Imprisoned in a Birmingham jail cell, Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Indeed, it’s this exact sentiment that we hold in our hearts this week as we look forward to both the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August, and the two-year anniversary of the closure of PT Kizone, an Indonesian factory that produced Adidas apparel for the University of Michigan.
The Worker Rights Consortium, a labor watchdog organization, first reported on Adidas’ refusal to pay $1.8 million in legally owed severance to 2,700 Indonesian workers soon after the closure of the PT Kizone factory in April 2011. For two years now, Adidas hasn’t budged on the issue of severance, even though its contracts with various universities across the nation — including the University of Michigan — require that Adidas take responsibility for paying its subcontracted factory workers legally mandated benefits. Adidas’ intransigence is all the more alarming when compared to the actions of Nike. Nike was also producing in PT Kizone at the time of the factory’s closure but, unlike Adidas, Nike complied with the WRC’s recommendation and agreed to pay $1.5 million in severance to the former PT Kizone workers.
Denying workers their legally owed severance pay for two years certainly falls under King’s definition of “justice too long delayed.” With each passing day, the former PT Kizone workers are continually denied their rights. And this delayed justice has real consequences. In a survey conducted by the WRC, 87 percent of former PT Kizone workers report that since the factory’s closure, they have been unable to afford food that meets their families’ basic nutritional needs. Most have fallen behind on rent and children’s school fees. When asked how they were dealing with health care, most workers reported that they couldn’t afford to see any kind of medical professional and could only buy over-the-counter medication from a neighborhood vendor. These are only a few of the laundry list of hardships former PT Kizone workers face on a daily basis as a direct result of Adidas’ refusal to pay their legally-owed severance.
Yet, fearless and unwavering workers and students have matched Adidas’ ruthless inhumanity with fierce determination. This month at Adidas headquarters in Bavaria, Germany, PT Kizone workers are delivering a petition demanding their legally-owed severance signed by nearly a thousand former workers. This is a campaign of international proportions; former PT Kizone workers have joined in solidarity with other Adidas workers across the world, from Honduras to Haiti to India, to take on the company’s sweatshop supply chain. And the capacity for change is enormous.
United Students Against Sweatshops, the national organization spearheading this campaign, knows that, based on past victories, university actions can force Adidas to change its ways. In 2009, 25 universities across the country cut contracts with uniform supplier Russell Athletic until the company agreed to re-open a union factory and implement union neutrality throughout its Honduran plants. In 2010, contract terminations compelled Nike to pay more than $2 million in severance pay to 1,800 Honduran garment workers. Today, the University has the historic opportunity to be a part of a global movement for brand responsibility, human rights promotion and worker solidarity.
United Students Against Sweatshops at the University of Michigan is demanding that University President Mary Sue Coleman stand in solidarity with these workers by cutting ties with Adidas due to the company’s past of worker abuse and negligence of human rights. Ten universities have already terminated their contracts with Adidas, including big-name sports schools like the University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University and Georgetown University. The University of Michigan should be next.
Each day the University waits to take action, another PT Kizone worker’s family falls deeper into debt and poverty. As this week marks the two-year anniversary of Adidas’ workers struggle for justice, USAS asks University President Mary Sue Coleman to recall MLK’s words, and to cut ties with Adidas over its flagrant denial of justice.
Maya Menlo is an LSA sophomore.