By Harald Eraker
Norwegian companies have ever more of their clothes and shoes produced in China, especially in the southern parts of the country.
Among such companies, one finds Helly Hansen, Swix Sport and Bona Ration Sport. The latter is the company behind the Bjørn Dæhlie Collection, which was ostentatiously launched by the skier himself in 1996.
Working conditions at shoe and clothing factories in Cina have been strongly criticized in the later years by international organizations and trade unions (see NorWatch, issue 4/96).
According to Borgen's reportage, shown on May the 12th on the "Til Debatt"-programme on NRK broadcasting, working conditions are also blameworthy at the factory where the three mentioned companies have clothes made.
The documentary shows how the girls working at the factory live in ten person rooms where they are locked in at night, that they work 50 hours a week plus a lot of overtime, and that they are not allowed to speak together while working. According to the reportage, the workers are also not allowed to drink water or go to the toilet without permission.
According to Borgen, the factory violates even the Chinese Labour Law.
"Knowing this, I wouldn't consider buying Bjørn Dæhlie clothing"
- Vice President of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, Gerd-Liv Valla to Norwegian daily Dagbladet after Erling Borgen's China reportage.
During the debate in the "Til Debatt" programme, in which the NHO (Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry), LO (Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions) and NorWatch participated, chairman of Bona Ratio Sport, Ole Fr. Anker-Rasch and managing director of Swix Sport, Mikkel Dobloug, promised to follow up the matter with their Chinese supplier.
At the same time, they raised doubts about several aspects of Erling Borgen's reportage. Later, after confronting the manager at the Chinese factory with the charges made in the NRK-programme, Anker-Rasch has elaborated on this to NorWatch.
According to the factory manager, the 300 girls working there are not locked in their rooms at night. However, the doors are locked from the inside, which is common both in private homes and companies that need to protect their property.
The manager also rejects claims that Chinese laws on working hours are violated. According to Anker-Rasch, the girls are working eight hours a day, six days a week (equals to 48 hours a week), and in addition they may as a maximum be ordered to do two hours of overtime per day, if permission is given by the local authorities.
When drinking water is concerned, the factory manager maintains that everybody has water available where they sit and work, and that they may drink whenever they want. The explanation why they have to ask to go to the toilet, is that the girls are working on a production line, which is depending on continuity to work properly.
As far as Anker-Rash can see at the moment, the allegations put foreward in Borgen's reportage do not match with reality. He emphasizes, however, that he will look more closely into the issue hiself.
The Future In Our Hands' NorWatch project has sent letters to Bona Ratio Sport, Swix Sport and Helly Hansen. In the letter, they are asked to accept that a third, independent party may investigate which version of the facts fits with reality.
Such a third party could be the Asia Monitor Resource Center in Hong Kong, which has also previously investigated working conditions in the swarm of factories in southern China.
Anker-Rasch of Bona Ratio Sport does not reject this suggestion, and promises to keep NorWatch informed as to what action they take in this matter. Bona Ratio also buys clothes from other Chinese factories to the Bjørn Dæhlie Collection, but they are not willing to disclose the names of these factories, because of competitional considerations. This is a problem often encountered by NorWatch.
Bona Ratio Sport, Swix Sport and Helly Hansen in China
These three companies have clothing made by Chinese suppliers. These are some of the Norwegian people and companies behind the three companies:
Bjørn Dæhlie owns 30% of Bona Ratio Sport. Swix Sport is a fully owned subsidiary of 'Tobacco Andersen's" Hartog & Co company. Helly Hansen is owned 30% by the Orkla consortium.
Norwatch Newsletter 9/98