Adidas executive defends company's labor practices

BY ANDY KROLL
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 28, 2007

The man in charge of overseeing Adidas's labor and environmental standards outlined the company's factory assessment programs and rules designed to protect workers last night in a presentation at the Michigan League.

The University signed a $7.5 million per year contract with Adidas in June to make the German company the University's exclusive athletic apparel provider. Adidas has come under fire at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin at Madison for alleged labor violations.

Gregg Nebel cited Adidas's improved Key Performance Indicator - a rating system that evaluates a factory's level of worker-management communication, factory compliance and industrial relations - as evidence of his company's tougher labor monitoring standards.

Nebel fielded questions from the audience about the Designated Suppliers Program, which requires universities to use factories approved by the Worker Rights Consortium, an international national labor-monitoring group, for the production of their licensed products.

In response, Nebel said he does not support the DSP, and he questioned the consortium's right to approve certain factories for the program and not others.

"The factories under the DSP won't last, and it's not a sustainable program at all in the textile industry," Nebel said.

In April, Members of Students Organized for Labor and Economic Equality urged the University to adhere to the standards of the DSP, but University President Mary Sue Coleman decided not to align with the program.

Adidas has come under fire this year at several large public universities for instances of labor rights violations in factories subcontracted to Adidas throughout the world.

Student activists at the University of California at Berkeley protested Adidas in February after a report issued by United Students Against Sweatshops found that the company threatened to reduce production at a subcontracted Indonesian factory where workers had unionized.

In October, students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison called on Chancellor John Wiley to terminate the university's licensing contract with Adidas after an El Salvadorian factory subcontracted to Adidas that produced Wisconsin apparel violated the university's code of conduct with Adidas.

Labor rights activists say that the El Salvadorian factory failed to compensate workers about $800,000 in back pay and severance after closing in 2005.

Negotiations on behalf of the workers are ongoing, though most of the workers have yet to receive full compensation, Nebel said. He said Adidas is working to resolve the situation.

The University of Michigan's code of conduct for licensees, which applies to its eight-year, $60 million contract with Adidas is nearly identical to the University of Wisconsin at Madison's code of conduct.

The University of Michigan's Adidas apparel will be produced in factories in China, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States, according to the WRC's website.

Larry Root, chair of the University's Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights, said the move from Nike to Adidas won't result in any significant labor monitoring changes.

"They both have strong compliance programs within the context of code enforcement," Root said.

RC senior Jason Bates, the student representative on the Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights, said Nebel's presentation lacked any substantial plans for seriously addressing labor problems in factories that produce Adidas products.

"It's clear that Adidas is willing to do anything to help workers out - unless it costs them," said Bates, a member of Students Organized for Labor and Economic Equality.