The Student Labor Action Coalition encouraged former Adidas workers to share their ongoing struggle against the company at a panel Tuesday.
As former workers of the Indonesian factory PT Kizone, Aslam Hidayat and Heni Sutisna talked about how drastically their lives, along with the lives of 2,800 other former workers, have changed since Adidas has continued to refuse payment of workers’ severances following the factory’s closure in 2011.
Sutisna and her husband worked at the factory for roughly 13 years, she said. During that time, she added, they consistently produced Adidas products for export throughout the world, including the United States.
“We never dreamed that a factory like PT Kizone that employed thousands of workers and produced products for a well-known brand … would close so abruptly and we would not see a cent of our severance,” Sutisna said. “In Indonesia, all we have is our severance. It’s not like here in the United States where we have unemployment benefits.”
Sutisna said the severance she and the factory workers have yet to receive amounts to $1.8 million. She said Adidas has only given them vouchers, which do not cover the labor and sweat workers put into producing their products for years.
These vouchers, Sutisna added, are only redeemable at a convenience store comparable to a 7-Eleven, where she and her family cannot afford to shop, due to the expensive prices. The vouchers, she added, cannot be used to pay for children’s school fees or housing. Sutisna also said they cannot be used to take care of their families.
Claire Hintz, University of Wisconsin freshman and SLAC member, said Adidas is currently involved in a case in the Dane County Circuit Courts because the company, in failing to pay worker’s severance, broke Indonesian law. She said this violates UW’s code of conduct.
“Adidas would rather pay $10,000 a day to run this court case than to pay the workers their rightful severance,” Hidayat said.
Hidayat said if Adidas is successful in not paying their severance, this will set a precedent for the garment and shoe industry, and workers around the world will continue to be exploited.
At this point, Hidayat said, there are seven universities that have cut contracts with Adidas. He said he understands cutting contracts is something difficult for UW to do because of financial impacts. But, this is a great moral weight the university will carry if Adidas does not take responsibility, he added.
“Adidas products that are sold are filled with the sweat of our labor,” Hidayat said. “We need to give Adidas a hard lesson.”
As Interim Chancellor David Ward is wrapping up his term in the next few weeks, Hintz said SLAC hopes to see some of the developments in the campaign they have been working on for a year and a half now.
Hintz said SLAC hopes UW’s next chancellor will not be influenced by his or her peers, by the company or by people who want he or she to do what is financially best. She said she hopes the next chancellor will listen to the student body and do what is morally right.
“When you think about the fact that all of our athletes wear Adidas,” Hintz said, “That’s huge.”