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AFL may sack Sherrin over child labour

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Ben Doherty

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Football's secret shame

The Sherrin and Canterbury footballs that Australian children punt, pass and catch in weekend games are stitched by India's poorest children in appalling, dangerous and illegal conditions.

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Football maker Sherrin could be sacked as ball supplier to the AFL after being hit with a breach of agreement by the league over its alleged use of illegal child labour.

But the AFL will continue to use Auskick balls hand-stitched by poor Indian children to teach Australian children football.

After revelations by Fairfax that Indian children were working up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week stitching Sherrin footballs for 12¢ a ball, the AFL has refused to comment on whether it will re-call or stop distributing balls made by the company in India.

Laxmi (mother in green sari holding baby) Sunali in blue and white dress, stitching Sherrins). Sunali, 11 and her sister Rupa, 10, stitch Sherrin Auskick balls while their mother, Laxmi, cares for their infant sister. Sunali doesn't go to school anymore, instead she stitches six days a week. She is paid seven Rupees, about 12 cents, for every ball she completes. Click for more photos

Aussie icon made in India

The footballs Australian children punt, pass and catch in weekend games are stitched by India’s poorest children, the same age, who work in appalling, dangerous and illegal conditions for as little as seven cents a ball. A 12-month investigation by The Age/Herald has discovered that despite significant reforms to India’s massive but poorly-regulated sports ball industry, children as young as seven are still working, sometimes forced to, in the painstaking and painful hand-stitching of footballs, netballs and soccer balls. Two of Australia’s most iconic football brands, Sherrin and Canterbury, have operations in India that use banned child labour. 

The AFL has about 170,000 five to 12-year-olds involved in its nationwide Auskick program.

All Auskick participants, when they sign up, are given a synthetic Auskick football. Most are hand-stitched in India.

League boss Andrew Demetriou declined to be interviewed about the AFL's use of balls made using child labour.

A spokesman said: “We understand Sherrin is investigating these very serious claims and will continue to provide us with information as it comes to hand.

“The AFL has strict contractual regulations with licensees and in order to maintain these regulations we have formally provided Sherrin with a notice of breach of agreement while these investigations are ongoing.”

The AFL's agreement with Sherrin contains a specific provision outlawing the use of child labour. It has issued Sherrin with a "please explain" notice over its use of child labourers, most of them girls, who are pulled out of school to stitch balls.

The AFL is awaiting the results of Sherrin's own investigations, but a termination of Sherrin's contract as official ball supplier to the league is a possible sanction.

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