An estimated 5 billion people, or more than 60% of the world's population, are expected to tune in to the World Cup. Many of them will be decked out in national team jerseys from companies like Nike and Adidas, the tournament's official outfitter. But at what cost? As the New York Times reports, jerseys selling for $90 to $150 were made by garment workers who earn less than $3 a day. In October, workers at Pou Chen Group factory in Yangon, Myanmar, launched a strike, demanding the daily minimum wage be raised from $2.27 to $3.78, only to have factory managers bring in soldiers. Some 26 people were fired, including 16 members of the factory's union, per the Times.
Amid other World Cup controversies, "there has been a complete absence of focus on the serious rights abuses of garment workers making World Cup kits," says Thulsi Narayanasamy of the Worker Rights Consortium. Sophal Choun, 41, who earned $7 a day sewing soccer shirts for Adidas at the Trax Apparel factory in Cambodia before she was laid off while fighting for better working conditions in 2020, says she only recently found another job. "I had to ask my siblings to help support my two young children and take out a loan to keep going with a very high premium which I am now struggling to pay," she tells the Times. "I believed in a union because I knew we needed protection. Now, many days I just cry and cry."
Adidas—which expects its World Cup sales to total $415 million, per Yahoo—has called for the Myanmar factory to "immediately reinstate the dismissed workers." But the ultimate decision falls to the independent factories it has chosen to work with on contract, freeing Adidas from legal responsibility "for enforcing labor standards or human rights," per the Times. It's a popular strategy. Nike "outsources the majority of its production to factories in Asia" where "lower-cost sewing allows for higher profit margins," reports Fashion United. The Daily Mirror reports England's Nike-branded World Cup kit comes from a Bangkok factory where workers are paid $10 per day on average. There is no employee union. (Read more World Cup stories.)