Amid controversy and student protests, University of Wisconsin Interim Chancellor David Ward announced Friday he will conduct a thorough investigation into allegations of labor rights violations brought against Adidas.
In a letter distributed at a meeting held by the Labor Licensing Policy Committee to voice concern over the inability of PT Kizone, a company subcontracted by Adidas, to fairly compensate former employees, Ward acknowledged he found Adidas’s response to the initial report insufficient, but also said he will consult with university officials this week before contacting Adidas again.
Ward also said in the letter UW has refrained in the past from terminating contracts prematurely without a thorough process. Instead, the emphasis has been on working with the sponsor to “cure” the sponsor’s failure in performance.
“I plan to discuss this matter with the university’s lawyers, business officials, Athletic Department administration, the University Committee, the president of the Board of Regents and others to make certain I have consulted with all interested parties and relevant governance groups who advise under such circumstances,” Ward said in the letter.
Ward had previously requested and received a report from the Worker Rights Consortium that was shared with Adidas. In response, Adidas denied liability for any unpaid severance to the PT Kizone employees.
Ward’s letter came shortly after a Student Labor Action Coalition protest outside his office. SLAC members said they were concerned by allegations of labor rights violations and sweatshop abuses by the sportswear giant.
Members chanted in support of workers’ rights and read from a “UW Ethics 101” syllabus outlining the SLAC’s goals in the protest.
The SLAC sought a concrete date for the meeting between Ward and university officials, citing past delays in the process. They also urged Ward to move as quickly as possible on the matter.
Vice Chancellor for University Relations Vince Sweeney said the meeting will be this week but did not give a specific date, noting both the complex nature of the matter and the fact that Ward had only recently received Adidas’s response.
SLAC member and UW senior Jonah Zinn called the Adidas response “insulting” and questioned the “cut-and-run” tactics of the company. Zinn also expressed disappointment over Ward’s inaction on the matter.
“It’s a very urgent situation. We’d like to see swifter steps being taken,” Zinn said. “Frankly, he’s had time to consult with the necessary bodies to make this decision. Really, something should have happened today.”
Senior University Legal Counsel Brian Vaughan was present at the meeting and said Adidas’s reply was consistent with their previous responses. Vaughan said the dispute stems from whether or not Adidas breached the Labor Code of Conduct.
SLAC member Lingran Kong, a UW sophomore, said the group’s intent is not to sever the contract between UW and Adidas, but only to make sure Adidas pays the 2,800 workers.
“We just basically want them to follow the rules that they signed on to, that they agreed to, and if they don’t do that within 90 days, we’re going to continue our pressure,” Kong said.
The LLPC said they contacted the heads of the labor licensing committees at several other universities sponsored by Adidas, including Notre Dame, UCLA and Indiana but received no response.