Take Me Out to the (Socially Compliant) Ball Game

I remember being excited as a child when softball season was about to start. I was particular when selecting new cleats, specific in the fit of a new glove, and always strived to ensure my (slightly itchy) uniform was perfectly pressed. The season’s schedule was printed and nothing stood in-between myself and the softball mound. As a child, those were the things I thought about when it came to sports.

bar codes

What I wasn’t thinking about were those working who tanned the leather for my softball mitt,sewed the stitches on those brightly colored softballs, and cut the fabric for my uniform. I didn’t understand the complexity of Supply Chains and/or how they contributed to enjoying a Saturday morning with my team out on the field.

Fast forward a couple decades to where I sit now – pursuing a career where I live and breathe Social Responsibility. I ponder on the Supply Chain and the multitude of workers who made my childhood sport possible. Where were the workers from? Did they get paid for their services? How were their working conditions?

While I can’t answer those questions regarding items I purchased decades ago, I can assist clients in my current role with Supply Chain monitoring and Risk Mitigation through Corrective Action Plans and Education.

Sports and Social Responsibility

Sporting events are popular worldwide. Advertisers willingly hand over large sums of money to secure a 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl. Airline and phone companies invest substantial cash to have their name plastered across Premier League uniforms or “kits.” But where does Social Compliance fit into this specific industry?

While some organizations recognize Social Compliance as a competitive advantage, many others have not treated Social Compliance as a necessary and valuable business function. If you take a closer look, Social Compliance touches their business in a variety of places.

Professional Athlete Uniforms/Supplies:
Factory workers make the cleats and jerseys, game balls and instruments, not forgetting water bottles, towels, and everything in-between.

Construction/Renovation of Stadiums:
Workers are used to erect large stadiums or remodel before large events or seasons begin.

Fan gear:
Multiple Licensees compete to produce apparel/gifts to sell to willing fans.

What we see in all three categories is one common thread – “Labor” or “Workers.” Today, and for the foreseeable future, labor somewhere is required in production/manufacturing. Expendable income and leisure time in developed economies allow for sports (participation and spectating) to become large businesses. The Supply Chains meeting this demand include segments, often large, located in less developed countries. Without Social Compliance, you cannot guarantee individuals supporting our games are not being exploited.

The Lives of the Workers

Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It that “All the World’s A Stage.” This idea can easily be applied to Social Compliance in the Sporting sector. Those involved in the Supply Chain are actors in the public view. They understand how one misdeed or one wrong step can create a PR nightmare for a company… or even worse, bring about significant harm to individuals.

The upcoming World Cup in Qatar in 2022 serves as a stark example of the intersection between sports and Social Compliance. Although the World Cup in Qatar is many years away, the treatment of workers (mostly in the construction of stadiums) has caused much consternation, and speculation regarding whether it will be moved to a new host nation.

Instead of articles focusing on the upcoming 2018 World Cup, consumers are reading about the migrant workers in Qatar being sent home in body bags. Workers from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka (to name a few) are jumping at the opportunity to work in a foreign land and earn money for their families back home. However upon arrival, the Kafala Sponsorship System creates a dangerous living and working situation for many migrant workers. Through the Kafala Sponsorship system, workers are being forced to stay in Qatar, with their current company, deprived of their passports and pay (full or partial). Long hot days working in the sun, result in workers experiencing heat exhaustion, fatigue, and sometimes death [1].

Acting Responsibly – At All Levels

Actors at all levels of the Supply Chain must define the level of Social Compliance needed to appease consumers. This task is not easy and it comes with a price; however, the costs of failing to own this responsibility are often underestimated. Sports surround us on a daily basis. We see the NBA jerseys at the basketball pick-up game in the park. We see the NFL bumper sticker on the back of a friend’s car. We see the excitement in a young child’s face when he or she receives tickets to an upcoming hockey game.

Whether you are a large or small company; there is a part you must play. Awareness is key. Know your Supply Chain and your Code of Conduct. Understand your partners and how they do business. Keep educating yourself and your workers on what it means to be a Socially Compliant company. Let your customers know, through a link on the company website or through strategic branding of hang tags on the garments. It’s now 2015. Customers are increasingly interested in how products are made, and that interest puts pressure on you as a Client or Manufacturer to do the right thing. Use this to your advantage.

If you’re confused on how to create a Code of Conduct, need assistance redesigning your Social Responsibility page on your website, or desire to take a deeper dive into your Supply Chain, there are people who can help. These are people who grew up loving sports and were passionate about the game. These are people who as kids only saw one side of the industry but now grasp the responsibility for helping those on the other side of the industry. Whether you and your organization are taking a leap or small incremental steps toward being Socially Compliant, people are here – I am here – to walk down that path with you.




Carla Susmilch is a Program Manager for Sumerra – a global compliance and consulting company. She has previous experience working in Social Responsibility in a Brand role, and currently represents a Third Party Provider. For further information, please contact Carla Susmilch at csusmilch@sumerra.com or visit Sumerra.com to see a list of services Sumerra can provide you.


[1] Fifa’s Real Crime with Qatar 2022 is Ignoring the Workers’ Plight: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/sam-wallace-fifas-real-crime-with-qatar-2022-is-ignoring-the-workers-plight-10081450.html