Brussels: The rights of sportswear workers are being torn asunder, with unpaid overtime and gruelling conditions rife as the industry gears up for the Olympic Games in Beijing, according to a report.

Researchers for the Play Fair 2008 campaign found that the conditions for sportswear makers have not improved since the 2004 Athens Olympics and that “substantial violations of worker rights are still the norm".

A display of sports shoes in Beijing. The Play Fair research found that workers were often unpaid for long hours of overtime

Many sportswear workers’ wages were not enough to get by on and employers found ways to get around increases in minimum wages and overtime limits, the researchers found.

“I am exhausted to death now," one worker making New Balance shoes for a factory owned by sportswear subcontractor Yue Yuen in Dongguan, China, told researchers. “The two of us have to glue 120 pairs of shoes every hour. We are working without rest and are always afraid of not working fast enough to supply soles to the next production line."

In another case, assembly workers making Adidas products were transferred to work with unpleasant chemicals or made to stand for hours when they refused to work overtime.

At a Joyful Long factory making balls and equipment for brands such as Adidas, Nike, Umbro and Fila in China’s Pearl river delta, most production workers work seven days a week. “It is ridiculous that there is not even one rest day in a whole month," one worker told researchers. “Physically we are so tired, but psychologically we are also exhausted."

At the factory, researchers found that overtime can run as high as 232 hours per month, while average wages were almost half the legal minimum.

The study was based on interviews with more than 300 sportswear workers in China, India, Thailand and Indonesia, including at workplaces for Adidas, a major supplier for the Beijing Olympics, as well as Nike, New Balance and other major brands.

It was produced for the Play Fair 2008 campaign, led by Clean Clothes Campaign, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Worker’s Federation.

ITUC secretary general Guy Ryder lamented that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had not followed up on the issue of workers’ rights despite repeated warnings of violations. “Five years after we first approached the IOC on this issue, no concrete commitments have been made and it still remains unclear how they will take action on outstanding labour rights issues," he said.

Clean Clothes Campaign official Jeroen Merk said it was up to the sportswear firms to improve working conditions at their suppliers. “These companies control the sportswear and sports shoe markets. By acting together and really leading the sector on wages and other key issues, an end to the misery these workers endure is possible."