A Fair-trade Ball Doesn’t Have to Cost More
Faster, higher, further: sport is mostly about success stories. But there is something that many people don’t know: sporting goods are often produced under conditions that disregard labour and social standards. Michael Jopp, specialist promoter for municipal development policy in Berlin, wants to change this. With a nationwide campaign, he is fighting for more fairness in the sporting goods industry.
You have launched the initiative Sport handelt Fair – what is it about?
Jopp: The initiative Sport handelt Fair (Sport Acts and Trades Fairly) is committed to more justice in sport globally. Specifically, we are concerned with improving human rights and labour conditions in the sporting goods industry and implementing sustainability aspects at sporting events. This includes, for example, mobility with a small carbon footprint, but also long-term plans for the use of sports facilities. Over 100 non-governmental organisations, sports clubs, associations and local authorities from all over Germany have already joined together. But of course, we are still hoping for even more support.
Why do you see a particular need for action regarding production conditions in the sporting goods industry and by local authorities?
Jopp: The sporting goods industry is very consumer oriented. There is an incredible amount of consumption, especially in the textile sector. But products that are “just” to be used, like balls, are also regularly replaced. The annual revenue in Germany is around €8 billion, and in 2017, the figure for Europe as a whole was over €36 billion. So the industry is very important economically. However, many sports and merchandising items are produced under atrocious conditions in violation of people’s human rights and international labour standards. There is still a lack of awareness of the problem. To counteract this, it is important to raise the awareness of consumers. Sport is firmly embedded in local communities, both in clubs and in traditionally local institutions such as schools or youth centres. As a result, local authorities and their market influence play a very important role. On the one hand, local sports clubs are basic institutions for volunteers so they reach a large number of consumers. On the other hand, local authorities also play an important role in the procurement process.
Do you have concrete goals? What exactly do you do?
Jopp: We want to make an active contribution to the 2030 Agenda and its goals for sustainable development. In addition, we want to greatly increase the proportion of fair-trade products in the sporting goods field in the next five years. Our aim is for fair trade to also be associated with industrial products such as sports balls, fan scarves and jerseys. All German federal states should offer educational programmes on the topic of fair trade, sustainability and sport. Another specific event for us, being a nationwide initiative, is the 2024 European Football Championship in Germany. Our ambition is for it to take fair trade into account more than any European Championship to date.
You advocate that people buy footballs with Fairtrade1 certification. Why do you want them to have this certification when the “major players” also have measures in place to comply with labour standards and social standards?
Jopp: It is good for companies to voluntarily show that they take human rights and decent work into account in their supply chains, observing internationally recognised standards. But we do not want to promote anything that cannot be independently verified. In fair trade, minimum standards of transparency and accountability provide a certain degree of security. It is true that paying living wages that exceed the statutory minimum wage is not always certain, even with Fairtrade certification. There is, however, the explicit aim of gradually working towards that. That is stated in the Fairtrade standards. Furthermore, certified companies pay their suppliers additional premiums beyond just the production costs. These premiums are actively used to improve local working conditions. In addition, there is regular monitoring. Overall, this is much more far-reaching than the mere promise of companies not to violate human rights or labour rights in an ideal scenario.
As long as there is no obligation to have independent inspection mechanisms such as human rights due diligence legislation that guarantees comprehensive traceability, there is no satisfactory alternative to voluntary certification.
The high level of requirements concerning the social aspects in fair trade are also associated with high costs. Can small local authorities and sports clubs even afford such balls?
Jopp: A fair-trade ball doesn’t necessarily have to cost more. The cost of a ball is made up of different elements. Production is only one part of it. There are also factors such as transport, marketing and intermediate traders. Of course, Fairtrade certification costs money, but in return, companies might save on marketing, for example. It is a question of setting priorities. But here, too, there is still a need for information on the part of the local authorities and associations.
„As long as there is no obligation to have independent inspection mechanisms such as human rights due diligence legislation that guarantees comprehensive traceability, there is no satisfactory alternative to voluntary certification.“
What do you think is needed to ensure that the public sector takes sustainability criteria into account when awarding contracts? What do you want policy-makers to do?
Jopp: Policy-makers could, for example, provide support by placing greater emphasis on socio-ecological minimum requirements in public procurement, but also by integrating them into the training of administrative staff. Policy-makers must communicate clearly that price alone cannot be the decisive criterion. Premium payments, as just described, or the payment of living wages could also be included as evaluation criteria when awarding contracts. Such public procurement regulations would complement general human rights due diligence legislation well.
Why do European leagues not play with balls that are demonstrably sustainably produced? How can this be changed?
Jopp: There is no rational reason. What is lacking is awareness and basic interest. We are in close contact with larger clubs. We have received confirmation that the fair-trade balls are absolutely competitive even from Bundesliga2 clubs. One problem is that many clubs are bound to equipment supplier contracts. However, this often only applies to the top team in the highest division. Nevertheless, there are companies that make the pilgrimage to the fourth and fifth division football leagues and try to bind small clubs and individual players to equipment supplier contracts through special offers. It is incredibly difficult for fair trade representatives to compete with that. For that reason, it is very important to build networks and to move forward by setting a good example. Basically, the advice I can give any club is to just try the fair trade balls!