A new year has arrived. Accordingly, United Students Against Sweatshops presented a New Year’s resolution to University President Mary Sue Coleman in a letter delivered to her office on Jan. 16. The resolution is pretty simple: The University should follow its own Code of Conduct for Licensees and take a stand against sweatshops and worker abuse. Namely, USAS demands that the University put Adidas Apparel Company on notice and if the company fails to pay the legally mandated severance owed to the PT Kizone factory workers, then the University should terminate its $60 million contract with Adidas. Other universities such as the University of Washington and Rutgers University have already done this, and Michigan should follow suit.
USAS is a grassroots organization run entirely by students and youth. We develop youth leadership and run strategic student-labor solidarity campaigns with the goal of building sustainable power for working people. We define “sweatshop” broadly and consider all struggles against the daily abuses of the global economic system to be a struggle against sweatshops.
PT Kizone, a factory in Indonesia, had a contract with Adidas that stated the German-based corporation would pay severance to the workers if the factory were to close. The factory did indeed close in April 2011, leaving 2,800 people out of work and Adidas owing $1.8 million in severance. For over a year and a half, the 2,800 former PT Kizone workers have been fighting for the severance pay — which Adidas promised, but has failed to pay them.
Up until the time of its closure, PT Kizone was producing University of Michigan apparel. That’s right, the maize and blue we proudly wear on our home games and around campus was produced by sweatshop labor. Of all universities who have contracts with Adidas, Michigan has the largest, at $60 million. If our University were to put pressure on Adidas, the company would be forced to pay the severance payments it owes.
Adidas has dodged its obligations by providing food vouchers and medical assistance to the workers instead of paying the $1.8 million it owes them. Adidas, in a Jan. 23 letter to President Coleman, stated, “ensuring fair labor practices, fair wages and safe working conditions in factories throughout our global supply chain is critical to our business and a priority for the Adidas Group.” If that were truly the case, then they would simply pay the severance they owe to their former workers. The aid provided so far is mere breadcrumbs compared to what Adidas legally owes. Even our president, in a letter to Adidas on Jan. 25, stated, “There is still concern regarding the gap between aid being provided by Adidas Group and the legally mandated severance owed to the workers.”
On Jan. 25, Coleman responded to USAS’ Jan. 16 letter. In the e-mail, she said that “the University is committed to fair and ethical business practices as set forth in our Code of Conduct,” and that “we remain committed to finding an appropriate resolution.” Coleman knows that Adidas is not living up to the terms of the University’s contract, and if she’s committed to fair and ethical business practices as set forth in our Code of Conduct, then the only appropriate action is to put Adidas on notice.
On Feb. 13, two PT Kizone workers from Indonesia will arrive to the University of Michigan’s campus. At a speak-out event hosted by USAS, the workers will tell students and the Ann Arbor public about their experiences. Join us in the Union Pond Room from 6 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 13 to hear the truth about Adidas’ violation of workers’ rights. You can see for yourself exactly who these “sweatshop workers” are, and ask them any questions you may have.
If you want our school to shed its shameful affiliation with an apparel company that violates workers’ rights, write an e-mail to President Coleman and the Board of Regents and tell them to put Adidas on notice. If you want to support workers’ rights at home and abroad, join us at our weekly meetings on Mondays at 8 p.m. in the CSG wing on the third floor of the Union.
Sorin Panainte is an LSA freshman.