Sports balls

Sports like football, volleyball and rugby bring billions of people together. And whether watching or playing the game, the centre of attention is always the ball. But the people making these sports balls are usually hidden from view, working in precarious conditions with very low incomes.

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Stitchers posing with black Fairtrade footballs
Image © Fairtrade Deutschland

Together with consumers and traders, Fairtrade empowers workers to change this unsatisfying situation and receive their fair share of the global sports ball business.

Choosing Fairtrade sports balls makes a difference

Stitching a ball is detail-oriented work: a football typically consists of 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal panels that must first be cut, then bound together with 18 metres of yarn and 650 precision stitches. Factories in Pakistan are responsible for about 70 percent of all hand-stitched sports balls, with China, India, Thailand and Vietnam also major players in the industry.

Twelve-hour shifts and six- and seven-day workweeks are common, and women and children are especially affected. Workers who stitch the balls together are typically paid per unit completed rather than per hour. Women, who represent a large share of the industry’s workforce, regularly face discrimination and harassment. Because of the low wages they receive, many workers keep their children out of school to stitch balls from an early age. To supplement meagre income, workers often moonlight as smallholder farmers.

Fairtrade certifies balls for football (soccer), handball, volleyball, and rugby. The Fairtrade Standard covers all hand-stitched, machine-stitched and thermo-bonded sports balls. The great majority of Fairtrade sports balls are hand-stitched, as this method offers the best balance between performance, durability and affordability.

  • The Fairtrade Standard for sports balls requires that workers receive at least the legal minimum or regional average wage at the time of initial certification. From there, management has to gradually increase the wages and working conditions of workers.

  • Sports ball workers in each certified company elect a Fairtrade Premium Committee, which administers the collection and usage of the Fairtrade Premium – an extra 10 percent above the export price of the ball. Decisions on the use of Premium funds are made by a general assembly of workers, in which each worker has a vote. The intention of the Fairtrade Premium is to enable sports ball workers to foster the economic, social and environmental development of their communities.

  • To prevent the risk of child labour and other forms of exploitation, the Fairtrade Standard for sport balls prohibits factories from encouraging or allowing workers do their work at home. Instead, Premium money has been used to create childcare facilities next to factories, where workers can leave their children safely during their working hours. Free computer literacy courses have also been established for workers and their children.

Without the ball, you can’t play the game. Isn’t it time for a bit of fair play for workers, too? While we can’t promise that using a Fairtrade ball means your team will win the match, at least choosing a Fairtrade ball is a win for workers.

Looking for Fairtrade Products?

Fairtrade products are widely available. The blue countries and territories on the map below have Fairtrade organizations that promote Fairtrade products. Their websites often include a product finder to show you the full variety of Fairtrade products near you. Even if there isn't a Fairtrade organization where you live, Fairtrade products may still be available – look for our familiar marks on products!