Scottish co-operative Bala Sport, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Pakistani factory workers, has launched a crowdfunding campaign aimed at importing thousands of fair trade footballs from the Pakistani city of Sialkot.
The campaign has raised over $120,000 from donors, who in turn earn membership to Bala Sport and stakes in the organization’s future. The organization works primarily with manufacturers in Sialkot, which accounts for 70 percent of the world’s hand-stitched football production. The ball-making industry’s 40,000 laborers produce tens of millions of footballs every year for corporations like Adidas, which provides the official balls of the quadrennial FIFA World Cup.
For those working in Sialkot’s ball-making industry, labor has historically been characterized by low pay (workers earn an average annual wage of $1,100) and subpar working conditions. In 2006, Nike terminated a deal with local ball manufacturer Saga Sports over concerns of “significant labour compliance violations,” which included the alleged utilization of child labor and which were often found in cases where manufacturers had outsourced jobs to Pakistani households.
According to Bala Sport co-founder Angus Coull, the difference between fair trade-certified and traditional Sialkot factories is stark.
“We visited four factories producing balls under fair trade agreements. You could see that they had fire escapes, fire extinguishers, health and safety notices, proper ventilation and everything you’d expect to find in a U.K. factory. The workers had face masks and eye protection,” Coull said of his visit to Sialkot in 2014. “But when we went to another factory there was nothing like that. It was underground in the basement of a building, and the only ventilation was from holes in the ceiling.”
While current investors include schools in the Scottish cities of Paisley, Renfewshire and Irvine, the lack of a major retail distribution deal has been a setback for the organization’s distribution goals. Though certain fair trade products like sugar, coffee and tea have become popular among Western consumers, fair trade footballs have yet to gain similar traction.
“The biggest problem we’ve had has been price. If you have a big chain selling two balls for [$10.91], we’re not going to try to compete with that, because the people who suffer are the men and women who make the balls,” Coull added. “They’re after a Nike or a Mitre ball, and the shop staff doesn’t have the time to explain to them what a fair trade ball is all about.”
Suppliers of fair trade-certified footballs sold in the U.K. guarantee that laborers are paid a fair wage and experience fair working conditions. Bala Sport also pays a 10 percent premium on manufacturing costs, which goes to community development projects, healthcare and educational training for workers and their families.
According to Coull, however, the crowdfunding campaign (being hosted on crowdfunder.co.uk) is giving the organization hope for growth without resorting to large-scale private investors.
“We don’t want to have a handful of fat cats who get to control the shots,” he said.
If fair trade campaigns like that of Bala Sport realize financial success, organizations will continue to be able to improve working conditions in poor and developing regions. As working conditions in these areas become safer and stronger for laborers, the economic argument for companies outsourcing American jobs will be weakened, thus benefitting American workers and the American economy as a whole.
– Zach VeShancey