Thursday, November 06, 2008

With Election Over, Mitre Wants Lloyd Constantine To Knock Around HBO

Libel Brouhaha Over "Real Sports" Report About Child Labor For Soccer Balls

If you never got to see the devastating report on HBO's "Real Sports" back in September about how top soccer-ball manufacturers use contractors in India to "employ" children to stitch soccer balls, time to find it on a rerun, YouTube or a podcast.
It was a damning indictment of an industry that conveniently looks the other way, while kids as young as six years ago effectively become indentured servants.
The report delivered a glancing blow to companies like Mitre, which saw its business wilt in the U.S. It is not amused. And they are suing HBO, claiming the children and their families seen in Bernard Goldberg's dispatch were paid to appear in the story and were never employed by the company.
Mitre is employing high-profile Lloyd Constantine to take on HBO, with what Mitre says is video rebutting the HBO report.
Even if you find Goldberg's politics and view on the media execrable, you still need to give props to his reporting chops. Watching his work on "Real Sports," it takes no effort to believe that he's indeed keeping it real. It's what he's been doing for three decades; no reason for him to stop now or risk everything for a good soundbite.
Goldberg's no stranger to child-labor issues. His 2004 report on boys illegally being used as camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates won an Emmy.
Mitre may have video. But so what? It could well have come from fearful people, exploited all their lives who were pressured to speak in order to hold on to what meager earnings they get. And if Mitre claims are based on the fact they didn't employ those seen in the report, then they should watch it again.
Goldberg never makes that claim. Rather, it's the use of contractors and subcontractors who carry out the dirty work of Mitre and other manufacturers. They are well-insulated for a very good reason. True, some companies do have child-labor policies and employ people to police their vendors. But as "Real Sports" demonstrated, that's a lot easier said than done, if it's done at all.
Just because you hire an attack dog like Constantine doesn't mean you have a case. Perhaps Mitre's money would be better spent ensuring 6-year-olds in India aren't stitching soccer balls being kicked by 6-year-olds in the U.S.

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