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Speedo-Sponsoring the Olympics and Sweatshops

Speedo is a name brand that I have become quite familiar with over my lifetime. I started swimming at the age of six and started to play water polo by the age of 14. I have been in the water almost every day of my life and Speedo has been right there with me. I have purchased suits, caps, and goggles from the company every year and their brand has become one of my favorite water gear brands. Their products are popular and I have never had an issue with them. They are known for their innovative technology by producing new fast skins that are supposed to help shave off a couple tenths of a second (which makes all the difference in the swimming world).

On the surface, Speedo appears to be an ethnically run company due to its huge popularity among the water sport world. Speedo’s website is very organized and even has an extensive page donated to its ethical policies and code of conduct for business. In its policies it addresses issues regarding its role as a business and to stakeholders; lists its standards of behavior towards its employees, customers, suppliers, and the wider community; and other matters including competition, financial matters, confidentiality, and understanding and compliance. The ethical policy also goes on to list its environmental policies, employment standards policy, and code of employment standards for suppliers.

With such an organized and publicized code of ethics, I was quite surprised when I discovered that Speedo was violating many of its own company’s codes. Speedo has been found abusing its workers in China plants to the point where they have been deemed “sweatshops”. The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights has found that workers in China are forced to work overtime (over 100 hours per week, at a grueling pace of production, abused by their supervisors (yelling and beatings), worked to exhaustion, cheated on 40% of their wages, forced to handle dangerous chemicals, live in primitive company dorms, and stripped of their hope for relaxation and fun. All of these conditions violate not only Speedo’s own ethical policies but it also violates the fundamental international rights as described in Thomas J. Donaldson’s article, Rights in the Global Market.

It was quite ironic that after these conditions were discovered in China, China hosted the 2008 Olympics where Speedo was a sponsor of multiple athletes including Michael Phelps and Amanda Beard. Human rights organizations often tried to ask these athletes about their thoughts on their “sweatshop” produced sportswear they but the athletes usually ignore the questions in order to focus on their athletic achievements.

Speedo does not address these acquisitions so how can Speedo, an Olympic sponsor, fix its violation of its own ethnical policies? The first thing that Speedo can do is to not drop its plants in China, but to work on improving its conditions. Secondly, Speedo should publicize the other “sweatshop” factories that it may have in China to show the public that they are not trying to hide anything but they are trying to fix the problem.  Thirdly, Speedo should put in as much effect to enforcing its ethical laws as it does its trademark laws. Lastly, Speedo sponsor athletes should promote the termination of “sweatshop” plants to help improve Speedo’s image (especially after the Olympics in China).


About Amanda Skonezney

I am a senior accounting major and anthropology minor at Bucknell University. I am also apart of the division I women's water polo team. I currently live in Harrisburg, PA. After graduation, I plan on going into tax and earning my CPA.


One thought on “Speedo-Sponsoring the Olympics and Sweatshops

  1. Amanda, it seems that there are many products we wear everyday that have questionable business practices linked to them such as Speedo, Nike and Gap. I am particularly interested in your thoughts about Olympic athletes supporting these companies as sponsors. It seems odd that even with the knowledge and increased media attention some of these companies (particularly Nike) have received about questionable business ethics, athletes are still wearing their brands. Even everyday people like you and me are still wearing these brands and supporting these companies. Do you see any changes to this in the future? Will athletes shift gears and refuse to be sponsored by companies that do not support business ethics? It seems that many Hollywood stars have begun to campaign against some of these companies so maybe professional athletes will follow suit.

    Posted by Lauren Daley | February 15, 2012, 9:55 am

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