Made in Sialkot
With forty million soccer balls, a Pakistani industrial city produces around 80 percent of world production. Nowhere are balls made cheaper and of better quality. In the meantime, their last flaw has been eliminated: child labor has been successfully abolished.
In her new life she would like to become a doctor. In her old one she was a seamstress. Sometimes she still helps her mother. However, only after doing her homework, because ten-year-old Aisha is finally allowed to go to school. “I would like to help others later,” she says, straightening her white, already a little holey school uniform. “As a doctor, I would mainly take care of poor people. I'm poor myself. ”Aisha lives with her family in Nanowali, a small village fifty kilometers west of Sialkot. A few dozen houses made of natural stone, a mosque, three general stores. In the cobblestone streets, bulldozed cow dung is drying, heating material for cold nights. Spinach and carrots grow in small gardens between and in front of the houses. "If it weren't for this school, I would still have to sew footballs and couldn't even read a timetable," says Aisha on the way to the school on the outskirts of the village. The slender girl with the big eyes sits on the third bench and eagerly lifts her finger when teacher Abdul Razzaq asks his questions. “Today I teach seventy children in this school, before it was ten,” says the 25-year-old. Nanowalis residents helped to build the school themselves. Everyone helped, says the teacher. One of them had a friend in a brick factory who bought the bricks. Another donated four sacks of cement that were meant for his house. That didn't stop the white-bearded Lal Din, who had never gone to school himself, but who insisted on pulling the wall around the building. “If the children learn something, we all benefit from it,” says the old man, looks at the clock, apologizes and hastily disappears. He has to go to the mosque to call out the midday prayer. The lesson ends with his Allahu-Akbar booming from the loudspeakers of the house of God. On the way home, the girl talks about her time as a seamstress. How the plastic threads cut deep wounds in her hands and the needles stuck her fingers. Every day she sat crouched and cramped on her stool for nine hours, with a tense back and aching knees. At first she only managed one ball a day, later two. She received twenty rupees for it, forty cents. Sialkot, in Pakistani Punjab. The dusty, lively industrial city on the Indian border is considered the capital of football production. Up to forty million balls leave the factories for the football fields of the world every year. Eighty percent of world production. Around forty thousand people who are enthusiastic about the national game cricket but make a living from football work in the industry for all major brand manufacturers: Adidas, Nike, Puma, Reebok, Select Sports, Miter. Turnover 2004: 9,447,000,000 rupees. $ 185 million. The hand-sewn balls are famous for their quality, and the city is notorious for its low wages. Ideal production conditions for maximum profits. An adult sewer can manage three to five balls in nine to ten hours. For this he receives the equivalent of forty to sixty cents. Sporting goods companies buy the finished balls for two to twelve euros from the manufacturers in Sialkot - depending on the quality. The cheapest are low-quality promotional balls that are produced according to Fifa standards, the most expensive. They later go over the counter for up to a hundred and sixty dollars. Only in China is it still cheaper to work, but not nearly as well. The production of sporting goods has a long tradition in Sialkot. At the end of the 19th century, the colonial power of England stationed one of its largest troop units in the city. The population soon repaired all kinds of sporting goods for the soldiers and eventually made them themselves - cricket, hockey or polo sticks and footballs. In the seventies, companies from Sialkot secured the rights for the production of the Tango, with which the soccer world championship was held in Argentina. The economy was booming, and with it child labor. The miracle of Sialkot begins in 1996: the miserable working conditions are publicly criticized and the child laborers are banned from the factories. At that time, according to a United Nations study, more than seven thousand children under the age of fourteen were working in the Sialkot foosball industry. In February 1997, the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) drew the red card. They decided that no child under the age of fourteen would be allowed to work in the football factories. The man who leads the fight against child labor in Sialkot to this day sits in his office, which is on a street appropriately named Defense Road. Nasir Dogar is proud of the achievement that he and his team have achieved. "There is no more child labor in the football industry," says the head of the Independent Monitoring Organization against Child Labor (IMAC) in Sialkot. “In the past three years we have not found a child working in the sewing centers or factories,” says the man who, with his silver hair and thick mustache, is reminiscent of Albert Einstein. "This is the only successful project against child labor worldwide," says Nasir Dogar and enjoys the fine words. "Why? Because everyone works together: government, manufacturers, factory owners, subcontractors, communities. The parents, the schools, everyone. ”No one, he emphasizes, wants their child to work. “It was actually very easy. We just had to change people's thinking, find long-term solutions and persuade parents so that they too would take responsibility, ”says Dogar. Dogar began his work by combing the city on behalf of the ILO for businesses where children under the age of 14 worked. “It had to be done quickly,” he explains. “Because within only eighteen months we wanted to have Sialkot freed from the beast of child labor.” The organization financed school programs for child laborers from soccer production. 255 such schools were set up within a very short time, in which children beyond elementary school age can also be taught to read and write. A privilege in a country where the illiteracy rate is 60 percent. In workshops and training courses they trained to become tailors, locksmiths or joiners. Nasir Dogar digs a statistic out of a drawer: Over ten thousand former ball kids have since finished elementary school. Half of them continued school. "Long-term solutions", repeats Dogar with satisfaction and pushes a strand from his face. But conviction and education do not protect against hunger. “Just condemning child labor doesn't help. The families were dependent on the children's income, ”says Nasir Dogar. That is why the ILO granted the parents small loans so that they could start their own business. Dogar leafed through a file and took stock of the measure: After that, 2100 families received the equivalent of 150 euros each for a new beginning. “Small hairdressing salons and tea houses were built. Since then, water pumps have been providing fresh drinking water, and many houses have had new roofs. ”The idea is that the project will only succeed if the relatives benefit, in order to prevent children from switching from one industry to another. In order to close the income gaps left by thousands of child laborers for families, the ILO relocated many sewing centers from the factories to the villages: In this way, adult women were able to take up work; they can now support the family instead of their children. Because in the strict male society of the Pakistani province it is still unthinkable that a woman would leave her village to work. “The math is simple,” says Dogar: “Mothers work while their children go to school. When they finish school, they can find better jobs and improve the family's standard of living. Everyone understands that. ”Dogar likes to play with numbers. They speak for themselves: 125 manufacturers are now cooperating with his organization. 2,200 sewing centers are regularly checked, around 90,000 control visits in the past three years. “Ninety-five percent of all football producers cooperate with us,” he reports. “In return, they receive a certificate stating that no children work in their companies. The rest are not interested because they are producing poor quality. But that doesn't mean that children work there. We monitor everyone. ”Then he becomes thoughtful. “We are proud of our footballs here. They are the best in the world. We have to be careful that the craft of football does not die out because young people no longer want to learn it. ”Sayed Abbas, 29, sits in front of a computer in the IMAC headquarters, prints out schedules and pensively tugs at his bushy mustache. Files are piled behind him. “Causar, Asma, Asfa! You are driving to the Narowal district today. Have fun, it's going to be a long day, ”he calls out to three women with a grin. You are part of five control teams that monitor some of the sewing businesses registered with IMAC on a daily basis. The off-road vehicle crawls out of Sialkot through the traffic chaos; People mingle in the streets, fully occupied minibuses, donkey carts and motor rickshaws. At the city limits, the paved roads stop and the province begins. Causar Perveen, 32, ties her long hair in a ponytail and adjusts her headscarf. She is the head of operations for an IMAC observation team. “Leave your prejudices behind,” says the English-educated woman with a finest Oxford accent. “You won't see any working children. That is past. We don't give child labor a chance because we visit every sewing center every six weeks. ”After two hours the car stops in Pakhokay, a stinking town with narrow streets. Screaming boys hold a cricket match on a rubbish heap. Two girls catch a stubborn donkey. Perveen knocks on a door, is let in and led into the inner courtyard, where eleven women sit in brightly colored clothes. Half-finished soccer balls are stuck between her knees. In front of them are plastic corners with a branded registration number of the client. “We can use the numbers to check which company has sewn here. It's another control mechanism, ”explains Perveen. The young women laugh and talk; exchange gossip. Who is pregnant, who will be married; the parents have chosen a scarecrow or an adonis as their husband. Meanwhile, henna-painted hands poke needles through plastic. The women wear thick plastic rings on both middle fingers so that the waxed cords do not cut into the flesh. Perveen goes through her checklist: Working conditions - okay. There is a toilet - okay. Lighting conditions - okay. The workers sit outdoors, on a bast mat or on small stools - okay. A little extra from the subcontractor: a stereo system that plays soft Pakistani pop music. The seamstresses prick and pull to the beat of the beat. “The work is not bad,” says Shubana Mehrem, 16. Her sister Bushra, 24, sits across from her and giggles. “How could she be bad. It keeps us alive. ”A silver cell phone lies between the two sisters. They are sewing their second ball. Thirty-six rupees are given to them for each ball. “We give most of the money to our mother. We keep a little to ourselves, ”says Bushra. To buy a music cassette with your favorite hits or a piece of clothing every now and then. Or the cell phone that they both share. Shubana was eleven when she started sewing soccer balls. Her mother kept the family afloat by doing odd jobs, while the heroin addicted father shot himself the few rupees that were supposed to be used for school uniforms and books. Shubana, Bushra, and their brother sewed balls to survive. The father died a few years ago. The girls are not sad about it. “We have had more money since then. We're fine, ”says Shubana. Good enough to send the ten year old brother to school. The only one in the family who has learned to read and write. Neither Shubana nor Bushra can read a newspaper or sign an employment contract. "He's supposed to be a teacher one day, then he'll earn well and be able to support us," says Bushra, Shubana nods. They see education as an investment. In the end, Perveen checks that the amount of material matches the number of balls. “If there are fewer balls, this could indicate home work, thus also child labor. People know that they are being controlled. They just don't know when, ”she explains and walks towards a shack. The subcontractor delivered three hundred plastic bags with leather honeycombs this morning. There is material for three hundred balls in the shed. Everything is okay here. Perveen smiles contentedly. In a few days, a donkey cart will be leaving the sewing center loaded with a toothless old man and three hundred finished balls. “The situation has actually changed significantly in recent years,” says Anita Khawaja. The 64-year-old German has lived in Pakistan for thirty years. Her late husband founded the company Anwar Khawaja Industries (AKI), one of the larger football manufacturers in Sialkot. Anita Khawaja heads the Sialkot Anwar Khawaja Health and Education Project (SAHEP). The organization works against child labor and for the improvement of the "economic and humanitarian" situation of the workers. All of their subcontractors had to pledge not to employ children under the age of 14 and not to give any materials to parents who could let their children work at home. “The children of our seamstresses all go to school. We'll take care of that, ”says the resolute lady with a stern look over her thick glasses. Each family receives the equivalent of twenty-five euros for school uniforms, shoes and books. 1140 Sewers work for her late husband's company. All workers and their families receive medical care. “If someone in the family gets sick, SAHEP pays the costs. In this way we prevent children from taking over the work of their parents. ”Child labor remains a problem, albeit no longer a problem in football production. "Some children were simply put in other industries," says Khawaja. For example in factories that manufacture surgical instruments. Along with soccer balls, this is the second major industry in Sialkot. Footballs are made the same way in all factories. Two men glue polyurethane or PVC mats and cotton sheets with latex. These go into a heating chamber, where they dry for twelve hours at seventy degrees. Machines punch honeycombs out of the mats; 32 pieces for each ball. Twenty hexagrams and twelve pentagrams with a side of five centimeters. Then the honeycombs are printed - logos, numbers, color or a portrait of David Beckham. The subcontractor drives the pieces to the sewing centers, where they are sewn together by hand. Inflated, the ball lands back in the factory. Quality control, export, gate. The world of Quasim consists of eight square meters and a pedal-operated press. If the foot presses down, it pops as if a football were to burst. Every two seconds it pops and a hexagonal piece of plastic sails to the ground. Hundreds of them are there. Quasim has rags of cloth plugged into his ears to keep out the noise. In an adjoining room, four men and four women sit between two mountains of soccer balls. A pile with inflated balls, one with flat balls. Pale neon light shines on gray faces. It smells like gasoline and plastic. The women put a valve in each ball, clean it with gasoline, then pass the leather on to the men. Kneel on it, let the air out, take off the valve, throw the ball backwards. Automated movements. The balls are emblazoned in red letters: Gerolsteiner, natural mineral water. “Flat they are easier to ship. More space, more balls, more money, ”says 40-year-old Khalid N., owner of a small factory on the outskirts. He holds a blue ball in front of his big belly, it says: 1860 Munich. Slightly smaller, including: Made in Pakistan, child labor free. His company produces 250,000 soccer balls. Sixty-five employees take care of it. “We work from nine to five,” says Khalid, not noticing that the clock is already at half past six, the sun is already going down outside. What do the workers earn? The manager clears his throat and looks at his workers."Not here," he whispers, goes into his office and closes the door. “Three thousand rupees,” he says, after much deliberation. Fifty-five euros a month. Khalid's face turns red as if he'd been caught lying. A glassy-eyed young man sits one floor higher in a windowless room and prints orange honeycombs with the words: Jägermeister. Open paint cans on the tables are evaporating. Turpentine and ammonia fumes bite the eyes. “At first the smell is annoying. After a while the workers get used to it, ”says the boss; the man with the glassy eyes is silent. On a terrace the size of a penalty area, thirteen men crouch in the diffuse light of neon tubes and sew honeycombs together. “Orders have increased by twenty-five percent,” says Khalid proudly. Thanks to the soccer world championship in Germany. Wages remained low. A boy shows the boss a finished ball, who examines it and lets it fall. Jägermeister rolls over the floor. "Do not worry. The boy is seventeen, he just looks younger, ”says Khalid with a smile. The working conditions at Anwar Khawaja Industries (AKI), which produce exclusively for the Danish sporting goods manufacturer Select Sports, are exemplary: charming receptionist, modern production halls, adequate ventilation, better pay, two tea breaks a day - very good conditions by Pakistani standards. 1.3 million balls. Four hundred workers. With AKI balls, Juventus Turin conjured up Italian champions, UEFA Champions League and World Cup winners in the 96/97 season. Back in Nanowali. Aisha runs home. Her mother sits on the floor in the courtyard and sews soccer balls with the other two daughters. The father leans against the wall and smokes, the long period of unemployment is written on the furrows of his forehead and the worries on the furrows of his cheek. Aisha hugs the woman and starts sweeping the yard. With the livelihood of the father, who is working as a construction worker again, the family has six thousand rupees a month at their disposal. Hundred euro. “We're doing well today,” says father Azif, 40, “it's enough to live and let our daughter go to school.” Aisha jumps around in the courtyard and tells her mother what she learned at school. "I'm fine, how are you," she says in English and smiles all over her face. “Our youngest is the first in the family who can read and write,” says the father. “Until she is married, she can continue to study.” Carsten Stormer is a journalist and photographer and is a scholarship holder at the Günter Dahl reporting school. His focus is on crisis and war reporting