Led by former garment worker Aslam Hidayat, the voices of nearly 50 students filled the Union Pond Room chanted in Indonesian: “Long live the workers.”
With the help of a translator, Hidayat and his co-worker Heni — who only disclosed her first name — shared their personal experiences and financial troubles of living without the severances many allege are owed to them and other workers by the Adidas company.
Since the closing of the PT Kizone factory — a facility that produced Adidas apparel — in April 2011, Hidayat and Heni have struggled to find new jobs and provide financially for their families.
The factory owner fled the country after the company’s bankruptcy, failing to pay 2,700 workers at least $3.3 million. Nike and the Dallas Cowboys — the two other companies who contract with the factory — contributed $1.5 million to the severance payments, but Adidas has yet to pay its $1.8 million.
The University’s chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops hosted the event with the goal of persuading University President Mary Sue Coleman to give Adidas a 90-day notice to pay the former workers the severance pay they’re owed. If Coleman leverages the University’s $60-million contract with Adidas — the largest collegiate agreement the company holds — the group hopes Adidas would be persuaded to pay up.
Hidayat said during his time working at the factory from 2001 until the factory’s abrupt closing, the workers received with low wages, worked overtime and were sexually harassed. As the head of the workers’ union, he said the company threatened to kill him twice and put him in jail for four months after he had attempted to begin discussion about minimum wage.
In late September, Coleman wrote a letter to Adidas America President Patrik Nilsson and Gregg Nebel, the head of the company’s social and environmental affairs, expressing concern over the treatment of their former employees. In the letter, Coleman requested a monthly report from the company and assistance to the former employees.
Heni said Adidas compensated the former employees in vouchers to a market that did not supply specific necessities for her family. Without unemployment benefits, Heni and Hidayat both said the vouchers were not effective in alleviating the hardships of being without a job.
“This suffering is not something made up and not something manipulative,” Heni said. “This is something that I and my friends truly experienced. Others suffered even more than I did, and, for this reason, we ask for your solidarity.”
USAS’s national organization pays for former PT Kizone employees, including Hidayat and Heni, to travel the nation to inform college students of the situation.
LSA junior Katherine Corbit, a member of USAS, said University students should take notice of the issue because Adidas is the brand displayed on much of their maize and blue merchandise.
“Think about all the t-shirts for basketball and for football with the Adidas logo on it,” Corbit said. “Students have a relationship with these workers because these workers made our apparel.”
Michigan apparel was being produced when the factory shut down, meaning that the employees were not paid specifically for making University-licensed clothing.
Concluding the event, Public Policy senior Abigail Williams, a member of USAS, said the University is legally obligated to demand that Adidas pay the severances because of the its contract with the company.
“We have a power,” Williams said.
Corbit said Coleman and members of a University advisory committee are working with the company to develop a plan. She said USAS hopes to meet with the advisory committee to talk more about the issue.