Schools take stand against adidas

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
4:30
PM ET
There is a small part of your humble author that wishes that headline was about basketball programs finally fighting back against German apparel company adidas for foisting horrific uniforms in an attempt to troll college basketball fans for "buzz" every March and early April. It is not. The good news, however, is that some schools are standing up to adidas for something far more serious -- an ongoing dispute about worker compensation in one of its factories in Indonesia.

ESPN.com sports business reporter Kristi Dosh reported this week that 17 schools have suspended their contracts with adidas after a report by the Workers' Rights Consortium alleging that 2,800 workers at PT Kizone -- an Indonesian factory where adidas, Nike and the Dallas Cowboys all had manufacturing contracts -- were not compensated when the factory faced work suspensions, surprise closings, its owner's sudden flight from Indonesia, repurchase and eventual bankruptcy. WRC and other workers' advocacy groups are claiming that while Nike and the Cowboys have made partial payments, adidas has steadfastly refused it owes workers any money.

As Dosh reported, beginning last fall, Cornell, Rutgers, Washington, Georgetown, University of Montana, Santa Clara University, College of William and Mary, Northeastern University, Temple University and Washington State terminated their contracts with the company. Others have told adidas they would not renew when their contracts expired, Wisconsin has sued with the assistance of the state attorney general, and Penn State has given adidas a 60-day timeline to rectify the situation. From Kristi (my emphasis in bold):
Not all of these schools have their athletics apparel contract with adidas. Some only have licensing agreements for merchandise sold in campus bookstores and through other retailers. However, a growing number of universities who have exclusive all-sport contracts with adidas, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, began to give ultimatums and threaten contract termination over the past month.

Not coincidentally, that’s when things took a turn for the better for the former PT Kizone workers. Last week, just days after adidas participated in a conference call with Michigan and neared the end of Michigan’s 45-day cure period, adidas announced a settlement. The agreement is confidential, but a press release from the former PT Kizone workers states, “the former workers will receive a substantial sum from adidas.”

The situation is not entirely settled; adidas is still claiming a different version of the events from the WRC, which argues that adidas goods were made in the factory as late as November 2010, two months after the first compensation violations occurred. And there is much more context and information included in Kristi's report. Go read it.

It really is a fascinating story.

For one, like suicides at Apple-producing Foxconn factories in China and the deaths of dozens in a Bangladeshi garment factory collapse last week, it's a reminder of the way globalization allows us to ignore how the things we wear are made and distributed. (We didn't like to see how the sausage was made -- literally -- at the turn of the last century, either.)

That is more general, but there's a specific collegiate sports lesson here, too: Maybe the universities that take huge sums of money for all-sport contracts from Nike and adidas don't have to be totally beholden to their corporate overlords after all.

It's one thing to recognize that your profoundly ugly replica uniforms are made in steamy conditions in Indonesia, and maybe that's an acknowledged fact of the modern global economy. (It might be unfathomable to Americans, but in many countries sweatshops are a godsend). It's another to see something so basic -- allegations by a respected academic non-profit that your corporate partner was nickle-and-diming Indonesian workers -- and decide to build real pressure around the cause of getting those people the pay they probably deserve. Why, it's enough to make even the grumpiest college sports skeptic momentarily optimistic.

It also, by the way, reaffirms my belief that we need to organize a Fans' Rights Consortium, a group devoted to stopping the spread of hideous trolling uniforms each and every spring. Rise up, people! Rise up!

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