By Carolyn Webb
A CHILD found a needle in a football at an Auskick football clinic in May and the public wasn’t informed, it’s been claimed – and Sherrin yesterday recalled almost half a million balls.
Football manufacturer Sherrin – embarrassed by Age revelations of its subcontractors using child labour – said yesterday it had learnt of the incident in May, but at the time believed that members of the public weren’t involved.
Sherrin managing director Chris Lambert told a press conference yesterday that the ball with a needle in it was discovered ”before it reached consumers” so it wasn’t publicised.
But he did not tell reporters at the press conference that the football was discovered at a children’s football clinic.
A public relations spokeswoman for Sherrin said last night that following inquiries by The Age seeking basic details of the incident, Sherrin had sought more details.
The spokeswoman said Sherrin had now learnt that at a Shepparton Auskick clinic in May, a child had handed the ball with the needle in it to an Auskick staff member.
She said an image of the ball was emailed to Sherrin’s contractor in India, who said it was not a standard manufacturing needle.
It is hard to ascertain the needle’s origin and the issue was left alone, judged to be an isolated incident.
She said that Sherrin was unaware until yesterday that a child had handled the ball.
Mr Lambert said at the press conference he believed that the football involved was stitched by workers for the same sub-contractor in Jalandhar who The Age revealed on the weekend had used child labour. The children, almost all of them girls, were being pulled out of school to stitch balls, for up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week.
Mr Lambert also said he had been ”shocked” to learn in an exclusive report in The Age yesterday of a second, separate needle incident, also believed to involve the Jalandhar subcontractor, reported in The Age yesterday.
In response to the needle incidents, Sherrin yesterday announced a national recall of 450,000 Auskick footballs issued in 2011 and 2012. Mr Lambert said it could cost the company more than $1 million.
Sherrin had announced on Tuesday it was recalling all 9000 balls sent for stitching this year to the subcontractor suspected of supporting child labour.
Sherrin has now banned stitching being done by any sub-contractors, and has leased a new factory, ”and effective from 26 September all previous subcontracted stitching will now be undertaken in this facility to ensure absolute control”.
Mr Lambert said it was ”the first time we’ve received any evidence of the use of child labour”.
”We have a zero tolerance policy regarding underage workers and as a parent and the MD of Sherrin I was appalled to find that this had occurred.”
He estimated that about 2000 balls had ”potentially” been stitched by children, but it was a serious issue and had been addressed immediately. He said two balls had been found with needles in them ”from an estimated 2 million balls we have produced over the last 12 years for Auskick”.
An AFL spokesman said: ”Sherrin has kept the AFL informed about its response to these serious issues and we support their decision to recall all affected balls.”
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said it was ”disgusting” that child labour had been used to make some Sherrin footballs in India.