By Michelle Gillingham, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 21, 2013
On Thursday, crowds across the campus protested Adidas, the sporting goods giant that holds a $60-million contract with the University. In a flash mob, a crowd in 1980s clothing traveled across the Diag, blaring “I Like to Move It” to protest the company.
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United Students Against Sweatshops organized the event to call on the company to pay $1.8 million in severance pay to workers of a Indonesian factory — which produced University-themed apparel — that closed last year after its owner fled the country. The closure put 2,800 people out of work.
“We focus on working with the administration to make sure that the people that the University has relationships with are upholding their end of the Student Code of Conduct,” said Engineering senior Carolina Madrid, a USAS member. “That’s where issues with Adidas arise because they are currently in violation of our Student Code of Conduct, and we have a huge contract with them.”
“Adidas apparently owes $1.8 million, legally, in severance to those workers. Adidas just refuses that and are taking a stance that they don’t have to pay it,” she continued
If the University were to cut its ties with Adidas, it would not be the first school to do so. Eight other schools have already decided to remove the brand from their schools, including Cornell University, Oberlin University, University of Washington, Rutgers University, Georgetown University, College of William and Mary, Santa Clara University and Pennsylvania State University.
The group is trying to convince University President Mary Sue Coleman to refuse to renew their contract with Adidas as opposed to dropping them immediately. Madrid said dropping the contract after it expires is the easiest way to part ways with the company without facing any legal ramifications.
While the contract extends until 2016, USAS member Abigail Williams, a Public Policy senior, said “it’s up for renewal in 2014.”
“This whole year our messaging has been ‘Cut the Contract’ to try and get it to stop as soon as possible,” Madrid said. “But we have discovered that that’s probably not the best route to take because of all of the legal issues and clauses in our contract that would make that extremely difficult to actually carry through. So we’ve recently modified our goal to be ‘Drop the Contract’ with Adidas and just not renew it.”
In addition to the protest, which was called “Work Out for Workers’ Rights,” the group tried other strategies to address the administration. Writing letters to Coleman is a monthly task for these 15 student members. They like to keep Coleman informed as to what they are doing to raise awareness for students about the issues as well as whether or not Adidas is continuing to break the Code of Conduct.
The goal of Thursday’s protest was not only to deliver another letter to Coleman in the Fleming Administration Building, but to alert others about Adidas’ wrongdoings.
Although other schools have dropped Adidas, it would be a bigger reaction if the University were to remove them because of the the contract's size.
“U of M is mainly an Adidas school,” Madrid said. “We have a $60-million contract with them. Other schools that cut Adidas don’t consider it a big deal, but it’s because Adidas isn’t as big to them as it is to us.”
The group doesn’t suggest cutting out school apparel completely, just moving it to another company that doesn’t participate in sweatshop usage. They recommended that Alta Gracia, a sweatshop-free brand that pays workers living wages instead of minimum wage, as the University’s new big contract. The group said not only would this company be the more humane route, but that Alta Gracia is an equally good deal.