University of Wisconsin Chancellor David Ward declared a period of mediation between Adidas and the campus following allegations of misconduct concerning overseas labor. It appeared to be a way to avoid a messy and expensive confrontation between the campus and the apparel company, which has been accused of owing factory workers in Indonesia approximately $3.2 million in wages.
However, the meeting between administration and Adidas has potential to be constructive. UW is contractually obligated to participate in this kind of conflict resolution and, according to a statement from the university, has had successful meetings with other apparel companies in the past.
However satisfying it might be to denounce Adidas in a self-righteous huff, the mediation period is an opportunity for the workers to be fairly compensated. Abandoning connections to Adidas without pursuing a resolution won’t address the heart of the matter.
Mediation implies the relationship between the university and the apparel company can somehow be repaired. Specific outcomes for the workers in Indonesia are required for this to happen. There is no going back to being on good terms without a proper resolution, ending with all 2,800 Indonesian workers compensated.
If this cannot be reached, the contract must be cut.
While the mediation was born from a contractual obligation, it must focus less on preserving the business relationship and more on ensuring the workers receive fair pay. Ward has said mediation will be the most effective means to achieve this.
Unfortunately, Adidas’ attitude is concerning. They have stated they are happy to meet with UW, and they maintain they haven’t broken the campus’ code of conduct. While the unrepentant nature may be chalked up to a PR strategy, it does not lay a promising groundwork for the dialogue.
UW and Adidas have 60 days to meet and come to a conclusion. In the meantime, Ward should be more vocally opposed to Adidas’ alleged conduct. The deadline for mediation is flexible, but there should be more pressure from the university for a resolution as soon as possible. The longer they wait, the longer the workers go uncompensated.
The apparel company denies culpability for the actions of PT Kizone, its subcontracted branch in Indonesia, but there are simply no excuses when workers’ rights are in jeopardy.