Fair’s Fair: rights for workers and the London 2012 Olympics

Fair’s Fair: rights for workers and the London 2012 Olympics


Written by: Thushari Perera

Fair’s Fair, a new free educational resource by Playfair 2012, aims to raise awareness of the human rights abuses of workers who make sporting goods for the Olympics and other major sporting events.

The Olympics aim to build a better world through sport.[1] However, what is often forgotten is how workers making sportswear and related merchandise continue to be exploited. Taking action to support workers’ rights and campaigning against human rights abuses is a daunting task. A new free interactive, cross-curriculum resource for 9 to 14 years old, produced for the Playfair 2012 campaign,[2] boldly addresses this issue with Fair’s Fair: Life and Rights in the Global Sports Industry. It could inspire young people to speak out against injustice.

Developed by Anti-Slavery International, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the National Association of School Masters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), this resource includes ten cross-curriculum lessons plans, fourteen activity sheets, four photo cards, a DVD and handy sections titled ‘10 More Things You Can Do’, ‘Key Words’, ‘Further Information’, ‘Successful Campaigns’ and ‘Useful Websites’.

The easiest way to access the content of Fair’s Fair is to go to the Playfair 2012 website and explore it through the clickable table content or to download the PDF (although the latter does not include the videos and photo cards).[3]

This resource is primarily aimed at teachers and pupils, but could have a wider appeal, whether you are a parent seeking an engaging summer vacation educational tool for your children, a student interested in globalisation or just somebody who wants to understand or remember how people’s lives are interconnected through global trade and major sporting events like the 2012 London Olympics, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil or the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Beautifully designed, Fair’s Fair can be integrated easily into subject areas as varied as citizenship, geography, English, art, design and maths.[4] Lessons 1-5 explores the problems. We learn about the workers making the sports clothing, footwear and goods we find in our high streets. These workers are predominantly women in Asian countries.[5] The new reports Toying with Workers’ Rights and Fair Games, which investigate the hidden price paid by workers who make Olympics key rings, soft toys, stickers, badges etc, are also useful reading for educators.[6] Fair’s Fair makes you realise through quizzes, games and case studies how valuable respect for human and trade union rights actually is – rights often taken for granted in the United Kingdom.[7] They include fair pay, health and safety, freedom of association and dignity at work.

My personal favourite parts of the resource are the ones that explore, ‘Who gets what in a global supply chain’ through the costing of a T-shirt. Starting with £29.99 paid by the consumer, it ends with the factory worker earning 24p.[8] Photo card 2 and the related description of a factory worker’s day reveal the impact that precarious and excessive overtime work can have on individuals and their families.[9] This resource also uses a game (including an online one) to highlight the poor working conditions in factories producing sporting goods.[10]

Lessons 6-10 challenge pupils to find solutions to the issues explored before by developing practical steps to create a fairer world. They are also encouraged to think about decent working conditions, ethical trade (e.g. not using child labour) and the power of collective action on labour standards.[11] These lessons astutely help to think about different ‘circles of influence’ (e.g. the consumer, people around me, places I shop, companies who own the brands, politicians, etc.) that can change the workers’ living and working conditions.

I can only see a few areas of improvement for this teaching pack. More effort could have been made to secure permanent weblinks, at least in Playfair 2012’s own educational material.[12] The ‘Key Words’ section helps the reader to understand and differentiate terms like ‘minimum wage’ and ‘living wage’. It could also have included terms such as ‘collective bargaining’ or even simply ‘campaign’ or ‘campaigner’.[13] Other lessons could have included a step-by-step practical example of an effective campaign or ‘action tree’, and should not assume that it is easy to know how to devise a successful campaign, (whether it is a radio, letter writing or workers’ campaign).[14] Or is it actually deliberately left to educators and learners to decide what type of action they find useful or want to be involved in? I personally would have preferred less focus on charters and codes of conduct and a greater emphasis on sustainable solutions.

Nevertheless, Fair’s Fair strength lies in its ability to inspire children and young people to organise and have a strategy that goes beyond digital activism, and to ‘imagine alternative futures’ that do not happen overnight. The resource can be useful to avoid seeing the world over simplistically; campaign progress can be slow and the boycott of companies is not always the best solution for workers. Young people can pick up a few trade union skills but also learn to be patient, determined, smart and to work together to make a difference.

Overall, Fair’s Fair can equip children and young people with ‘life lessons’ and can encourage them to become active global citizens. Hopefully they will want to act on their increased knowledge and can also realise that even though global workers are often pitted against one another, the struggle against the ‘big economy’ has similarities when it comes to having a voice in (or outside of) the workplace.

Related Links

Playfair 2012

Anti-Slavery International

Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL)

National Association of School Masters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT)

National Union of Teachers (NUT)

Trades Union Congress (TUC)


[1] See the Olympic Charter 2012 (pdf file, 768kb).
[2] The Playfair 2012 campaign in the United Kingdom is coordinated by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Labour Behind the Label (LBL) and involves various trade unions and campaigning organisations. It is part of the International Play Fair campaign which involves different international trade union federations and NGOs.
[3] Fair’s Fair teaching pack is available here.
[4] There are other educational Olympics-related resources that seem interesting but they are not free of charge. For instance, Primary Colours Ltd Did You Know? 4 celebrates the origins of the Olympics and Black and Minority Ethnic sports men and women.
[5] See Fair’s Fair Lesson 3 (pdf file, 64kb) or the Clean Clothes’ Campaign Gender Policy Statement.
[6] The report Toying with Workers’ Rights: A Report on Producing Merchandise for the London 2012 Olympic Games is available here (pdf file, 7.8mb) or summarised with researchers’ comments here. The report Fair Games: Human Rights of Workers in Olympic 2012 Supplier Factories is available here (pdf file, 1.5mb) or summarised here.
[7] The Unions into Schools website is useful to better understand workers’ rights.
[8] The video link to Who gets what in a global supply chain? is available here.
[9] The link to photo card 2, Sandamalee’s day is available here (pdf file, 164kb).
[10] The online version of the Unfair Factory Game is available here.
[11] The Ethical Trading Initiative provides useful insights on the rights of workers within the global supply chain.
[12] For instance, the Teaching Toolkit is no longer available but some of its resources are currently available in the Student Materials Toolkit.
[13] War on Want’s teaching pack The Olympics and Sweatshops explains the meaning of these terms.
[14] The Get Global teaching guide and The Olympics and Sweatshops teaching pack provide more tips on campaign ‘tactics’.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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