For Pierre de Coubertin and those who helped him establish the modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, the Games were to be not simply an athletic event, but the focal point of a broadly-based social movement which, through the activity of sport and culture, was to enhance human development and generally make the world a better place.

In the intervening years, the modern Olympic Movement has not only raised the standard of sporting excellence far beyond anything Coubertin dreamed about and taken sport to every corner of the globe, but intervened on some of the most difficult social issues of its time. The Olympic Movement is justly proud of its moral leadership against racism and apartheid, against sexism and gender discrimination and against doping and other forms of unethical competition. During the 1990s, the IOC accepted responsibility for sustaining the natural environment in which the Olympic Games are staged.

Today the Olympic Movement is faced with an ethical challenge that affects the social environment in which training, competition and revenue generation occur. At issue are the business practices of the world's largest sportswear companies. The expansion of international trade in sportswear goods under the auspices of such corporate giants as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Fila and Roots Canada has drawn millions of people, mostly women, into the global economy.

As a former Olympic athlete, I can attest to the intense pride athletes feel when they don our national colours to represent Canada on the world stage. But how difficult it is to take pride in a uniform made under sweatshop conditions, wondering whether our garments of pride were sewn by a woman working at the end of a 14-hour shift in a badly-ventilated warehouse for pennies.

A new report, Play Fair at the Olympics, released by Oxfam Canada, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Maquila Solidarity Network asks fundamental questions about the global sportswear industry -- questions that go to the heart of debates on poverty, workers' rights, trade and globalisation. The sportswear business model is based on ruthless pressure on prices, a demand for fast and flexible delivery of goods, and a constant shift in manufacturing location in search of cheaper wages and more lax enforcement of labour regulations.

Many sportswear companies have attempted to address these concerns by establishing purchasing codes of conduct. However, the Play Fair report found that these ethical commitments were all too often contradicted by aggressive purchasing practices, and the lack of independent monitoring and enforcement. As one factory owner explained, "Higher labour standards in Cambodia do not tie a buyer to a factory. Only a good price can do that."

Employment in the sportswear industry is often precarious in nature, involving unreasonably long working hours, low wages (usually paid by piece-rate), dangerous working conditions, temporary or seasonal work, and no sick leave, maternity leave or benefits. Yet the Olympic Movement has long been silent about these issues.

The Olympic Movement seeks to create a way of life based on "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." It is time to extend this aspiration to the workers who produce the uniforms and equipment on which it depends and it advertises. As the primary holder of the rights to the use of the Olympic logo, the International Olympic Movement can and should enforce changes by building into sportswear licensing and sponsorship contracts commitments to respect internationally-recognized labour standards. The International Olympic Committee should be using its influence to ensure that workers in the sportswear industry are employed under fair, dignified and safe conditions.

A growing number of North American universities have accepted such obligations, and demonstrated their feasibility. In 2000, U of T became one of the first Canadian universities to develop a code of conduct for trademark licensees to ensure that manufacturers and suppliers of trademarked merchandise meet minimum employment standards regarding wages and benefits, working hours and overtime compensation. The code also has specific prohibitions on child labour, forced labour and harassment and requires licensees and their contractors to recognize and respect the right of employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

On Sunday, the Canadian Olympic Committee will be holding its annual general meeting in Montreal. Delegates will be celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Olympic movement in Canada. This weekend my colleagues could demonstrate leadership on this issue by calling upon the IOC to protect the right of workers who produce Olympic clothing and equipment. The leaders of the Canadian Olympic Movement, including the newly formed Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee, can show the world that it will again place sport at the service of human development and justice.

Just as you will not see the Olympic Movement signing sponsorship deals with tobacco firms, similarly, no deals should be made with companies who are ready to ignore and abuse the rights of workers. After all, if the values of the Olympic movement stopped at the stadium wall, it would be only a shadow of Pierre de Coubertin's dream.

Bruce Kidd, an Olympian at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, is now an honorary member of the Canadian Olympic Committee and Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Health at the University of Toronto.

Bruce Kidd, an Olympian at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, is now an honorary member of the Canadian Olympic Committee and Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Health at the University of Toronto.