As students, it’s easy to get stuck in our campus bubble and not know how the University’s action, or inaction, affects the broader international community.
Frankly, that bubble is often placed over our campus for a good reason. Few think that talking about international issues in classrooms and lecture halls is really going to make a tangible difference. Education is a crucial first step, but rarely is it immediately put into political action.
This makes the rare opportunities to reach beyond the bubble all the more important.
PT Kizone is a Nike and Adidas factory located in Indonesia — yes, literally halfway across the world. Since the University has an athletic apparel contract with Adidas, hundreds of shirts, hoodies, hats, jerseys and other types of apparel seen on the Diag dozens of times every day were made at this one factory.
These workers are being paid only $0.60 an hour. Is that wage fair? No. But workers in developing nations across the world are being paid that little, or even less. So why is PT Kizone important?
According to the Workers Rights Consortium, last January, the 2,800 workers at the factory were abruptly fired. They were never paid $3.3 million in legally mandated severance. Today, more than 10,000 workers and family members are suffering.
Since last January, three of the companies that used the factory, Nike, Green Textiles (a Nike subsidiary) and the Dallas Cowboys (who, oddly enough, make college apparel), have agreed to pay about half of the severance. But there is still $1.8 million owed and Adidas has stubbornly refused to chip in.
This comes out to roughly $642 per worker. That is more than 1,071 hours of unpaid work when one makes $0.60 an hour — nearly five months’ pay if they are working eight hours per day.
These are enormous numbers. It’s impossible to picture the difference between $1.8 million and $1.8 billion, 10,000 people and 100,000 people or 1,071 hours and 10,071 hours. If we focus on the numbers, it’s easy to get lost.
Let’s focus on the families. Adidas’ unwillingness to ante up has had a tremendous impact on these people that are likely relying on just one person for their total income. Since that person is already making less than a dollar an hour, these families are hardly living lives of luxury.
Imagine for a moment only one of your parents worked. Then, for reasons beyond their control, they stopped receiving a paycheck for work they had already done. But they continue to go into work instead of trying to find another job out of fear of being fired. Nearly four months later, there’s still no paycheck.
Now what? How can your family pay rent? How can you afford to pay your heating bills? Forget about going out to No Thai. Forget about buying Johnny Depp’s new DVD. And definitely forget about going to our public University.
Now imagine how our campus can help these workers on the other side of the world.
Our University’s multi-million dollar contract with Adidas is the largest in the nation. Since 2001 we have had a thoughtful and comprehensive Code of Conduct that is meant to ensure that all of the University’s apparel suppliers follow a basic ethical standard.
Part of our Code of Conduct is that suppliers need to comply with local labor law, something that Adidas apparently has not done. Furthermore, in documented correspondence with the committee enforcing our Code of Conduct, Adidas repeatedly lied about its involvement in the PT Kizone factory.
Put another way: the University wrote a rulebook, Adidas violated one of those rules and now the administration refuses to penalize Adidas for its actions.
Adidas has obviously violated the Code of Conduct.
I call on Adidas to pay the $1.8 million owed to the PT Kizone employees. But I doubt that a multinational company will be persuaded by this piece. I want to use my energy to target figures closer to home.
In light of these clear violations, I call on our administration to publicly condemn Adidas’ inaction, notify the company that they are in violation of the University’s code and ensure that Adidas pays these workers what they are owed.
Our University has an international reputation based on academics and integrity. When we act, the world listens. When we don’t, the world accepts the status quo.
You could be walking in Paris or the Grand Canyon and see someone in Adidas University apparel. Let’s flex that economic muscle on behalf of struggling workers on the other side of the world and urge our University to live up to its own values and enforce its own code.