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Sports Balls

Social and ecological risks in the supply chain of sports balls

What you should take into consideration when purchasing sports balls

Up to 60 million footballs are produced worldwide every year. Two thirds of all sports balls are made in the Sialkot region of Pakistan, where around 700 producers have established operations and set up numerous sewing centres in and around the city. To this day, roughly two thirds of all balls are hand sewn, often by homeworkers. Hand stitching balls is hard work, but workers often earn less than 10 cents for every ball. Even in Pakistan, their wage isnot enough to live off. Only in the last few years have the conditions under which sports balls are produced started to come under scrutiny. Nonetheless, the range of sustainably produced balls is steadily expanding. The main issue here is compliance with social standards.

In the meantime, municipalities can procure certified balls for all quality requirements – from child day-care centres to sports clubs or schools. 

Further Information

For general information on integrating sustainability into the procurement process, see here.

An online tool to assess the local human rights situation by "Helpdesk Business & Human Rights" is available here.

Municipal best practice examples of sustainable procurements of sport balls, see here (German only).

Supply chain risks of sports balls in detail

Supply chain in detail

Click on the individual stages in the information graphic on the left to learn more about the ecological and social risks when procuring sport balls.

01 Extraction

A ball essentially consists of an outer skin with any number of layers, a bladder and a valve. How many layers the outer skin comprises depends on what demands the ball has to meet. The various layers can be made of synthetic leather or, for reinforcement, polyester. The properties of the outer cover determine the ball's service life, its bounce behaviour and what it feels like to kick. As a rule, the bladder is either made of natural rubber (latex) or butyl rubber (isobutylene isoprene rubber – IIR). Latex makes for a ball that is better to handle but loses air more quickly than a butyl bladder. Basically, the raw materials are synthetic (manufacturers stopped using leather long ago) and possibly natural rubber. 

Environmental risks

  • In places, illegal clearance of forest areas for rubber monocultures 
  • Loss of species and biological diversity
  • Raw materials account for a small share of the global market; hence virtually no manufacturer transparency regarding their origins 
  • Water consumption during plastics production 
  • Plastics are derived from crude oil, which is a finite resource 
  • Plastics contain PVCs and/or other halogenated compounds

Social risks

  • People are illegally evicted to make way for natural rubber plantations (monocultures) or for cultivating renewable raw materials for plastics
  • Low wages
  • Discrimination and forced labour
  • Poor working conditions
  • Conflicts over land use

02 Production

Today, sports balls are commonly made in one of four ways: thermo bonding (mostly for high-quality match balls), hybrid (CMP technique), machine stitching or hand sewing. To this day around two thirds of balls are stitched by hand, as this continues to be the cheapest production method. Downward pressure in the low-price segment in particular makes for appalling working conditions.

Social risks

  • Workers often paid per ball rather than by the hour
  • Poor working conditions, e.g. inadequate lighting
  • Outsourcing to self-employed workers undercuts minimum wage 
  • Unpaid overtime 
  • A 7-day week and 12-hour day is not uncommon
  • Thanks to massive public pressure, child labour is now the exception  

03 Consumption

With sports balls, the main thing is to determine in advance what purpose the ball is to be used for. High-quality balls have excellent handling properties. However, their thin upper material makes for a shorter service life when used on sand. 

Environmental risk

  • If the wrong quality is procured, the balls wear out more quickly

04 Disposal

Footballs are residual waste and cannot be recycled. However, there are numerous upcycling ideas on DIY websites, for example, that also lend themselves to use in children's nurseries, schools and other educational facilities.   

Environmental risk

  • Currently not recyclable, sports balls are residual waste destined for incineration

05 Transport

Plastics from China, natural rubber from Southeast Asia, produced in Pakistan and sold in North America, Europe and Germany: This is an example of a ball industry supply chain. Getting from raw materials extraction to the final product generally involves transport over long distances. Fuel consumption and emissions make for an environmental and climate impact that is also harmful to human health. By planning in advance the customer can ensure that the right balls are supplied, while avoiding more climate-noxious haulage by air.Please request this when placing an order.