The University of Wisconsin questioned Adidas representatives Friday afternoon about allegations of workers’ rights abuses at one of the company’s now-closed textiles factory in El Salvador.
Adidas Head of Social and Environmental Affairs Gregg Nebel addressed the UW Labor Licensing Policy Committee’s concerns of the company’s handling of the closing of one of its factories in Hermosa, El Salvador.
According to UW senior and committee member John Bruning, the factory closed a couple years ago, leaving about 260 people without jobs and being owed about $825,000 in back wages, severance and health benefits.
Bruning said some of the workers tried to form a union to protect their rights and were then blacklisted, making it impossible for them to get hired by other textile factories in the area.
He added Nebel outlined at the meeting what they have been doing to fix the situation over the past several months. He said Adidas claims they have been working with the other factories in the area to get the workers hired and will be holding a job fair in May.
He added Adidas is working with Citigroup, the bank that owns the subsidiary that took the assets of the factory when it closed. They are trying to get the workers all the money they are owed.
According to Bruning, there is a consensus among faculty, staff and student members of the licensing committee that they are losing faith in Adidas’ commitment to fixing the situation.
“The process is taking way too long,” Bruning said. “We feel like Adidas is not taking the situation very seriously.”
Jan Van Tol, UW junior and committee member, said Chancellor John Wiley was present at the beginning of the meeting. According to Van Tol, Wiley told the committee it would be better for UW to work with Adidas to fix the situation instead of cutting ties with the company.
“We strongly disagree with that because it’s been almost two years that we’ve been trying to work with the company,” Van Tol said. “It seems like they are just stalling.”
Van Tol also said the information Nebel presented at the meeting was “very murky,” saying the committee had originally heard the bank refused to cooperate with Adidas and workers are getting rehired but fired again right away.
According to Van Tol, committee member Patrick Barrett asked Nebel if workers had been blacklisted for forming a union and Nebel said “yes.” Nebel also said Adidas would not hire anyone who had been blacklisted, Van Tol added.
Bruning said the committee has set benchmarks for Adidas to reach. They must have hired back 10 of the workers by June 1 and another 10 by Sept. 1. He added the committee is expecting to hear back from Adidas about their progress to meet these goals later this week.
According to Bruning, the committee may have an official vote about whether or not to keep the contract at their next meeting April 18, “depending on how things go this week.”