Adidas is one of the University’s largest partners in athletic gear and one of the largest companies in its industry. But recent controversy regarding the company’s working conditions in Indonesia has elicited a response from University President Mary Sue Coleman. In a letter to the corporation, Coleman stated her disappointment with its compensation for workers after the unanticipated closure of the PT Kizone factory. Coleman also outlined the University’s expectations for Adidas moving forward. While this is a commendable gesture, it’s crucial that the University reconsider its relationship with the company. The University must respond with concrete action if Adidas fails to respect the situation of all its employees.
After the April 2011 closure of the PT Kizone factory in Indonesia, Adidas didn’t compensate more than 2,700 workers with the required $1.5 million in salaries, benefits and severance. Instead, the company attempted to place this responsibility on the factory owner. This neglect prompted action from the University of Wisconsin and Cornell University. Adidas has since announced plans to discuss future steps with other corporations and insurance companies. However, the company’s poor and delayed response to the issue warranted a reaction from Coleman. The letter called for humanitarian aid as well as monthly updates on the company’s interaction with PT Kizone, employment for former workers and collaboration with the Indonesian government.
This letter is an important step in giving attention to an issue we’re all connected to. It’s especially important for our school to send the right message, as the University is in a good position to exert influence. The contract between Michigan and Adidas is worth $7.5 million each year. Over the course of the contract, the University will earn $60 million. The University should make use of its clout in this area and promote a change in Indonesian working conditions.
Coleman’s letter is a compelling call for humane corporate practices. However, the mistreatment of factory workers is hardly a new concern, and it requires adequate responses. Adidas’ negligence has already driven the University of Wisconsin to file a lawsuit. Similarly, Cornell University severed its relationship to the corporation several days ago. Michigan should certainly keep both of these developments in mind and follow suit if necessary.
Although Michigan’s contract with Adidas does not expire until 2017, we should seriously consider changing sponsors if the company doesn’t correct its mistreatment of workers . This dispute is especially unacceptable considering the contract’s terms regarding human rights. Adidas’ current misconduct is similar to that of Nike, Michigan’s previous vendor. Just as Michigan switched sponsors in 2007, we should consider the same course if the workers’s needs are not met.
The circumstances in Indonesia require concrete action, if not on the part of Adidas, then by the University itself. President Coleman’s letter is admirable, and will hopefully inspire genuine change. But, if Adidas continues to mistreat these former employees, the University should use its predominant position in the world of athletic sponsorship to promote necessary change.