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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 02:45 GMT 03:45 UK

World: Americas

Reebok criticises own factories

The American sports shoe manufacturer, Reebok, has published a study strongly criticising working conditions in factories in Indonesia manufacturing its own products.

The Massachusetts-based firm which grew out of a British firm founded in the last century, commissioned the report in an effort to improve conditions at its factories around the world.

The BBC's Jane Hughes: "The company has headed off criticism"
The move has been welcomed by organisations which campaign against sweatshop labour.

Reebok says its independent study into two factories in Indonesia showed lax health and safety conditions.

The factories emitted toxins, exposed workers to chemicals that caused rashes or vomiting and failed to warn employees of the risks, according to the report.

Reebok said the study was commissioned because the company wanted to show that it had nothing to hide.

'Positive impact'

"The knowledge we have gained ... will improve conditions for all the footwear factories we use," said Reebok official Doug Cahn.

"By sharing the report broadly, we hope it can have a positive impact for the entire athletic footwear manufacturing industry," he said.

Reebok says $0.5m of improvements in working conditions have been carried out as a result of the study.

Correspondent Jane Hughes in New York says the unusual move appears to have successfully headed off criticism from human rights groups.

The American labour rights organisation, Global Exchange, has welcomed it and called on other companies to be equally honest about working conditions.

A number of American manufacturers have been accused of forcing people to work in dangerous conditions for low wages.

Reebok's rival, Nike, has come under heavy attack recently for alleged abuses at its athletic shoe factories and human rights activists have dismissed as inadequate its attempts to improve working conditions.

In 1992, Reebok adopted and began implementing the first code of workplace standards in the athletic footwear industry.

They are now incorporated into all contracts the company has with factories that produce its footwear.

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