This no call to arms however it has been on my mind for a while and today I decided to write about it.
The Superbowl, which for Americans and millions of people around the world is the marquee event of the year and one of the most talked about but it is not so widely spoken off that it is sponsored by the company Bridgestone/Firestone since it was awarded a two year contract.
The Fortune 500 company has been crowned the "Official Tire Sponsor" of Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLIII. As John Gamauf, an executive with the company, said, the sponsorship "is an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the Bridgestone brand to the world."
Peter Murray, the National Football League's senior vice president of partnership marketing and sales, chimed in: "By teaming with a global leader like Bridgestone, we can make America's favorite event even more powerful."
But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who has described himself as a child advocate might want to be more careful about who the league cozies up to, especially when the partner is known in some parts of the globe not for high-velocity tires but for highly exploitative child labor practices.
What are Bridgestone/Firestone doing?
Since 1926 they have set up their largest plantation in the country of Liberia, specifically in a town called Harbel. It is a town called Harbel due to the very names of company owner Harvey Firestone and his wife, Idabelle.
In 1926 they acquired a million acres of land, this removed many people from their land essentially when these people no longer had the farms they became cheap labor.
During world war II there was a huge need for rubber as one can imagine, and where they found fertile soil was in Liberia just the other side of the Atlantic. They took a million acres for 6 cents an acre, as a result they had all the rubber they wanted.
Todays' Rubber Market
The lease on this land was for 99 years which was re-negotiated in 2005 for 50 cents an acre. Rubber in 2005 was $800 per ton. Today it is very much like gold and is $2000 per ton, inflation alone would suggest that they are raping the country.
The essence of the problem is when you walk onto the plantation, which is still called a plantation to this day, it is like your walking back in time.
They have set up a quota system where each worker has to collect a certain amount of the white sap -- known as latex -- each day several times from the trees. According to workers there are 1,100 trees although the company says it has only 750 trees. Even with Firestone's figures it would take 21 hours to complete the task, if employees don't make that quota, their daily wage of $3.19 is cut in half. So now what is happening is the workers are having to bring their children to meet the quotas which results in working days of 4:30 am on through the night.
Once the sap has been worked from the land it is shipped to the Bridgestone/Firestone plant in Nashville, where it is used to make tires, among other goods.
There is very much a two tier system between workers and managers who predominantly have always been white and increasingly now Asian, as Firestone is owned by its parent company Bridgestone. The managers get to live in beautiful villas and play on the golf courses while the workers live in the shacks built back in 1926 where there is no lighting and no inside toilets.
Bridgestone/Firestone says that the plantation jobs pay well by Liberian standards and that they come with an array of essential social services.
Liberian workers may disagree, but in a country with 80% unemployment, they can't just walk off the plantation and find another job. In July, the Firestone workers on the plantation took a different tack to protest their working conditions: They held an election and voted out the leaders of the longtime company-controlled union.
But the ousted company-appointed officials challenged the results in court, and Firestone refused to bargain with the new elected union leadership. In December, workers walked off their jobs, demanding that the company recognize their union.
Then later that month, the Liberian Supreme Court ruled that the July elections were legitimate and that Firestone would have to negotiate with the union. Austin Nantee, the newly elected president of the Firestone Agriculture Workers' Union of Liberia, said workers "are looking forward to carving out a new collective bargaining agreement with the company."
But Firestone has not definitively accepted the election outcome and still has not negotiated in good faith with the newly elected union leadership.
So the question remains: Should the NFL be offering an international platform to a company accused of using child labor and refusing to bargain with a union whose leadership was democratically elected?
Goodell has been quick to levy tough suspensions and stiff fines on players who run up against the law off the playing field. He should be as vigilant in picking sponsors for his league's marquee game.
Devils Advocate: Where do we stop with corporate sponsorships?
For example since 1956 Chevron (the company which still practices gas flaring although illegal everywhere around the world but in Nigeria) as well as Exxon have been and to this day still rape the Niger Delta. Billions have gone missing and some explanation for the high price of oil currently in the world is due to the lack of stability in this region.
Nigeria as it happens is the 7th largest oil producer and 4th biggest importer to the States. Right now the USA gets 12-15% of its oil from Africa, by the end of this decade that figure is set to rise to 25%.
Why is there a difference to this corporate sponsorship as opposed to others?
When it comes to Bridgestone/Firestone the difference is that right now in existence there is a federal case in the United States against this very company.
There is also a new government in Liberia and Bridgestone/Firestone should be heavily pressured into improving their standards which they have set in Liberia, where they stand accused and have not yet denied reports of child exploitation.
What would I have the NFL do?
Take action, to not honour a contract that will allow Bridgestone/Firestone to use the marquee event, the Superbowl, watched by billions a platform to promote their goods.
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