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Report: Sporting goods companies join to fight child labor

February 14, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Dozens of sporting goods companies, including Nike and Reebok, are joining a campaign to halt soccer ball production by Pakistani children, The New York Times reported today.

As many as 10,000 children under 14 spend 10 hours a day stitching the balls for pennies. Last summer, the U.S. government began a campaign to discourage Americans from buying child-made balls.

A new coalition of sporting goods companies and labor groups were to announce a plan today to try to end soccer ball production by Pakistani children within 18 months.

``We’d like to see everyone join with us ... maybe this will spread to other industries,″ Reebok Chairman Paul Fireman told the Times.

North American and European soccer enthusiasts have expressed concern since 1995 over reports that soccer balls were made by children. Last fall, the Federation Internationale de Footbol Association (FIFA) said it would not endorse soccer balls made by children.

The coalition includes about 50 companies, the International Labor Organization, the Soccer Industry Council of America, UNICEF and Pakistani manufacturers.

The agreement will require soccer-ball companies to register the names of contractors and workers to make it easier to discover child labor, the Times reported. The coalition will also use a $1 million fund to educate children and pay independent monitors to inspect assembling sites.

Some children’s advocates question how far the money would go in helping families that will lose a source of income.

``If good alternatives are provided, these children in Pakistan will obviously be generally happy about doing something else,″ said David Husselbee, director of Save the Children’s Pakistan office. ``But it’s important to look at family income and how it can be maintained at present levels.″

Pakistan produces 75 percent of the 30 million to 40 million soccer balls sole each year worldwide.

After Reebok confirmed a 1995 report that its British subcontractor had ordered some balls made by Pakistani children, the shoe manufacturer began building a soccer ball factory in Pakistan where it will ban child labor.

Reebok and Nike have also pledged to sell only balls made in their factories.

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