By Stephanie Shenouda, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 14, 2013
The factory that’s a world away may be long closed, but the fight over Adidas’ handling of the situation and the University’s relationship with the company appears to be anything but settled.
On Thursday, 12 members of the University’s chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops joined two Indonesian sweatshop workers in a protest on the Diag to put pressure on University President Mary Sue Coleman to sever the University’s $60-million contract until Adidas agrees to pay the workers the $1.8-million severance they claim they are owed.
The PT Kizone factory in Indonesia closed 22 months ago after its owner — a subcontractor for Adidas — fled the country as the plant went into bankruptcy. In October, Coleman sent an open letter to Adidas expressing concern over the way severance was handled at the plant.
Coleman wrote that Adidas’ food vouchers and efforts to find new employment for the former employees were inadequate solutions. She requested periodic updates from the company about the situation and progress toward a final settlement.
The University currently holds Adidas’ largest collegiate contract in the country; the eight-year agreement that began in 2008 is worth $60 million. Cornell University and Oberlin College have severed or reduced contracts with Adidas in protest of Adidas handling of the PT Kizone situation.
Event organizers repeatedly emphasized the University’s sizeable relationship with Adidas at Thursday’s protest. The event included brief speeches from the two Indonesian sweatshop workers, interpreted from their native language by a translator.
“We are here from Indonesia representing 2,700 ex-(sweatshop) workers from Adidas,” said Aslam Hidayat, a former garment worker at the PT Kizone factory. “We stand here before you asking your solidarity in getting Adidas to pay us our legal severance pay.”
Hidayat said the $1.8 million severance is “not that much” compared to Adidas’ healthy net income — which was valued at $938.26 million in 2011, according to financial records. Financial statements for 2012 are not yet available.
Former sweatshop worker Heni, who only disclosed her first name, added that without the severance money, she will not be able to afford food and housing for her family and schooling for her children.
After the rally, the group marched to the Fleming Administration Building, with choruses of “Wolverine pride, Adidas shame!” and “Coleman, step off it, put people over profits!” echoing along the way. Once at president’s office reception area, they presented a valentine for Coleman, signed by the attendees of the Wednesday night’s panel discussion on the same topic.
Though a receptionist notified the group that Coleman was not in the office, they presented the valentine and their statements to Coleman's executive assistant, Erika Hrabec, who agreed to pass both on.
In an interview after the event, Hidayat said he and Heni made the journey to the United States as part of a national tour to raise awareness for their situation.
“(The) University of Michigan has a large contract with Adidas,” Hidayat said. “We need their support now more than ever to help make Adidas take responsibility for our severance pay. If Adidas refuses to do that, we hope that the University of Michigan will take further action and cut their contract with Adidas.”
Heni added that the severance money would undoubtedly make a difference in the lives of her family members.
“It would mean a lot for us,” Heni said. “I was in the sewing business, so I could open a small tailor shop and be able to fulfill my family’s daily needs.”
Both mentioned the “code of conduct” between Adidas and the University, which they believe has been broken. Heni and Hidayat believe that if they continue business relations despite their breach of contract; the contract “might as well not exist.”
Arielle Wisbaum, LSA freshman and USAS member, said she felt the demonstration — the result of months of planning — was a success. USAS raised funds in conjunction with the organization’s national branch to bring the workers to the University.
“Yesterday, the room for our panel discussion was completely filled; we even had to get more chairs,” Wisbaum said. “Today, I feel like we were the most noticed group on the Diag, and so many more people are informed of this issue in a way that they weren’t before.”
Wisbaum said she believes the University’s decision will have influence on Adidas, because they won’t want to risk losing a contract of this size.
“We’ve been in contact with President Coleman several times previously,” Wisbaum said. “She showed us letters that she’s written to Adidas letting them know that she’s watching what they do and expects them to honor the promise they’ve made to their workers."