Beginning in the 1990s, a number of media reports exposed poor working conditions, human rights abuse, low wages and general exploitation of workers in the factories producing global sports brands (Vogel, 2006: 77). A Marxist theorist would likely argue that the exploitation of labour by global sports brands is no more than a reflection of the new capitalist theory where the powerful classes exploit the weaker classes for ‘self-interest’ or more specifically for the maximization of profits (Bowles and Gintis, 1977: 173).
The Marxist theory begins with what is referred to as commodities or products with market values (Khalil, 1992: 23). These commodities are representative of the ‘socio-natural properties’ of labor and ‘reflect the social relation of the producers’ and the ‘social relation between objects’ which is a relationship that ‘exists apart from and outside of the producers’ (Khalil, 1992: 23). This translates the commodity into a social symbol of the relationship between men (Khalil, 1992: 23). Indeed branded products are regarded as symbols of self-identity and symbols of social status (Elliot and Wattansuvwan, 1998: 131). Consumers will generally make social associations with brands and are willing to pay high prices in order to own and use the brand (del Rio, Vazauez, and Iglesias, 2001: 401).
Sports brands, in particular, have global reach and as such have reflected the ‘capitalist form of consumption’ (Smart, 2007: 113). In particular, the sport has emerged as a global culture to which consumers around the world have formed a connection to and association with. Sports brands have taken advantage of this global commodity and have used celebrities and star athletes to promote their brands. As a result, consumers around the globe are willing to pay premium prices for these brands (Smart, 2007: 114).