Human Rights and the Olympics

Should we be keeping human rights out of sports? No, of course not. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Olympic charter proclaims the values of fairness in sport and that should apply to the working conditions of people who make Olympic souvenirs just as much as to people who try to run faster than Usain Bolt.

On Monday, the UN Human Rights Council is holding a special panel on human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal in Geneva. It will be moderated by UK junior Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne and Sir Keith Mills, deputy chair of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) will be speaking. Organisers of the next Winter Olympics (Russia) and the 2016 Olympics and Paralympic Games (Brazil) will be on the panel. I hope Sir Keith tells people about the latest development in workers' rights.

Because last Thursday, Playfair 2012 announced that the TUC had reached a landmark agreement with LOCOG about ensuring that workers in the global supply chains for the Olympics are treated decently, with better health and safety, higher wages, shorter working weeks and the right to form a trade union and bargain collectively with their employers.

LOCOG had already gone further than any other Olympics in protecting those workersby agreeing Principles of Cooperation with the TUC that included committing to write the Ethical Trading Initiative's base code into all its contracts. The base code includes the core labour conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which are held by Amnesty International, the UN and the global trade union movement to be fundamental human rights.

But as research carried out for the international Play Fair Alliance (which brings together trade unions and labour rights NGOs), and published this week showed, this wasn't enough - so LOCOG and the TUC have now added to the original agreement steps to:

  • publish details of the factories used to make London 2012 souvenirs (including some in the UK);
  • ensure that workers making the souvenirs are informed of their rights in their own languages;
  • providing Chinese workers with a telephone hotline to register complaints; and
  • encourage the IOC and future Olympic Games organisers to do what LOCOG have done to ensure workers' rights.

Nothing's ever perfect, but LOCOG's actions could help the Olympic movement clean up their corner of the global supply chains. That would be worth a medal! 

Owen Tudor

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.