The news that the government has chosen to impose a ministerial boycott on any England football matches in the Ukraine deserves some credit. The so-called 'selective justice' applied to opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is certainly worthy of international condemnation and other states should follow suit. Despite Ukrainian dismissals there is a well worn track record linking sports and politics. There is a romantic, allegorical connection to do with a sense of rules, fairness and governance; there is also little doubt that hosting international sporting events plays well to the inevitable ego of political leaders and thus do provide an opportunity to 'hit home' with any political criticism.
Later this summer London will be hosting the Olympic Games. The Olympic torch is currently winding its way around the UK in preparation for what we all hope will be a fantastic sporting and cultural celebration, successfully showcasing London (and one or two outlying areas) as a great place to host massive international sporting festivals.
The Olympics do, also, provide an opportunity to focus on some economic and social issues in which participating countries do not live up to the same standards that the UK and most developed countries apply at home. The Olympics, as an international celebration of human achievement, have been the source of political protest; John Carlos' Black Panther salute in the 1968 Mexico games being a powerful gesture in support of race equality; Jesse Owens winning gold in front of Hitler in 1936 resonated much further than sport; while the US boycott of the games in Moscow showed how seriously the Olympics and politics are related.
While there has been much progress in recent years, thanks mainly to international trade union federations and organisations like 'Labour Behind the Label', many of the sportswear manufacturers that are clothing the Olympic athletes we'll all be cheering on do not apply the same decent, basic standards for workers producing the goods in less regulated, desperately impoverished developing nations where they are made.
In Cambodia women workers endure gruelling shifts for poverty pay, in highly vulnerable employment, desperate for the work as that country's staple food, rice, has doubled in price in the last five years, while wages have fallen or, at best, stagnated. In Korea, Adidas supplier, PT Kizone, closed its factory with no notice, leaving workers owed $3.4 million in severance pay and no right to recourse; despite the connection, Adidas continue to deny any responsibility. In Indonesia workers are paid 34p per hour, working 65 hours per week, making shoes for Adidas. Similar exploitation occurs in China, Sri Lanka and the Phillipines.
The ministerial boycott of the Ukraine this month is on the basis of their selective application of justice. We can, then, look forward to the government making strong statements about the selective application of basic human rights to workers who have supplied the top quality sporting goods on display at the Olympics in July.
Briefing document (500 words) issued 11 Jun 2012
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/social/tuc-21102-f0.cfm
printed 19 May 2013 at 08:34 hrs by 220.127.116.11