Brian Rudman: Respect the jersey but mock the maker

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Kiwis are justifiably upset at having to pay more than overseas rugby fans for jerseys, but should spare a thought for the sweatshop workers making them. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Kiwis are justifiably upset at having to pay more than overseas rugby fans for jerseys, but should spare a thought for the sweatshop workers making them. Photo / Paul Estcourt

It's great to see sports-jersey manufacturer adidas getting a good kicking from Kiwi rugby fans.

Shame it didn't come sometime in the past decade or more, when charities such as Oxfam were campaigning against the appalling work conditions and low wages paid in the Asian sweatshops used by the global brands such as adidas.

Loyal Kiwi rugby fans are rightfully upset at being charged up to $220 for a jersey at their local sportswear store. But part of their rage should be in sympathy for the workers getting less than a $1 an hour to make it.

Adidas local agent David Huggett's latest attempted justification for the discrepancy in prices - a United States website is offering jerseys for $96.50, a British site $128 - is that they reflect each individual market, and that "we're comfortable our price to the local retail trade is a reasonable one".

This reasoning will be hard for fans to swallow after a year of being forced to accept the eye-watering seat prices for the big games on the grounds that there is no local market for this tournament - that when it comes to major world sporting events, New Zealand is part of one global market.

During this softening up, adidas sat back and watched the International Rugby Board squeeze the Kiwi fan with ticket-price gouging and protective-marketing policies until his pips squeaked - then jumped in to take a piece of that action as well. For local rugby fans the adidas move appears to have been one squeeze too much.

The obvious solution is to liberate themselves and reject the brand. I'm not a brand person or a rugby fanatic, so I'm not certain about this, but I'm presuming Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully hasn't slipped through legislation making the wearing of the official strip compulsory.

For those facing peer pressure, or pestering by their kids, refusing to buy adidas on principle could be the easy way out.

What principle? Well, refusing to be ripped off by a German-based multinational sounds a good place to start. Why not borrow from the Sensible Sentencing Trust and launch a Three Stripes and You're Out campaign? Nothing's going to bring a brand to heel more quickly than widespread mocking.

Admittedly, rugby crowds don't have a reputation for their sense of humour - rather the reverse, in fact. But here's a chance to turn up in homemade tops making fun of the famous brand.

A crowd of 60,000 making mock of the most self-important brand in the world would certainly reverberate around the world, possibly even ensuring New Zealand the television news coverage the organisers have been fantasising about.

Such ridicule might succeed where outrage, at least so far, has not. Yesterday One News unmasked the manufacturer's attempts to end the New Zealand rebellion by ordering a major US mail-order website to desist from dispatching All Black jerseys to New Zealand addresses.

This is an antiquated trade practice local online shoppers have long had to put up with. International book publishers do the same sort of thing. It's the sort of restrictive practice that any good Kiwi internet shopper is honour bound to try to defeat.

As it happens, the website involved currently highlights special postage rates to Australia. Perhaps those fans who just have to have a genuine shirt might just happen to have a relative across the Ditch who could reassign the package?

But, in the end, why bother? A fancy new All Black jersey is very much a discretionary item of purchase. It's not as though you're going to be barred from Eden Park for not wearing one. In refusing to pay the exorbitant New Zealand price, though, it would be nice to think the refuseniks were also sparing a thought for the poorly paid workers of Asia who are used by the top brands to turn out these high-priced goods.

In the run-up to the Soccer World Cup in 2006 Oxfam produced a report revealing that far from improving workers rights, some of the competing jersey giants were moving manufacturing to countries where unions were not recognised. It reported that David Beckham's adidas boots were made in an Indonesian factory where 30 workers had recently been sacked for striking for a pay rise.

Workers at the factory received 90c an hour while adidas paid the French player Zinedine Zidane almost $3 million in sponsorship. Nike and adidas were faintly praised for making a start on improving workers rights but, Oxfam said, little was being done and too late.

Oxfam today claims wages remain at a bare minimum in the sweatshops now pouring out the All Black jerseys. At least the New Zealand fan has the option of walking away from the exploitation.

- NZ Herald

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