Sunday, February 7, 2010

Put on your red toques and dance the blues

Red toques with red pom-poms will become the must-have accessory to the wildly successful red VANOC mittens.

That's because performers in the opening ceremony will wear them along with white, long-sleeved sweaters and grey slacks or skirts. Female performers will sport white boots.

The fashions were spotted as hundreds of performers left the stadium after the Feb. 6 evening dress rehearsal and walked along the closed Pacific Boulevard to the temporary backstage tents beside the Plaza of Nations.

Those performers re-emerged in street clothes and left through the main gate, under the Cambie Bridge's north ramp. Many boarded Cantrail motorcoaches for transport elsewhere.

Those red mittens were intended to rescue the Own the Podium program which VANOC sponsors couldn't afford to finish financing. The federal government conveniently bailed out OTP with another $10 million on the same September Friday as the handwear was announced.

By the way, where are the mitts made? The label says China. VANOC refuses to be more precise.

"As per your past requests, we are not in a position to disclose the names of our manufacturers," said VANOC spokeswoman Darlene Small in mid-December.

(One of my past requests was in March 2008 before a trip to China. I was told by Burnaby-based Northern Gifts president Bob McKerricher that his company uses a factory near Shanghai to make the Miga, Quatchi and Sumi dolls. So I asked VANOC for a tour of the facility. People love factory stories, particularly the photographs and video footage that accompany them. Unfortunately, VANOC didn't share my enthusiasm and wanted to keep all things secret about the process. By then, coincidentally, it had already suspended six offshore factories for violations. But it didn't go so far as to name names.)

"There are endemic problems in China with excessive overtime, rock-bottom wages, and intense work pressures," said Kevin Thomas of the Toronto-based Ethical Trading Action Group. "Are these mittens being produced under good conditions? We don't know."

VANOC sponsor Nike regularly discloses the names and locations of its factories around the world, including China.

ETAG is among a coalition of groups under the Play Fair banner, pushing the International Olympic Committee and Games' organizing committees to adopt transparent standards to ensure workers' rights are respected. In January, the Play Fair coalition launched the campaign and ranked sportswear manufacturers. Most, predictably, didn't clear the hurdles in the eyes of Play Fair.

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