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Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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SLAC demands UW sever ties with Adidas

Two years ago, the University of Wisconsin-Madison signed an exclusive agreement with Adidas, stipulating that UW athletes would wear only Adidas apparel on the field and on the sidelines. It was controversial even then, as Adidas is notorious for its use of sweatshop labor. In spring 2005, members of the Student Labor Action Coalition disrupted the Board of Regents meeting in which the deal was to be inked, demanding the university insert strong labor rights language into the exclusivity agreement. The regents rejected that request, but the university did secure the right to look through all of Adidas' books on a confidential basis to see if anything betrayed the brand's exploitation of low-wage, low-rights labor.

It turns out that perusing corporate books wasn't necessary to expose Adidas' atrocious labor practices; the brand does it well enough on its own. UW's labor monitoring organization, the Washington, D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium, recently exposed Adidas' egregious and chronic violation of the UW's Code of Conduct for producing Bucky-logo goods.

These violations include:

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El Salvador — Workers at a factory called Hermosa were blacklisted and fired en masse after Adidas and other brands yanked production from the plant to punish union organizing efforts there. These workers are owed more than half a million dollars in unpaid wages; furthermore, the factory consistently failed to set aside legally mandated Social Security funds for its workers.

In 10 years of production at the Hermosa plant, Adidas never bothered to report this problem to the university or to the Worker Rights Consortium. Adidas' solution to the Hermosa catastrophe? To declare in a press release: "In December 2006, the Adidas Group contributed to … [the] Emergency Fund for Hermosa Workers. This fund, administered by the El Salvadoreño NGO FESPAD, ran newspaper advertisements informing former Hermosa workers that they were eligible for emergency funds. By the end of December 2006, FESPAD had disbursed moneys to approximately 60 workers." The Hermosa workers were paid less than 5 percent of what they are owed.

Indonesia — In April 2006, Adidas began shifting orders away from the PT Tong Yang shoe factory. It was one of the few unionized factories in the region and had previously received many production awards from Reebok — now owned by Adidas — for excellence. As the brand reduced orders, Adidas simultaneously demanded increases in efficiency, and in response, factory management spent roughly $16.5 million to upgrade its production line. However, despite these efforts, Adidas has refused to place orders with PT Tong Yang, opting instead to shift production to factories with inferior working conditions and lower prices.

If abandoned by Adidas, workers at this factory will be owed more than $2.5 million in severance pay — money that the factory will never be able to pay. Adidas has petulantly denied any responsibility for this gross mistreatment of workers, claiming that they have "no legal obligation for the workers who have been made redundant." But it is clear that this "cutting and running" — that is, pulling out from a factory in response to unionization — is a blatant violation of UW's Code of Conduct agreement with Adidas, which guarantees freedom of association to workers throughout Adidas' supply chain.

Since Adidas has not taken considerable steps to improve labor practices at factories producing Adidas-label apparel, the Student Labor Action Coalition is now demanding that the University of Wisconsin cut their exclusive sideline contract with Adidas. The Labor and Licensing Policy Committee has subsequently recommended severing Adidas' license to produce any UW apparel.

UW is known for demanding a certain level of excellence in the classroom and on the playing field, and this expectation must extend beyond campus to the factories where workers produce the uniforms our athletes wear on the field and on the sidelines. Wisconsin athletes represent all the students at the University of Wisconsin and are seen as role models in the community, so they should not be associated exclusively with a company that has proved its indifference to workers and their rights. The university, as an institution of higher learning, should take the moral high ground and promote a culture of solidarity with the workers who make the clothes that carry its name. The Board of Regents' agreement with Adidas implied an obligation for the brand to uphold standards of fair labor practices in accordance with university principles. The University of Wisconsin needs to demonstrate that it demands better labor practices than Adidas provides. The university needs to cut the exclusivity contract.

Pheobe Taurick ([email protected] ) and Jan Van Tol ([email protected]) are members of the Student Labor Action Coalition.

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