Photo Gallery The Football Stitchers of Sialkot

The city of Sialkot in Pakistan produces as many as 60 million hand-stitched footballs in a World Cup year. The firms here are running out of new workers since child labor was abolished. Western buyers may have a clear conscience, but the children of Sialkot now toil in the local brickworks instead.
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Sports goods have been produced in the northern Pakistani city of Sialkot for more than 100 years. Footballs have been hand-stitched here since 1918.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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The balls are stitched together in stitching factories, backroom workshops and private homes. Large factories have been erected in recent years to make it easier for firms to enforce the ban on child labor.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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Riazuddin Sheikh is one of Sialkot's entrepreneurs. He owns the company Comet Sports. "My customers aren't the big sports brands but many smaller customers around the world," he says. Sheikh spent several years in Germany and speaks German. His brother also runs a sports goods firm -- in the western German city of Mönchengladbach.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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Footballs are made entirely by hand in Sialkot. Here, workers are sticking a textile layer on the thick synthetic leather. The shapes cut from the material are then stitched together.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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Quality control at Forward Sports, the city's biggest football maker and a supplier of German sports goods giant Adidas. A laboratory worker checks synthetic leather supplied by a firm in Lahore, some 100 kilometers south of Sialkot.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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Employees at Comet Sports print synthetic leather pieces. There's a pungent smell of solvents. Workers have no respiratory protection and the air exhaust system is only rarely switched on.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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Each ball is made of 32 printed shapes of synthetic leather. The pieces are piled up, weighed and brought to the stitchers who turn them into balls.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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Abdul Qayyum pierces one of the leather shapes to make a hole for the valve.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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A shipment of latex bladders. Many football makers believe the best bladders are made in the Indian city of Amritsar, just across the border from Sialkot.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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Muhammad Sajjad has worked more than 10 years as a repair stitcher at Comet Sports. Balls that don't pass the final quality control are taken apart and stitched together again. He is proud of this work because only the really good stitchers with a lot of experience get used for it.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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Stress test: A machine fires the balls against a wall for hours in order to check the durability of the synthetic leather.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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The company Forward Sports tests the shape of its balls with sensors. This ball, for example, isn't perfectly round enough, says the laboratory worker. More work needs to be done on it.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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Even balls of lower quality, so called Promotion Balls given away by firms as advertising gifts, are checked individually before they are dispatched.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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They are even washed by hand.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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With growing competition from China and Thailand, the Pakistani manufacturers are branching out into new products. Almost all sports goods manufacturers now also produce clothing and sports bags in addition to footballs.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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"Sialkot is a success story," says the president of the city's Chamber of Commerce, Muhammad Ishaq Butt. He claims there is no more child labor in the sports goods industry. The city is currently building a factory that machine-produces balls in a bid to keep up with competition from the Far East, he says. The secret of Sialkot's relative prosperity is that its economy is export-oriented, he says.

Foto: Hasnain Kazim
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