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Protesters urge University to cut ties with Adidas

By Saba Javadi, For the Daily
Published April 12, 2012

A crowd of students gathered in front of the Cube by the Fleming Administration Building yesterday, anxiously awaiting for the moment they would bring their sealed message and large pair of scissors to University President Mary Sue Coleman’s office — symbolizing their desire for the University to severe sponsorship rights and license athletic apparel agreements with Adidas.

United Students Against Sweatshops — a student organization that works to prevent Fortune 500 companies from abusing their workers — started their criticism of Adidas when the company inexplicably shut down one of its factories in Indonesia without compensation for their laborers last April. The action violated Adidas’ contract with the University because the company disregarded the University’s pre-established code of conduct that requires that all workers must be compensated.

LSA junior Tessa Fast, a USAS member who helped organize the event, said Adidas made $13 billion in revenue in 2011, which included the severance it failed to pay its Indonesian workers.

Fast added that the company made an additional $1.8 million by ignoring severance payments.

According to Sioban Harlow, chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Labor Standards and Human Rights, the University’s code of conduct is a principle adopted to ensure that companies the University works with meet human rights standards.

Part of the code of conduct between the University and Adidas requires that the company must pay its workers. However, LSA senior Joe Varilone, a USAS member, said Adidas officials argue that they did not personally shut down the factory, thus making the company unaccountable for any negative effects on the workers.

Varilone said that regardless of the fact that Adidas did not intentionally shut down the factory, it is responsible for paying the workers under stipulations of the code.

“When we spoke with (Adidas representative) Gregg Nebel he acknowledged that the workers have not received $1.8 million, but believes it is the factories responsibility,” Fast said. “They openly admit that these people have not received their money, but they will not pay.”

Upon entering the office of Gary Krenz, special counsel to the University president, USAS members began reading paragraphs of their letter aloud to Krenz, who followed along with a straight face.

Krenz waited until the end of the recitation, after which he asked, “We do share your concerns, how do we achieve the ends?”

According to USAS members, their goal is to inspire the University to pressure Adidas to pay the $1.8 million in severance by releasing a public statement condemning Adidas’s failures to respect the basic labor rights of the workers who make Michigan apparel. So far, the University’s committee of human rights has reviewed the issue, confirmed that the workers have not been paid and is working toward a strategy to compensate them.

“Adidas talks about how they are giving humanitarian aid to the workers but that is really bogus because what they are giving them is hardly anything compared to what they owe them,” Varilone said. “Some people have called it cutting off someone’s leg and giving them a band-aid.”

— Correction appended: A previous version of this article misidentified LSA senior Joe Varilone.