Sialkot is back making World Cup Soccer Balls

Sialkot is a border town between Pakistan and India that I have always liked. It has three products. Soccer balls, leather gloves and surgical instruments. Local tanners and craftsmen began making soccer balls in the 1880s at the request of British soldiers who were garrisoned there. After a child labour crisis in the 1990s Sialkot slipped from market leader to just a 13% world market share of soccer ball production while China rushed past 50%. But now with costs in China escalating and the child labour problem resolved by strong action from the ILO Adidas have brought back a significant production and the 3000 Brazuca match balls for next month’s World Cup will be made in Sialkot.

Sadly the hand-stitched, machine-made and thermo-bonded footballs made today in Sialkot are not made of leather, although the skill remains and I keep one in my collection. Sialkot remains a significant tanning centre, mostly based around the production of sports gloves. Over 250 small and medium sized tanneries are involved and unbelievably these are scattered all over the town because there were no planning laws to separate industrial and housing building. What is more there is no effluent system and the waste is dumped throughout the city and onto the countryside.

Sambrial and Savar: two places to remember

But soon the tanneries will be on the move and the new tannery cluster in nearby Sambrial is now getting prepared. Certainly it will take some time, up to three years, but the news is coming in that work has started. The cost is being shared by the regional government and the Tannery Owner Association. Planning for this began back in 2002 so it is long overdue, especially for a rich township like Sialkot.

Looking around the Himalayas that other, even bigger problem, Bangladesh is building a new zone in the Savar Leather Industrial Park. The effluent building has been stop-start but construction is now re-started and the first fifteen tanners have begun preparation for the move. The EU has put great pressure for this to be complete by the end of December this year. That will not happen but it looks like we might get there by spring 2015.

A brand is like a savings account. You make deposits and you take money out. Take out too much and you end in deficit. From our global conversations at Leather Naturally! it is clear that indefensible problems like those in Bangladesh we have let our account get overdrawn and totally overwhelm the positive discussions about leather. Hopefully we are seeing the beginning of the end of some of these damaging withdrawals. 

Mike Redwood

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood