 80s, there was a significant restructuring of the production of footballs in Sialkot, Pakistan. Changes in raw materials from leather to synthetics and improved machinery for cutting ushered in the possibility of stitching footballs in the home. As a result, middlemen began outsource stitching to families working from home, leading to increasing rates of child labour. It was estimated that more than 7,000 children between the ages of 7-14 years old were working full time stitching footballs.1 The media began to report on this issue, which led to negative publicity for the industry around the 1994 Soccer World Cup and the 1996 European Football Championships. Life magazine ran a story in June 1996 that featured a 12 year old boy making footballs. Media focus on child labour in the football sector in Pakistan was damaging to major brands and retailers.

Suppliers were sourcing footballs from a complex production network of over 1,600 villages around Sialkot. Most of the production sites were small shops, homes and sheds. The complexity of the supply chain made it difficult for companies to monitor workplaces, and most were unaware of the conditions under which their footballs were being stitched due to the prevalence of homework and reliance on piece work.

Solution: Create independent monitoring association and remove children from the workplace

In February 1997, the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry, the ILO, UNICEF, and the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce signed the Atlanta Agreement,2 with the goal of eliminating child labour in football production in Sialkot. Funding was provided by UNICEF, the US Department of Labour, the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) and the Soccer Industry Council of America.

The Atlanta Agreement established the following programme of activities to address child labour in Sialkot:

  • Registration of all contractors, stitchers and stitching facilities
  • Establishment of a monitoring system
  • Agreement to independent monitoring
  • Increase awareness and change attitudes, including income generation
  • Implementation of social protection programmes
    • Education
    • Rehabilitation
    • In-kind assistance

Independent Monitoring Facility

In 1997, the ILO and the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) launched an independent monitoring facility. All companies were invited to participate in the venture. Within six months, all participating companies were required to disclose information on 25% of the manufacturing facilities from which they sourced, including, the number of stitchers, the location of the stitching centres, the names of intermediaries used, and figures on daily production.

Six months later companies needed to disclose an additional 25% of production information. Within 18 months, all registered companies were required to disclose all aspects of their production. Monitoring took the form of unannounced site visits to verify that children were not present and to verify the production information provided by the company. If children were found in the workplace, the manufacturer was told that they were in violation of the agreement and that corrective action was required. If monitors found that corrective action was not taken within a certain amount of time, their membership from the programme would be withdrawn and the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry would notify the brands and retailers of this violation. Footballs made in child-free work environments receive an identification number on the inside of each ball to identify the factory in which it was made.

Social Protection Programmes

In order to address the shortfall in family income due to the elimination of child labour, savings and micro-credit programmes were introduced, allowing over 8,000 people to borrow more than 1 million pounds sterling to support small businesses.3 Save the Children introduced programmes to develop skills whilst UNICEF and Save the Children also worked to develop the local education system. ILO-IPEC and a local NGO set up 185 informal education centres for working children and their siblings. The UK Department for International Development provided £1.225 million pounds sterling over the course of four years for poverty alleviation efforts.

Results: Rehabilitation of child workers and assistance to their families

Through this initiative, more than 6,000 children were removed from the workplace and provided with access to educational facilities. Over 10,500 children received an education. Health care was provided to 5,400 children.4 The programme reached 1582 villages, two small towns and the city of Sialkot.

According to an ILO review of the results, the Sialkot case provides a strong example of an effective multi-stakeholder initiative. The Sialkot case study is an example of a breakthrough in addressing child labour, as rather than fire the child workers, efforts were made to rehabilitate children and address some of the systemic problems in Sialkot including education. According to IPEC, child workers have not been displaced into more hazardous working conditions. However, Sialkot is also a production centre for surgical instruments and for tanning, both of which constitute hazardous work and which also features a high incidence of child labour. It is important to ensure that, over time, children continue to go to school rather get involved in the production of surgical instruments or in tanning.

Part of what made the initiative so successful is that 95% of the total production of footballs for export participated in the programme.5 All the major brands also participated in the initiative. Another factor in the success of the initiative is the division of labour between key funders, with brands contributing towards monitoring, organisations such as the Department for International Development working towards poverty alleviation, and Save the Children and UNICEF working to improve the educational system. IPEC also provided technical support and monitoring.

Addressing unintended consequences

It is useful to give some examples of the impact of the Atlanta Agreement on surrounding communities. Saga Sports - then a supplier to Nike - created 12 stitching centres to consolidate production. The company provided medical care, including a hospital for employees with over 24 doctors. The creation of stitching centres had significant implications for women, ushering in some dramatic social changes. Before the development of stitching centres, women had worked only in the home. "The home-based aspect of the work had been one of only a few job opportunities open to women and girl children - the opportunity to join stitching centres was often denied them, because of their domestic commitments or for social reasons."6 According to Bahar Ali Kazmi, a lecturer at Nottingham University, it is estimated that as many as 20,000 women lost their jobs as a result of the Atlanta Agreement.7 According to Professor Alyson Warhurst and Bahar Ali Kazmi, "the Agreement failed to focus sufficient research on the gender-specific and individual impacts of the programme."8 The creation of stitching centres also caused employees to spend more time getting to work, often on dangerous roads.

Rather than centralise production at stitching centres far away from the villages, Nike supported the investment to create eight stitching centres around Sialkot, so that workers would not have to travel very far. Nike agreed to pay more for the footballs in order to support this investment. Workers receive a free lunch and access to medical care at no extra cost. Whilst the creation of the stitching centres brought extra benefits to workers, such as meals and medical care, it did require more time for workers to get to work.

Nike's decision to drop one of the suppliers in Sialkot

'In November 2006, Nike decided to end a supply contract with Saga after repeatedly trying, unsuccessfully, to implement Nike policies. Saga was outsourcing production from facilities not authorised by Nike which could lead to homework and therefore make child labour more likely. Trade union officials also complained of harassment and inaccuracies in calculating wages.9 According to the Financial Times, many of the 3,000 workers at Saga lost their jobs. Nike's decision provides an example of the complex trade-offs associated with managing labour issues. Six months later, Nike entered into a new relationship with Silver Star, a supplier also located in Sialkot. According to Nike's CEO Mark Parker, "Our decision to resume soccer ball production in Pakistan is the result of extensive work with stakeholders, based on a collective desire to help move the industry in a more competitive direction that strongly supports workers' rights."

International Labor Rights Forum report states that child labour is still continuing in the football stitching industry

On 7 June 2010, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) published a report that concludes that the use of child labour is still rife in the football stitching industry. The report, entitled 'Missed the Goal for Workers: The Reality of Soccer Ball Stitchers in Pakistan, India, China and Thailand', was designed to evaluate whether any progress has been made on the 1997 Atlanta Agreement, aimed at ending child labour in the football industry.

Research for the ILRF report found that child labour continues to be used in the stitching of footballs. A survey of a sample of households in the Meerut District of Uttar Pradesh, India, found that 9% of boys and 18% of girls were engaged in full time football stitching, while around half of children worked as stitchers whilst also attending school. Producing a maximum of two balls, these children earned on average around US$0.14 per day.

Work is often outsourced, taking place in stitching centres or home-based workshops, which are not protected by labour regulations. This lack of legal protection and the prevalence of casual and temporary contracts mean that workers in the industry are routinely subject to labour rights violations. They are often paid below minimum wage and are forced to work in poor conditions with little consideration for health and safety.

  • 1 Dogar, Nasir, Workplace Monitoring as a Tool for Combating Child Labour: Experience in Pakistan (International Labour Organisation Technical Paper 2, Presented at ILO/Japan Asian Regional Meeting on Monitoring Child Labour at the Workplace, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24-26 October 2000.
  • 2
  • 3 Warhurst A. and Bahar A. ,The Basis of the Scenario: the football-stitching industry in Sialkot and the Atlanta Agreement, WarwickBusiness School, p. 2.
  • 4 IOE, ILO, USCIB, US Chamber of Commerce, International Business Forum on Engaging Business-Addressing Child Labor Case Studies, February 25, 2009, Atlanta Georgia,
  • 5 Sehr Huassian-Khaliq, Eliminating Child Labour from the Sialkot Soccer Ball Industry, Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 13, Spring 2004.
  • 6 Warhurst A. and Bahar A. p. 2.
  • 7 Maplecroft, Global Risk Forecast, "Nike resumes sourcing of footballs from Sialkot after receiving labour standards assurances", p. 2.
  • 8 Warhurst A. and Bahar A. p. 2.
  • 9 Nike ends orders with soccer ball manufacturer, 20 November 2006,