Yesterday, two former Adidas workers called on students to pressure the University to end its contract with the company.
“I ask you … to join with us in solidarity to take down Adidas,” said Aslam Hidayat to a small group of students gathered this Monday in Houston Hall to learn about the company’s labor practices. He and Heni — who only disclosed her first name — are both former workers of the PT Kizone factory in Indonesia, which closed in April 2011 and left 2,800 unemployed.
The speakers are touring several American universities to rally students around the United Students Against Sweatshops’ “Badidas” campaign.
Adidas owes $1.8 million in severance pay to PT Kizone workers, according to Hidayat. The two other companies that bought from the factory, Nike and the Dallas Cowboys, have paid their share of the severance package.
Adidas has instead offered to compensate the laid-off workers with food vouchers.
Heni explained that the vouchers were not enough. She had to sell hers for cash, losing money in the transaction. “It doesn’t really help our financial situation,” she said.
“As payment for your salary … would you accept vouchers?” Hidayat asked to nodding students.
Garrett Strain, a national organizer for USAS, believes that refusing to pay severance compensation ties into a broader system of exploitation.
“Adidas has 1,200 factories to produce their goods,” he said. “They don’t need that many factories.” Strain believes that the brand purposefully pits factories against each other to obtain better deals.
“If you have to pay severance, it’s a disincentive for factories to cut and run,” he added.
Strain said the group is targeting collegiate apparel contracts because he believes students can use their universities’ purchasing power to influence companies.
Organizing against Adidas was harder in Indonesia. Hidayat said he was placed in jail for four months by the management of PT Kizone as a result of his activism. “In fact, at one point the management hired a thug to kill me,” he said.
After PT Kizone closed, Heni and her husband — who also worked in the factory — had trouble finding employment.
“Factories don’t want to employ over 40 because they think we’re not strong enough anymore,” she said.
The mother of three then had to move to a one-bedroom apartment with her family. At times, she could not afford to feed her children. “We could only eat cassava leaves,” she said. “I never dreamed that life would be this difficult.”
Hidayat added that “many of the factory workers are still unemployed to this day.”
Six universities in the U.S. have suspended their business relationships with Adidas because of the company’s failure to pay for the workers’ severance. In September 2012, Cornell University cut its contract with the manufacturer, stating in a press release that “severance is a basic worker’s right, as is a living wage, freedom of association and safe working conditions.” Since then, the University of Washington, Rutgers University, Georgetown University and the College of William and Mary have all followed suit by either ending or not renewing their contract with Adidas.
“We decided to target on the colleges’ connection with the industry because college apparel production counts towards a large amount of the total production of these brands,” Strain said.
The group met with Penn President Amy Gutmann Monday morning. After the event, about 15 students walked to the president’s office to drop off a letter demanding the University to cut its contract with Adidas. Twenty-five students signed the petition, according to Student Labor Action Project member and College sophomore Chloe Sigal.
Members of SLAP, which helped organize the event, will be meeting with Gutmann in the next three weeks to further discuss the issue.
Jing Ran contributed reporting.