The story of my xxxxxxx ball

This image has been redacted


Year: 2014

Author: Will Kelleher

Type: censored student newspaper article, University of Exeter

Availability: in full below, with redactions

Page Reference: Kelleher, W. (2014) The story of my xxxxxxx ball. ( last accessed <insert date here>)

Version 1Redacted image


THE PICTURE on this page is clear. It shows an Indian family in the Punjab stitching a xxxxxxx rugby ball in Exeter’sgreen colours. The ‘xxxxxxxxxx Match Ball’ [pictured] on the floor costs £42.50 on the brand’s website and themanon theright was paid a mere 34 pence to stitch it.

Welcome to the Sports Ball Industry.

For my Geography dissertation I have been following my xxxxxxx rugby ball]. To find out how, where, by whom and under what conditions it is made and whose lives it touches on its journey up until it is played with. I never thought I would come to write this article.

This powerful image before your eyes tells a story. A well-known, global brand that is used in the Rugby World Cup, Six Nations, Aviva Premiership, Super Rugby and by our University Rugby Club, lies unmade, limply waiting on the ground, ready to be stitched by an Indian family in their home. Not for their enjoyment, but for those on the rugby fields of the Western World. Two worlds apart. Critically connected.

Yet the xxxxxxx ball is not meant to be made like this. This should not happen.

xxxxxxx have made balls in India for years and have an exclusive agreement with a factory in India. When interviewed by me in October Research and Development Engineer at xxxxxxx xxxxx xxx xxxxxx, said:

“If manufacturers around the world don’t have exclusive supply chains then that can always be an issue but we’re not in that position, our supply chain is exclusive so we’re happy with the volume of work we produce.”

“Having a factory that’s exclusive makes a massive difference. If you were looking at other manufacturers around the world, who don’t have exclusivity, then I’m sure that they would say if they could have an exclusive supplier it would make a big difference because you’re then not up against workloads from other manufacturers that need to be done at the same time. So we’re happy with where we are at the moment.”

He was absolutely adamant that problems of subcontracting, where balls are farmed out of the back door to be stitched by piece-workers for paltry sums of money, do not affect xxxxxxx. These issues are for others.

But this would appear not to be how the industry functions.

Enter Ben Doherty. Ben is the South Asian Correspondent for Fairfax Media Australia who produce the Melbourne Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. He has conducted two lengthy and powerful investigations on this industry; the first on Sherrin Australian Rules footballs in 2012, the second on Summit rugby league balls last October. He revealed during these investigations that both manufacturers were using child labour to stitch their balls.

Speaking to him an entirely different picture of this industry is painted.

Ben, who took the image above, described to me a “deliberately arcane industry”, where ball manufacturing companies lose control of their supply chains due to mass subcontracting of work.

Essentially his investigation revealed that the subcontracting system is a dense and tangled web of relations. Companies like Sherrin subcontract out their stitching to a small ball manufacturing company in Jalandhar, Punjab, Northern India. Jalandhar is an industrial city where a large percentage of the World’s inflatable balls are made. The company sign a deal to produce a certain number of balls at a price and under certain working conditions for a fixed deadline. The Western company then has a supply contract in India with detailed plans for auditing and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and worker rights that are in force within the factory.

And that’s the key. Within the factory. The problems arise when the smaller companies over-estimate how much they can stitch and then often balls are farmed out of the back door, via a middle-man to the local men, women and children to complete away from the factory.

These piece-workers get paid a pittance, the middle-man takes a slice and the codes of conduct and signed agreements are useless once the balls have left the original factory. This often happens at ‘peak’ times, near tournaments like the Rugby World Cup, for example. The stitching company bites off more than it can chew and ends up subcontracting the stitching further to make sure they meet their target of balls finished.

When asked about the issue of subcontracting xxx xxxxxx was again confident that this did not affect xxxxxxx but may be a problem for others. xxx xxxxxx also outlined the protection xxxxxxx’s workers have in their exclusive Indian factory.

“The SportingGoods>Federation of India have set up a base and auditing facility and an external auditing facility so there are ways and means to make sure those involved, not just in the stitching but the printing and any other element within the sporting goods field, are covered by the collective right to bargain and make sure they’re not being put into bonded labour in any way and making sure that they have access to various things to medical, to eye cover to lots of different things.

“We’re happy with the level of cover the workers have got.”

However Ben Doherty explained to me that a lot of this piece-work, outside of factories is done behind the backs of the Western company:

“This is not necessarily designed to work this way but the way the system is built means that companies lose control of their supply chains.

“Sherrin [and other companies], from their end look at it and say, look ‘we’ve got a supply contract in India and it says this, and these are the conditions, we’re audited twice a year and we’re confident that this is the way it is in our shiny new factory’ but it ignores the realities on the ground that as soon as their backs are turned, basically, these balls are being farmed out and manufactured in another way.”

When Exeposé asked for comment xxxxxxx xxxx, Sales and Marketing Director of xxxxxxx xxxxx, had this to say:

“I can reassure you that we operate to the highest standards in the industry."

“The photograph you have provided is taken outside a stitching centre and therefore if xxxxxxx balls are being stitched in that location it is of great concern to us."

“I have launched a full investigation into this photograph.”

Allthis seems to be happening without xxxxxxx’s knowledge and it is right that the company have expressed great concern and are investigating the matter. However Ben Doherty commented in October that a lack of knowledge is no mitigation for this corruption of the supply chain:

“Companies will say ‘we didn’t know about this’ and that sort of thing but the argument is that that doesn’t really matter, they are your balls, you should know, you should have a little bit of responsibility for how they’re being made.

“My response to that was, is doesn’t matter if you knew or not, it’s still happening, the people are still being paid 12 [Australian] cents a ball. What do they care if the CEO knows or not?”

“These codes are really not worth the paper their written on, there are people almost trying to undermine them and undercut them. The evidence is there [from the picture above] that if xxxxxxx are saying that all their balls are being made in factory it’s just not true- whether they know it or not kind of doesn’t matter, it’s just not the case that their balls are being made in a factory.

It may well be the case that somewhere in the supply chain one person is corrupting the supply chain behind xxxxxxx’s back and without their knowledge. Nevertheless Ben suggested that companies should be aware that corrupted supply chains are not uncommon, despite the seemingly stringent codes of conduct in place.

“To suggest that we’ve [xxxxxxx or equivalent company] have put in place this code of conduct or this code of CSR and then everything is fine because we’ve got it written down on a piece of paper is naïve in the extreme and it almost beggars belief that people can still believe it given all the evidence that has come out about how sports balls [industries] operate in Pakistan and in India.”

Unlike Ben Doherty’s investigations on Sherrin and Summit rugby league balls, child labour does not seem to be involved in this xxxxxxx case from my evidence but it appears the supply chain is still being corrupted.

Often when companies are exposed to have a corrupted supply chain or involve child labour they make a rash decision to up sticks and leave, only to set up again somewhere else. This is not the answer. Many thousands of Punjabi families depend on piece-work to put food on the table for tomorrow.

Ben explained to me how although child labour is understood to be illegal and frowned upon in India, it is not as black and white as we would imagine in the West. It has become an unfortunate economic necessity.

“If you’re a poor family you’ll need every rupee you can get. If that means children working, well then we’ve gotta eat today”, said Ben.

Another interesting and perhaps ironic angle revealed from my investigations is that xxxxxxx are the supporters of a charity called the xxx xxxxx xxxxx (xxx). When you purchase a xxxxxxx product from their website you are redirected to buy it via the charity, donating a couple of pounds to the cause in the process. I am sure most consumers would find this laudable.

xxx was formed in 2002 and works to help improve the lives of children in Zambia, Uganda, Kenya and India, among other developing nations. They fund tours for volunteers to help coach underprivileged children to play tag rugby.

The ‘Founding Ambassador’ of xxx is xxxxxxx xxxx, Sales and Marketing Director at xxxx xx xxxxxxxxx who own xxxxxxx xxxxx and xxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx.

So where the supply chain becomes corrupted on one side of the company, xxxxxxx supports a noble charity in Bubaneswar, Eastern India, meanwhile poor piece-workers stitch their balls in the Punjab.

I have been following my rugby ball since April 2013 with no idea what would be around the corner. I never thought it would be this.

I never expected or wanted to find out this information as I feel inexorably connected to the ball I’m following. I have had a ball under my arm longer than I care to remember and play with a xxxxxxx for EURFC twice a week. In many ways I am a xxxxxxx fanatic.

The thing that strikes me the most is the ease with which I have found this information. All I needed was my curiosity, a desire for digging and a laptop.

I’m 22 years old and have uncovered this powerful information relatively easily. Anyone with these tools at their disposal could have done this.

There is a world out there that can surprise, shock and subsume you in its detail if you have the desire to explore.

The question is; do you know who makes your stuff?


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Further reading

Doherty, B. (2013) Eight ways to deny you’re using child labour. Sydney Morning Herald  1 October  ( last accessed 23 June 2014)

Kelleher, W. (2014a) 'You could bring down all of rugby with this': following a xxxxxxx rugby ball. BA Geography dissertation: University of Exeter (download).

Kelleher, W. (2014b) Guest blog: gagged student reporter published story. 23 June ( last accessed 23 June 2014)


Page published as part of a internship (last updated June 2014). Reproduced with kind permission of the author. Many thanks to Ed Creed for help with redaction. Ball photo used under Creative Commons license from here. Original photo, copyright Ben Doherty / Fairfax Media Australia (used with permission)