The World Cup, Soccer Balls, Pakistan and Fair Trade

The World Cup is coming. And there is more to the fierce competition than what we see on the pitch.

Look at the competition behind the soccer ball itself. China and Pakistan aren’t likely to face off on the field, but they do go head to head in the competition of soccer ball creation every year. Historically, the area of Sialkot, Pakistan has been the global headquarters for the creation of soccer balls. Hundreds of thousands of workers help to produce a large percentage of the 70 million soccer balls sold annually around the world, most of which are stitched by hand.

But China is advancing. Capable of producing both low quality machine-stitched soccer balls and high quality thermal-sealed balls (like the ones we see in the World Cup), China is a double threat to Pakistan. While the majority of medium quality soccer balls are currently stitched by hand, that segment of the industry is doomed. Pressure from both machine stitching (as quality improves) and thermal-sealing (as technology costs fall) will squeeze an entire segment of this lucrative industry right off the map. In the past, we might have shrugged off this massive, regional economic loss as inevitable in the game of business, but when the region of the world in question is the politically unstable Pakistan, it should give pause.

The US State Department tells us the Pakistani people suffer from the infiltration of terrorist groups, drug traffickers, and insidious madrassa schools that produce more terrorists than true students. But if we look deeper via researchers like Jeffrey Sachs, we find the root cause of these problems: extreme poverty. Extend that analysis to the upcoming massive job loss in the Pakistani sports ball segment and it appears that it will only worsen the extreme poverty, which in turn exacerbates our terrorist problem.

So how might a CSR manager work to alleviate this economic pressure on a documented terrorist safe haven? Here are two quick examples of North American companies achieving business goals while also fighting extreme poverty, thus directly reducing the influence of terrorist groups in the region:

·       The sourcing team at a mass market retailer for stitched leather goods (handbags, purses, shoulder bags) might see the availability of a significant number of unemployed/underemployed workers with a specialty in leather goods as a competitive advantage and begin sourcing from the Sialkot, Pakistan region.

·       The manufacturers for the other major industry in this region of Pakistan – surgical instruments – take advantage of the unemployed/ underemployed stitchers and begin retraining those folks to create surgical instruments. They use the increase in capacity to leap frog over the competition sourcing the instruments from elsewhere.

But can one person from North America really make a difference? Yes. Look no further than Greg Mortenson from Montana. He is striking at the root problem of extreme poverty in Pakistan and Afghanistan by focusing on the education of girls. Mortenson is a true hero.

What are other examples of corporate projects a CSR manager might use to engage this region of Pakistan to take advantage of changing industry practices?

Scott James is an entrepreneur, instructor, advisor, investor, and blogger in the world of sustainability. He is the founder of Fair Trade Sports, offering the world’s first line of sports balls for soccer, football, basketball (and more) that are Eco-Certified and Fair Trade Certified. Like the Newman’s Own brand, all after-tax profits are designated for charity.  Fair Trade Sports is  a certified “B Corp” and this post first appeared on their blog.  

Fair Trade Sports
by Scott James, Founder, Fair Trade Sports

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Vanessa S.
Vanessa S.5 years ago

That is great. I now know from where to buy my children's sport balls. I will also recommend them to others.

Beng Kiat Low
low beng kiat5 years ago


Andrea M.
Andrea M.5 years ago

Interesting article, and so sad to hear about these countries who have so many people living in poverty. It really shouldn't be this way. Everyone should have equal necessities. in this world.

Linda Mills
Linda Mills5 years ago


corinne ramsden
corinne ramsden5 years ago

good article

Tony H.
Tony Hancock5 years ago

One option is Ethical Ocean, which focuses on trying to align ethics, be it worker's rights or Fair Trade certifications into everyday products. Fair Trade soccer balls made in pakistan are available as well.

Tish Holliman
Tish Holliman5 years ago

Thank you Greg Mortenson! You are a true hero!

Marianne Good
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you!

nora l.
nora l.5 years ago

FAIR TRADE NOT FREE TRADE. Check out Trans Fair to see what else you can by FAIR trade.

Janice P.
Janice P.5 years ago

Very interesting read. Thanks.